Bugs Must Die

Finals is finally done and IGMC 2018 finished up, with its games in the review process. I finished Let’s Make a Game and I plan on checking out the games of my fellow participants and I’m also planning on doing a proper “Game of the Year” list for this year, which you can vote on here. But first, I want to get back into the swing of things with Bugs Must Die!

Bugs Must Die is a twin-stick shooter by DG Games Workshop where you are a member of the Galactic Pests Control Company, a secret paramilitary aimed at wiping out a bug alien menace. Oh don’t worry, the aliens take their own civilians hostage, so I guess you’re the good guy. You play as Agent-M to pilot war machines to take on this threat, which apes human culture for whatever reason.

You initially roam around in a high-tech jeep, but you’ll unlock more vehicle options on top of various weapons. You get main weapons, sub-weapons, melee options and air-drop options to mix-and-match as you go against the alien menace. I personally stuck with the default gatling gun as a main weapon because it just feels good to use, with decent power and little cooldown. I’m a bit mixed on the other ones, though part of that is that I feel that simply upgrading the gatling gun is enough to handle what the game throws at you. Shooting and moving around feels satisfying and it’s nice to have options to experiment with. It feels that a lot gets dropped on you quickly, but that’s likely a consequence of it being a demo and the devs wanting to show off as much as possible within those constraints.

When you die, you get to ride around in an escape pod and surviving for a minute gets you a new ride. Die again though and you’re stuck in that escape pod, which feels rather pointless; why only get one second chance? I don’t think there’s a way to get another 1-Up (I was kinda wishing that killing a certain amount of enemies would spawn one) and fighting bosses in escape pod mode is a slog even with upgraded versions, so I just opt to die and try again altogether.

Going through the standard stages is a mixed bag. Instead of being tightly designed or randomly generated with paths carved out to take, the levels in Bugs Must Die are big open spaces with only a few obstacles dotted around here or there. On one hand, the open space gives you lots of room to maneuver, as the game spawns a shitload of enemies. On the other hand, actually navigating around these spaces feels really boring. It feels that things are placed haphazardly and without purpose, with much of it feeling interchangeable. Case in point, there’s just two boss monsters to the immediate right of stage 6 for no real reason, with no unique architecture to telegraph this. It’s weird. Fights are fun but the world the fights take place in isn’t. The only exception however is the volcanic level, with volcanoes spewing lava that has me wishing the full game has more active threats to make levels feel more exciting. Boss battles are more engaging, but I feel they’re held back a bit in presentation (see later).

Part of the what makes the levels feel boring is the quests. Besides quests that you’d complete naturally, there are quests that want you to scour around these mostly empty maps that really sets in how uninteresting the levels are. Certain ones get markers telling you where to go (especially in the case of one that gets the boss to spawn), but it doesn’t stop it from feeling like a chore. While some give money as an award, others will offer health or weapon upgrades, which may not be useful at all depending on your situation.

Outside of gameplay, you can shop around with the money you’ve been getting to upgrade weapons, so you’d at least be getting something out of failed attempts. Something that I personally wasn’t into was that you have to constantly rebuy drones and different escape pods. I’d kinda prefer having permanent options, like maybe balance that out by making them real expensive.

Bugs Must Die also offers two additional modes. Challenge Mode is essentially a boss rush to see how many bosses you can beat in a row without dying as a quick way of making money. The other mode is Hell Mode, which I initially thought was just a plain hard mode but it comes with its own levels altogether. Unfortunately, it does live up to its name and not in a good way. The first level is fair, but the second one is just “search for the exit in this big maze that’s also dark,” which is incredibly tedious; it thankfully comes with a mini-map, but also, if this can have a mini-map, why not the main game? Then the third level is a fight against a ridiculously tanky boss that pretty much requires the shield sub-weapon for a chance at beating. I like the concept of a hard mode having its own distinct levels, but I’ll be blunt in saying they’re not very good.

While I haven’t played a lot of twin-stick shooters, I’ve played enough that I’ve come to expect a solid game feel from them, the world feeling lively with small touches of sound effects and little animations. Bugs Must Die feels close to hitting that but doesn’t quite make it. There are some things that feels like they should have sound effects but don’t, like the plane flying in to give you a 1-Up and some of the bosses’ firing patterns (an important one, I think, to provide players a tell). People also expect boss battles to have their own music to get players feeling more engaged than the standard fights, but outside of challenge mode, it just isn’t there (perhaps as a consequence of bosses just being plopped into a map). These are small things, but the small things make playing a game feel “right,” and feeling right would help make this game stand out in a sea of them.

Bugs Must Die‘s core of shooting is solid, but its levels feel like a slog on top of other things. It is one of those games that just feels “okay,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and people that love these kinds of games would probably be into it, but I just don’t see recommending it above more acclaimed twin-stick shooters without some fixes by the time the full game releases in January.

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