By Scott Ramage / December 14th, 2018
|Publisher||Fig Publishing Inc.|
|Release Date||September 25th, 2018|
Buddy System is a small development team with big ideas. Their first game, crowdfunded through Fig in February of last year, is Little Bug, a physics-based adventure platformer about a little girl named Nyah with a vivid imagination. She gets cast into a strange, phantom-populated world after an encounter with a dead cat and must use her own spirit to get home by navigating over, under and around obstacles. May this guiding light save the girl, and the game itself, from coming up short.
The premise of Little Bug plays into the game’s use of twin-stick controls. One stick controls Nyah, who can only move left and right, while the other moves a floating ball of spirtual light. The developer strongly recommends using a gamepad, but I played through the game once using the keyboard’s WASD and arrow keys with little trouble. Activating the ball of light creates a telekinetic beam which pulls the girl toward it. This beam only lasts for a few seconds before the spirit runs out of power and needs to recharge. The further apart they are, the faster the girl flies in its direction. This light can’t go through walls, but it can break through weight-sensitive blue blocks. Everything feels quite responsive, though obviously it’s a bit easier to position the light with an analog stick than a keyboard.
The game’s sound and visual design play well off of each other to create both a sense of wonder and longing. The soft lighting of each stage, combined with the rolling background landscapes of cities, deserts and forests, is complemented by Little Bug‘s soundtrack, which makes heavy use of ambient noise and a mix of digital and acoustic instrument sounds. Soul obstacles, presented in a hand-drawn art style, are highlighted by drastically different colors from the rest of the world they populate. Their trying to reach out to or catch Nyah in these environments give the sense that they aren’t acting out of malice alone, but of desperation. The presentation as a whole goes for a dream-like feeling, and nails it.
Little Bug’s difficulty curve is nice and gradual, slowly building up toward sections that require better positioning and more precise timing with light pulls. The way Nyah’s momentum operates takes some getting used to, but by the half-hour mark I was flinging her across gaps and only slamming into walls as a strategic choice. That’s not to say there aren’t difficult sections, as the enemy variety and terrain layout become more varied in a hurry. Pits of giant hands are joined by the likes of wandering spirits, giant dripping eyes, gates of fingers which slam shut when the light beam is active, and literal finger guns. If Nyah or the spirit touch any hazard, it’s instant death. Fortunately, there are several checkpoints placed after every two or three obstacles. The exception to this rule is the final stage, which only has two checkpoints: one at the beginning and one at the end.
All the while, Nyah can find and pick up various items to put in her lunchbox, of which there are just over 30 in Little Bug. Each of these relates to her, her family or her teacher. They give some nice insight into Nyah’s interests and the frayed relationship with her mother. The latter ultimately tosses her into another world. Once the lunchbox is full, something needs to be offered to the dead cat. I often ended up sacrificing the wrong item because this mechanic is quite glitchy. The descriptions and names of items get mixed up when they’re swapped in and out of the box, so sometimes I wasn’t sure what item was being handed to the cat. Other times items would become invisible for no apparent reason. I wish it were possible to sacrifice items before the box gets full because, later in the game, items appear in the line of fire. Having to wait for the item description to float by, then drop it in the lunchbox and sacrifice something to the cat frequently ended in pain and respawning at a checkpoint without the item.
Once given to the cat, these items appear at the altar on the title screen. Some of them unlock short hidden stages, most of which require far more precise timing and execution to clear. Sometimes I needed almost 20 minutes to clear one. Other times I would complete one on the first try. Completing these stages earns the player… well, nothing. Either way these tend to come off as padding. There aren’t many levels in Little Bug, but two of them change gradually as Nyah progresses. I fear this only makes the game feel shorter than it already is; I finished it in under an hour and a half. Factoring in the extra stages, this game can be finished in under three hours.
Little Bug is a game that I was just starting to get into, and then it ended. It has solid mechanics and design at its core, a couple glitches aside. It’s an enjoyable experience, but one that’s short and with limited replayability. If it goes on sale, I’d say give it a shot. Otherwise the $10 asking price may seem a bit unfulfilling a couple hours later.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Buddy SystemFig Publishing Inc.Little BugPC