Sunday, June 21, 2009


I haven't beaten Bug!, and I probably never will. Even as a kid, sitting around waiting for the next Sonic game, I never really tried. This is probably due to the fact that even though I played it often, I hated it with a passion. Bug! was, to my young mind, Sega's replacement for Sonic. After all, his game was the platformer available near the 1995 launch of the system, while Sonic was nowhere to be seen. But that wasn't the total reason that I hated the game. I genuinely thought that Realtime Associates had created a poor game. However, I never actually thought about why. So, when I recently bought a Saturn from a friend, I was itching to go back and find out if Bug! was as bad a game as I remember, or if I was just bugged that Sonic was nowhere to be seen.

The main character is the titular Bug, a small, green insect whom just prior to the start of the game struck it big in the movie industry with a blockbuster hit. That one film earns him enough money that he's able to rent out an entire tower for a birthday bash that lasts several days. I'm not entirely certain why that was pertinent information, but it was in the opening. Now, his apparently demanding public wants more, and Bug must return to the set to film his next smash hit, an action movie in which he rescues his girlfriend and various family members from the nefarious Black Widow. Whether said family members are the girlfriend's or Bug's, I'm not sure.

Placing the entire game on the sets of a movie was a nice touch of creativity, however, the actually game makes little use of this. There are no hanging lights, no wires to hold the set up, no backdrops. The only things that even possibly hint towards this are the occasional 2D props used to show grass or a rock, the invincibility item that summons in the Stunt Bug, points being money earned by the film, and small cut scenes that play between areas.

Those simple scenes show Bug walking from the just beaten set to the next. And that's it. With so little of the actual game referring to the movie aspect, the bits that are included feel a bit like window dressings, desperately put in place once the developers realized that a hook was needed. And while it seems a bit disingenuous, it succeeds in giving the game a much needed charm and a way to explain some of the poor design decisions.

However, while the setting itself is charming, Bug, the character, is not. In all honesty, I can't think of any other character that matches Bug in the act of being annoying. In that aspect, he reigns supreme.

Oddly enough, that crown has nothing to do with his design. Bug is a fairly standard, cartoony mascot character, and Less offensive in design than his buddy, a brown spider with a pimp hat, gold chain, and humongous lips. Rather, it is Bug's constant stream of stupid one-liners that make make him detestable. These quips range from the mildly annoying "BUG JUICE" that he sings out every time he picks up that particular healing item, to the "What a slobber head" that he screeches out after killing an enemy. Bug drips a forced bad attitude and wise cracking personality that is so far off the mark of what actually makes a good lead that he'd make a better henchman than hero.

Bug is such an awful character that I can actually understand someone forming a negative opinion about the game just from him alone. In fact, I spent most of my first few play sessions begging for him to shut up. Luckily, that was actually a feture included in the options menu, which is a good thing, because Bug is not all that bad of a game.

Graphically, the game has aged fairly well. Rather than using the blocky polygons that often made up the characters of that time, Bug and his baddies were created by circles and rounded curves. This allowed them escape from looking like the standard hodgepodge of boxes and blocks that creates such a dated feel.

Even the levels the, with their unmoving backgrounds and small, blocky pathways that hover over oblivion, have managed to run past dated and into a surrealistic, quirkiness that actually manages to look good thirteen years later. Part of this is due to the simple aesthetics of the level. The game has little ornamentation to adorn the pathways save the occasional two dimensional wallpaper of a rock or grass that is placed on invisible walls.

The gameplay also transitions well. Being one of the earliest 3D platformers on consoles, the developers made a good choice by creating, for all intents and purposes, a 2D platformer in a 3D space. By this, I mean, that Bug! rarely, if ever, requires the use of all three dimensions at once. Bug is only able to walk in four directions, and there are hardly ever any jumping sections that must be preformed either away from or towards the stationary camera. A good choice when dealing with players unaccustomed to the third dimension.

Speaking of jumping, Bug controls well in the air, which is one of the most important aspects of a platformer. Perhaps the only qualm I have with Bug's jumping abilities is that he doesn't jump high enough to effectively fight enemies on a hill. As a result, Bug must either lure them away from their spot or take damage to move past them.

Of course, taking damage will become second nature to anyone that plays this game. It's not a game that wants you to win, nor is it a game that wants you to die. No, Bug! is a game that wants you to suffer. With a suspect hit detection, enemies that simply appear right in front of the player, and traps that lack a clear distinction for when they won't cause damage, making it through the levels becomes a fight for survival, especially during the later levels when traps are placed on jumps or on corners.

Luckily, Bug does have some tricks to help even the odds. Beyond simply impaling enemies on his stinger, Bug is capable of finding several other power-ups. Zap allows him to arc lightning between his antenna, which is able to take down even the toughest of enemies in no time. The other is a spit attack, which allows bug to lob globs of poisonous spittle at his enemies. Unfortunately, these power-ups are few and far between, so more often than not, Bug will have to make do with the power of his rear.

For a platformer that does not focus on the collection of items, Bug is extremely exploration based. Often times, there are several different pathways through a level that will vary drastically in their requirements. Some of them will have challenging jumps, while others will be full of traps like rolling boulders or just an absurd number of enemies. This allows the player to determine how they would like to tackle the levels. There are even hidden pathways that, while dangerous to access, offer greater rewards in lives, health, power-ups or a combination of all three. This helps keep the game feeling fresh and rewards the brave or crazy for trying out different tactics.

Each area is composed of three stages and a boss fight. All of which border on the needlessly long side. Bosses in particular take far too long to fight. This is especially annoying when one adds in the questionable hit detection. The first boss has five phases and after each one, the player must hit it an increasing number of times. As the phases pass, the boss grows faster and faster, requiring that the jumps become more precise. Normally, that's not a bad thing, but when one must hit a boss close to thirty times before it falls, it becomes a rather tedious experience.

The music is ok. It accentuates the action rather well with a jazzy, schizophrenic nature that plays to the strengths of the odd design and quirky setting. However, it never manages to be memorable. The voice acting, on the other hand, is very memorable if only for how horrid it is. Bug's quips serve more to annoy the player than to make them smile. The sound effects never grate, but there's only so many times one can hear a jingle of picking up a gem before they all tend to blur.

In the end,"Bug!" is a game that's as easy to enjoy as it is to despise, and it's better than I remember it being. It's a competent platformer with a lot of charm and good controls. In some ways, it has actually improved with time due to players growing more accustomed to maneuvering in a 3D space. However, it is still plagued by a terrible lead and frustratingly cheap difficulty. If you've got a Saturn and love platformers, give it a go. It will test your skills better than most. But, if you're new to the genre or just looking for a quirky romp in a whimsical land, don't let this be the bug spray that kills your interest.

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