If you were on the Internet before the year 2010, you’d probably have encountered a site called Newgrounds. Back in the day it was the place to go if you had a couple of minutes to spare in order to play a dumb fun flash game, watch a flash movie made by people who are now internet celebrities, or jack it to whatever degenerate animation Zone had graced us with. Yes, Newgrounds is where the modern internet was born. If you’re an animator or a game maker worth their salt, you’ve done your fair share of Newgrounds lurking. Alas, indie video games have diverged from this purity that the simplicity of those old flash games had. Sure, that kind of game has had its day and taking our beloved medium seriously has resulted in some truly fantastic titles from small teams or even just one person, but some days you just want to play a game that’s only here to be fun and not worry about minor details like plot or character development.
Enter The Bug Butcher.
As the first game by Austrian developer Awfully Nice Studios and inspired by the SNES shooter Super Pang, The Bug Butcher has you blasting all sorts of nasty space insects as the main character, Harry, in his latest extermination job. But don’t let the protagonist having a name fool you, this game’s only concern is being as fun and mechanically sound as possible. The story, for what little there is, depicts you answering a call from a member of a research facility that has a pest problem. The pests keep eating the facility’s employees, and you’re the only guy with enough gun and an orange enough jumpsuit to do the job. With your new scientist “buddy” in tow to guide you through the facility, it’s time, kick ass, bubblegum, etc. etc. LET’S KILL SOME BUGS RIP AND TEAR! And ripping and tearing you shall do, in the most hectic game released this year so far. There’s always a crazy amount of stuff on the screen, especially in the later parts of the game. Some players may find this difficult, but some players just need to get fuggin’ good in all three of the game’s modes. Arcade, the standard version for those who like vanilla ice cream and tired handjobs in the morning. Panic, for the brave and/or cocky, where combos are king. Co-op, for best friends who will never ever let something dumb like a girl get between them even though you really liked her. I called dibs, Chad! I STILL THINK ABOUT HER, CHAD.
The basics of the game are fairly simple to grasp. You enter a room, kill the bugs that come in waves, congratulate yourself, and move on. Sometimes these waves will start before the current one is finished, which I thought was a nice touch to make the game a little more hectic. To fight these waves, you shoot up at bouncing, crawling, climbing, and multiplying enemies. And only up. Pressing the fire button (or key) will make you shoot upwards, and there’s no input nor reason to shoot anywhere else. This makes the game much easier to grasp for newer players without lowering its skill ceiling for those who want to play the game multiple times. You also have access to a rechargeable powerup that will vary each time you use it allowing you to freeze enemies, shoot a bajillion times faster, and lots more awesome shit. Various exhaustible powerups are also dropped at random such as a scattergun that throws shots in all directions, a stream of energy that pummels bugs with damage, or a group of rockets, adding further variety of the game. As is the nature of this kind of game, some upgrades are better than others in different situations. I found myself avoiding certain powerups altogether on some maps, as they directly hindered my ability to get them sweet combos mang. Scores are everything in The Bug Butcher. The game’s replayability shall be determined by your lust for the highest score or combo in all its four-digit (or five-digit if you’re MLG) glory.
Ima firin mah lazor.
Ima not firin mah lazor.
The enemy design also makes full use of the singular shooting pattern: Bugs will zip about, bounce, spawn more bugs, shoot projectiles made of whatever substance secretes from their bodies, attempt to snatch up your companion for dinner and many other hideous and disgusting things. These are all introduced steadily, in such a way that the game both continues to bring new challenges to the table and not get stale quickly. The environment also changes with each area, and the game superbly introduces new bugs that force you to make full use of these environments. The most noteworthy example was in the second area, the Greenhouse, where housing barriers that could both protect you from projectiles or keep aliens trapped in a certain part of the room could be switched on and off by walking up to them. These barriers however will turn off at random intervals so you’re never truly safe. On the other hand, they can also severely compact you and the amount of shit getting thrown at you if you’re not careful, and the bugs in this room have a tendency to multiply. The game’s environments aren’t that bad to look at, either.
The aesthetic of The Bug Butcher is what sells it as a title that takes great pride in its simplicity. Clean, crisp, and colourful visuals are backed with an atmospheric soundtrack that I can’t wait to buy and some Duke Nukem-like voice acting from the main character (your scientist companion only gets some screams and blabble instead because he’s a total nerd). As the orange-suited absolute madman slaughters bugs, he’ll occasionally mutter a satisfied groan on a combo or a giddy squeal as he activates a powerup. These lines might get stale for some players, but I didn’t really notice because of how much goddamn fun I was having. Speaking of fun, the game sports a local co-op mode as well. While I didn’t get a chance to play with that, I’d assume that it works the same way as the flash games of my youth did: sharing a keyboard, inadvertently playing gay chicken with our hands (I always won), fighting off swarms of filthy xenos together, and making promises that you couldn’t keep…CHAD. Dying in a wide variety of ways a la Crash Bandicoot is always better with a friend, too.
Last year, we had games like Undertale and Metal Gear Solid V that presented complex issues and rich characters in ways that only video games could. Games like these will improve the medium and help it become better at what it was always less good at compared to its more contemporary cousins, literature and film. Nobody’s arguing that these games weren’t fun, but sometimes we need to remember where we came from and why we started playing games when we were kids and indeed why we jumped on this whole rollercoaster ride to begin with. If there’s anything we can learn from The Bug Butcher, it’s that sometimes you just need to let loose, put down the typewriter, pour out your chai latte and make a game that’s just plain old stupid fun.
Reviewed on PC