I enjoyed Bugsnax far more than I thought I would. At first, it didn’t strike me as my kind of game when I judged it by its saccharine advertising billing it as a cutesy adventure romp in which I would eat my way through an island of colourful foodbugs. The reality of Bugsnax is much darker than Kero Kero Bonito’s smash hit “It’s Bugsnax!” theme song would imply. While ruminating on its a-little-bit-too-unsettling-for-what’s-supposed-to-be-a-children’s-game ending, I realised I liked the game because I had played, and loved, a version of it before. No, not Pokémon Snap. I’m talking about Mass Effect.
Let’s start with Bugsnax’s protagonist and their overall goal. You play as an unnamed journalist, and you start the game facing down your unpleasant boss, Clumby Clumbernut, as she berates you for your latest scheme of going to Snaktooth Island to uncover the mystery of “bugsnax” at the invitation of infamous “two-bit con artist” Elizabert Megafig. As Clumby yells at you, she gives you an idea of what your life has been like up to this point. You were once a celebrated journalist at the top of their field, but lately you’ve declined to the point of being a bit of a joke. “I had to recall half a billion papers AND give a public apology, all because your ‘Grumpfoot’ turned out to be a lost football mascot!” Clumby screams. She believes pursuing bugsnax is a waste of time, but against her wishes, you’re hellbent on going to Snaktooth Island and revealing the truth.
Similarly, Commander Shepard in Mass Effect was also once celebrated for their work and finds themself having a hard time convincing their higher ups of the existence of an alien race of beings. Commander Shepard spends all of the first Mass Effect trying to get the space equivalent of the UN to believe their story about the Reapers to no avail. In Mass Effect 2, Shepard teams up with unsavoury characters — a.k.a. Cerberus — because the secretive human-supremacist organisation is the only one who believes in the Reapers and are doing anything about them. Likewise Bugsnax’s Elizabert Megafig, despite her tarnished reputation, is also the only person — er grumpus — who believes in bugsnax and wants to show them to the world.
When you first arrive on Snaktooth Island, you’re tasked with uniting a rag-tag group of grumpuses. You journey throughout the island, performing tasks, feeding grumpuses snax, and slowly you bring these disparate and distrustful people together, united under a common cause. That sounds a lot like Mass Effect 2’s “Assemble a Team” mission, doesn’t it? When Shepard first assembles their team of specialists to fight against the Collectors, a lot of them don’t like each other, and it’s your job to create harmony on your ship lest your mission fail.
Each of the 12 grumpuses you convince (a.k.a. recruit) to come back to Snaxburg (a.k.a. The Normandy) has personal quests you can choose to complete or ignore in favour of advancing the story. Fun fact: if you include DLC characters, Mass Effect 2 also has 12 companions for whom you can similarly complete or ignore their own loyalty missions. The presence of loyalty missions and their impact on the game’s ending brings me to my final “holy shit, Bugsnax really is Mass Effect” point: Both games have suicide missions and your people could die.
Loyalty missions in Mass Effect 2 and Bugsnax are similar. You’re asked to help with something deeply personal — either discovering the fate of a lost family member or preventing a living one from going down a dark path. Once you’ve completed the quest, your companion will like you just a little bit more, and you will have thus saved them from a gruesome death later in the game.
In Mass Effect 2, a loyal squadmate is less likely to die in the game’s final mission — something you’ve been preparing for the entire game. For Bugsnax, there’s no indication of impending consequences for not finishing the personal quests for each grumpus.The final event in Bugsnax has you and your motley crew of grumpuses beating back a horde of rabid bugsnax as an escape ship prepares to leave the island. Before you can take off, you have to go to different locations in the ruined Snaxburg and help a pair of grumpuses before they can flee for the ship. As you fight off advancing bugsnax, if you let too many through, your companions will eat them. If you’ve extensively transformed them with bugsnax earlier in the game, and if you didn’t complete their personal quest, they’ll succumb to bugsnax corruption and die — the same way Garrus or Tali could die because you were too lazy to finally get around to reading the urgent message they left for you.
I only found out about the Bugsnax bad ending by accident. I’d enjoyed my time with the game so much that I hadn’t minded taking the extra time to complete everyone’s multi-step personal quest. Once my companions and I safely escaped Snaktooth Island, I got an achievement congratulating me on saving every grumpus, which got me thinking that there is a version of this ending in which some grumpuses cannot be saved. This prompted a frantic Google, which found me perhaps the most cognitively dissonant thing I’ve seen in a video game.
Filbo, the happy-go-lucky jokey type turned deeply solemn by grim circumstance, is lamenting the death of literally all of his friends as a cupcake grows out of his head.
In ME2’s end, if all your companions eat it (heh), the only person left is Joker — the happy-go-lucky jokey type turned deeply solemn by grim circumstance, lamenting the death of literally all of his friends. Only thing that’s missing is the cupcake head.
Bugsnax is an awesome game that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was delighted by all the cute snax (getting chased by a bunger as it shouts “Bunger, bunger, bunger” at you never gets old) and the grumpuses are genuinely endearing with their complex emotions and desires. I’m sure any resemblance to the Mass Effect series, existent or forthcoming, is purely coincidental.