By Josh Speer / November 20th, 2018
|Title||The Bug Butcher|
|Developer||Awfully Nice Studios|
|Release Date||November 8th, 2018 (Switch)|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Blood, Fantasy Violence, Crude Humor|
Though I am a fan of classically styled video games, I mostly gave The Bug Butcher a shot cause I was previously familiar with 2Awesome Studio. They developed the entertaining Dimension Drive, and though it had its flaws, I thought it was an admirable first attempt for a small team. When I saw they were shifting their focus to help publish games, I had to investigate. Which brings us to today’s review. Though published by 2Awesome Studio, The Bug Butcher was developed by Awfully Nice Studios, a two-man studio with experience making games for a company you might have heard of called Blizzard Entertainment. Now they’re set on making games for themselves, and decided to start with a comical and energetic side scrolling SHMUP. Was this a successful inaugural attempt, or does it get squashed under the weight of cosmic vermin?
The concept of The Bug Butcher is old school simple. A space station is crawling with massive bugs who are keen on devouring the scientists working inside. Thus the scientists hire our hero, Harry the exterminator. He’s a gun-toting killing machine, and the only hope the terrified scientists have. That’s pretty much all there is for plot. There’s no sub plots or revelations whatsoever. But considering the genre, I’m pretty much fine with that. The Bug Butcher is a SHMUP inspired by Super Buster Bros. I had forgotten that game entirely, but the similarities are readily apparent. Both games involve a character that can only fire upwards facing off against hordes of bouncing death. In this game though, you aren’t just facing nasty bubbles, but horrible grotesque insectoid monstrosities. And they can do a lot more than just bounce on your head.
The way gameplay works is that Harry has to make his way through a series of 30 stages in Arcade mode, blasting everything in sight to a gooey stain. You fire with the A button, dash with B and activate power-ups with Y. The catch is that each level is timed. The idea is that the scientists are so desperate to kill the invading bugs they are planning on gassing everything in the facility to death. If you don’t beat each stage in the allotted amount of time, usually two and a half minutes, you’ll be gassed along with them. Since a dead Harry is no good for anybody, it’s your job to work fast and fight strategically. Thankfully, you have a lot of tools at your disposal.
Your main weapon is a machine gun with unlimited ammo. It does the least amount of damage, but it does a respectable job of keeping things away from you. As you progress through the stages, you’ll gradually unlock other tools to aid you. First are the various weapons that you can find in crates. These have limited ammo but do significantly more damage, as well as having unique effects. The laser beam will cut through enemies like butter, while the Gatling gun is a more powerful but unstable version of your standard gun. A personal favorite of mine was the lightning gun, which would blast any group of enemies that was too close together. Besides your weapons, you can also utilize a handful of power-ups. You fill up your meter by killing enough foes, and once it’s full, you’ll unleash one of three power-ups at random. The most basic is Boot Juice, which speeds Harry up and makes him invincible for a few seconds; a personal favorite is the Freeze Grenade, which temporarily freezes all foes on screen, leaving them vulnerable; and finally, the Homing Missiles, which will blast everything in a close radius. All of the power-ups can give you some much-needed breathing room, especially since the bug hordes will do their very best to overwhelm you.
There’s a lot of creepy bugs in the game, but the standard variety is a pink critter that bounces on the floor slowly. That might not sound too scary, but the larger ones will separate into smaller varieties as you kill them, meaning one can quickly turn into a swarm. Some of the more unique varieties are the slow-moving yet devastating fireflies, which shoot laser beams from their butts, and a purple eggplant monstrosity that crawls on the floor and tries to jump on your head, instantly killing you. There are also ones I classify as mini-boss monsters, such as a hovering blue bug that spits purple blobs when you damage him, or a nasty one that vomits lava and spits lava blisters. You have a health meter, and can normally withstand four hits before Harry croaks, but you can get overwhelmed pretty quickly. Thankfully, as you cull the bugs you’ll get health drops, as well as temporary gun enhancements, such as increased firing speed and double damage. You can keep track of how long these last by looking at the helpful meters that appear on screen, and the same goes for power-ups and weapons. You’ll never be in the dark, which is very good strategically.
Also worth keeping in mind is that later stages introduce unique features to help and hinder you. The most important and prevalent are the vertical shields. They can’t be penetrated by you or the pests, though you can turn them off manually by running up to and standing on their buttons. While that may sound useful, it can be tricky too. For example, if you let a foe get sequestered out of reach, you may not be able to reach it before your combo meter dissipates (more on that later). Another trick is that the shield walls have a tendency to turn themselves off unexpectedly. That’s not a glitch, it’s a feature to keep things fresh. The other significant mechanic that’s introduced is a smashing piston introduced in a very late stage, which can kill bugs and Harry alike. Finally, you’ll encounter elevator stages which have no weapon crates, and these are much more challenging, since you have to rely solely on your machine gun and power-ups. Put together, all of these features do a good job of keeping the gameplay from getting too stale.
Though I didn’t notice until I beat Arcade mode, you can use the money you acquire from killing bugs to upgrade your weapons and power-ups. This improves the power of your weapons as well as how long your power-ups last. You can also use coins to unlock boosts you can equip for Harry’s stats, such as increasing how long the combo meter lasts. The latter is what determines your score. Basically, the longer you go killing monsters without getting hit or taking too long, the more the combo meter goes up. It’s not required for anything other than showing off, but it is a good incentive to replay stages. The game also keeps track of how you do through online leaderboards. My only complaint with them is that sometimes they load, and sometimes they don’t. More than once I’ve gotten to the end of a stage, only to have no score shown for my trouble. It only seemed to happen when I paused to take a break mid-stage, though.
Besides Arcade mode, there is also Panic mode. This can be done single player or co-op. Though I didn’t try the local co-op, Panic mode is pretty fun solo. It’s basically survival mode. To offset the short timer, you can collect clocks to add a few more seconds to your time as you play. You can also use your money to upgrade your loadout at any time during Panic mode, whereas you can only do it from the start screen in Arcade mode. The waves are random and get progressively more difficult. Generally I would die about six waves in, though sometimes the random enemy spawning would make that shorter. Another new thing about Panic mode is there’s a unique enemy that looks like a slot machine with wings. By blasting the shit out of it, you’ll get a whole heap of coins, which are vital to surviving more and more waves.
Visually speaking, The Bug Butcher is delightful. It reminded me a lot of Alien Hominid, but in the very best way. There’s a lot of humor and cartoon mayhem in the game, despite the colorful candy coating. The bugs do a good job of threading the needle between being adorable and hideous as they bounce and splatter. Harry himself is well animated, though I do wish we got to see his face behind that visor at least once, just to see a bit more personality. Musically, the energy of the game is very techno. There’s a great beat to the game, and the sound effects are also terrific. My favorites are the sound of the scientist screaming in terror when they’re captured by the tentacles of the spider monsters, as well as the screech those creatures make when you squash them.
There’s a lot I enjoyed about The Bug Butcher, but I do need to mention some issues I ran into playing portably on Switch during Panic mode. I will preface this by saying I talked with the publishers about them, and they confirmed they are planning on fixing any and all problems as soon as they can. That said, the following are worth noting. While in Panic mode, I would occasionally be holding down the fire button and my gun would be unresponsive. That’s problematic, to say the least. Another problem was when I would be prevented from moving somewhere by invisible barriers other than the shield walls. Lastly, I would find that items on the periphery of the screen randomly couldn’t be picked up, despite me being right nearby. All those should be fixed, but outside of them I have few issues, other than the game occasionally slowing down when things get particularly busy.
Overall, I feel The Bug Butcher is a success. Fans of classic games are sure to enjoy it, as are those who love vying for the top spots on leaderboards. For $7.99, you get a respectable amount of game here. I probably spent a couple hours playing through Arcade mode, and easily that long playing around with Panic mode. It’s not a huge game, but it also didn’t feel too short. Most of the replay value is found in trying for better scores to earn stars and additional coins in stages. Really, the only thing I wanted from the game that I didn’t get was a bestiary showcasing details about the creepy bugs, as well as a couple actual boss fights. But that’s just cause I’m an old school gamer, and I always want epic boss fights. If you want a fun and challenging game with old school charm, I would highly recommend The Bug Butcher. 2Awesome Studio has published a great game, and I’m eager to see what else Awfully Nice Studios has brewing next for the future.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
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