Bugs Must Die Must Try Harder
by Casey Patterson
I can very much get behind any sentiment regarding bugs and their need to die, especially in the middle of a hot New England Summer, so I'm down for plainly stating that these multi-legged cookout ruiners have got to go.
Enter Bugs Must Die, a twin-stick shooter from the Chinese studio DG Games Workshop. The developers are proud to admit their game is an homage to Konami's Jackal (aka Top Gunner), which was originally released for the arcade and NES in the 80's. At the time of its release, Jackal was able to capitalize on on the newness of home systems being able to provide the rush of hectic arcade-style gaming in the comfort of your living room (and without the need for quarters).
In today's saturated game market, this genre requires some sort of specialized schtick, and Bugs Must Die simply does not have one.
I had a lot of faith going in because the title was dynamic enough to suggest it came with a silly premise and good humor, but the intro failed to hook me even with the retro-anime-callback art style. While it was fun to feel like I was14 and watching Saber Marionette J again, the intro styling was an odd mismatch, given that DG could have utilized the vibrant pixel art style of the actual gameplay and created a more cohesive presentation.
Out the gate, there was a major missed opportunity to channel pulp sci-fi and introduce a silly, over-the-top premise to a sentiment many of use share, but all that was provided were a couple screens saying bugs were indeed coming and needed to die.
Gameplay is straightforward enough. Bugs Must Die boasts smooth, ready-to-use controller support (even though Steam warns you that it doesn't). The game doesn't try to pretend it's your first twin-stick, and instead of easing you in with clunky tutorial baby steps it dumps a full set of tools on you from the word go.
The mechanics are intuitive, and you'll find yourself switching between weapon and ammo types comfortably before the first 60 seconds pass. To counter the ease of the controls, the game also starts at an Intermediate-ish difficulty and ramps up from there. As a result, the level design will have you trying time and time again as you think, “No wait I think I got it this time.”
The smart handling of the difficulty curve and the punch of the colors are the game's highlights, but neither of these elements really contends with more stellar standouts in the genre.
The colors pop but they are literally pale in comparison to the graphics of Geometry Wars, and the difficulty curve isn't quite as engrossing as what you'll find in Neurovoider. This is also a genre that hinges on good sound design, given that you are constantly firing and thus hearing the sounds of your weapons and your dying foes multiple times per second. Unfortunately Bugs Must Die fails to deliver satisfying sound effects, the music will have you shutting the game down long before you're sick of the gameplay.
If twin-sticks are your jam, Bugs Must Die doesn't do anything revolutionary, but it doesn't do anything wrong either. For gamers looking to relive the rush of playing Jackal for the first time, you can do worse than this respectful, if not a bit dull, love letter to the genre.
Final Recommendation: 👍 (but kinda ‘meh’ about it)