REVIEW: Bug Fables

The 2019 videogame—I know, a videogame, from a tabletop guy?—Bug Fables: the Everlasting Sapling first caught my attention because of it’s open inspiration by one of my all-time favorite games: Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64. There’s just something special and nostalgic about that game for me, much in the same way many people feel about Mario 64 or The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Although I’ve not played the acclaimed sequel, Paper Mario: the Thousand Year Door, the general formula is carried through most other RPG installments in the Mario franchise.

Turn-based combat with basic attacks and varied special abilities, quick-timed button presses for bonus damage (or to resist damage), and a complex assortment of “badges” to equip in order to change your characters’ abilities and tactics.

Bug Fables keeps that classic formula intact. There’s a small number of quality-of-life changes to the gameplay from the older games its based on, such as improved collectibles locating, but by and large the game really feels like Paper Mario to me. Enough so that I sank heavily into this game over the holidays, sinking nearly 20 hours in my first few days playing. I beat the game at around 35 hours (including giving a decent amount of time to exploration and side content), and at this writing I’ve got about 40 hours, and based on the achievements screens I’ve completed most of the game’s content. Considering the standard selling point is $19.99, this is a great deal from an hours-per-dollar perspective.

But why spend time on Bug Fables?

First off, if you don’t like stuff like Paper Mario, or Final Fantasy, or other turn-based RPGs, you probably won’t like this. I think this would be a pretty strong introduction to the concept, if you’re skeptical, because it’s a really good iteration of the format. Beyond a strong iteration of classic gameplay, Bug Fables also has some cute, fun writing. Its characters each have their own secrets which are revealed during the story—and the sidequests—along with emotional struggles and character growth. Alongside being rewarded with emotional growth, you’re also rewarded with additional abilities to use during the game’s combat.

I only really have two complaints about Bug Fables: the platforming can be kind of rough, and I want more. On the former, the level design in general is pretty good—there’s stuff to explore, but each level feels comprehensible, not spiraling too big—but some of the puzzles are annoying to play through. I could figure out most of the puzzles fairly well, but awkward combinations of holding down one button my Switch controller, then jumping with another part of my thumb while quickly trying to move around to where I needed to jump was frustrating. I also got frustrated at times with the camera angles, and how tricky it could be to navigate an environment’s unclear hitboxes.

Overall, though, the game’s really fun. Any time I finish a piece of media, and my gut reaction is that I want more, I know that was probably a pretty good thing I just consumed. Bug Fables was exactly what I wanted; a comfy, nostalgic game to play while unwinding in my armchair.

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