For me, Bug Fables may be one of the most frustrating, yet rewarding games I have ever played. I probably went through the opening 5 or 6 times because of a save bug (pun not intended) that nearly led to me chucking it out as a bad job.
The opening of the game is actually fairly tedious and trust me on this one, as I did it more times than you’ll hopefully need to. I was presented with a trope filled lead in to the story, that made it feel like I was set up for a Paper Mario style game that lacked all the charm.
However, getting past the opening hour the story opens up some what along with the game itself. Introducing a new character to the party in Leif adds a much more interesting dynamic than with just the initial two of Vi and Kabbu who are constantly at odds with each other.
I see why it is done, as it is meant to be funny. However I found it grating. Again that could have been because of my save issue and repeating the same section over and over. Despite moving forward in a bad mood, the addition of a third member to the party swung everything around. The humour improved immensely and the story actually got interesting.
The is a lack of voice acting, so everything needs to come together in the written word. Something Bug Fables does remarkably well overall. Honestly, the turnaround from the opening to the rest of the game is stark.
One thing I tend to struggle with in RPG games, especially tradition turn-based ones, is the combat. Even with Pokemon I struggle to understand when to use something else other than attack. But, still I persist in the hope I one day learn it properly. Therefore I welcome games that simplify down combat mechanics. Bug Fables is one such game.
It is turn-based and you do have all the usual option, attacking, group specials, items, defence, etc. But it all feels less complicated than in many other games. I think that is due in part to how you learn new abilities as you go and are extremely limited early on. It isn’t revolutionary but it worked and was easy to follow.
You have a party and how you use that party can have effects on various things. In combat that means gaining bonuses for the lead character, but having that traded off against them being the main target for enemies. Not a huge problem early, but it has an effect on strategy later.
It as has an effect on how you move around the world, with each character having a different ability that can open up areas others cannot. It isn’t anything overly taxing, but it does remind you of the importance of using all the characters properly. Anyway, back to combat.
You choose to attack with a one of Vi, Leif and Kabbu, with each one has their own attack pattern, which requires unique commands inputs. Such as holding a button until the last panel lights up telling you to release, or doing the correctly times button inputs. Getting these right can give a bonus to an attack, but messing up can ruin things.
Defending too isn’t just down to pure RNG, press a button at the correct moment and you can reduce the damage done, or even deflect it entirely. There are some slight difference in timings, so it doesn’t get boring as you just get the timing perfected.
There are other nuances to the battles that need to be considered. Each character’s unique abilities means they can be suitable for certain enemy types and how you approach a battle. Using Vi to take down a flying enemy, before finishing off with another Kabbu, for example.
If you’ve played a Paper Mario game before, then you’ll get the idea. It has many of the trappings from the series, especially the earlier games. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so, as I enjoyed those early games and welcome a chance to play something new with that similar feel.
Overall battles might not be challenging to the most experienced RPG players. but it is still entertaining and feels welcoming, rather than being impenetrable. I’ll take that any day of the week, as usually I come away feeling dumb for not getting it.
The visual style is an odd one. I spent ages thinking it felt like an early 2000s flash animation type affair. But one that had been modernised. It is what it is and it does stand out. Animations are slightly clunky, but rather than feeling half done, it feels totally intentional which works rather well. It isn’t the most polished game you’ll ever play by any means though, it just works for what it is.
The overworld of the game is well made but never really feels compelling. Never once feeling the desire to explore and and discover.. It is a case of being just enough to encourage you forward. There are some ‘puzzle’ elements to solves to progress, such as moving platforms that require timing with a throw to activate or searching out new paths. Clearly designed to not be too difficult to navigate, but it just felt a bit to safe for me.
The influence of Paper Mario is evident throughout Bug Fables, but that isn’t a terrible thing at all. We have a game here that feels so much like a love-letter to the series, rather than being a cynical rip-off. It lacks the polish and artistry of the Nintendo games, but then many games do. It is almost a shame there is a new Paper Mario on the way so soon, as it will obviously steal Bug Fables thunder.
There is plenty of room for both though and Bug Fables isn’t overly long either, so it won’t outstay its welcome at all. There are a few flaws that you need to get over, but there is a fine game here and one that is certainly worth your time.