Apparently Bug Fables is the Paper Mario game that people have been waiting for since The Thousand Year Door. Having never played any in the series until The Origami King, I can’t really say as to whether or not that statement is true. However, one thing I can confidently say is that Bug Fables is what The Origami King should have been. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time with the Mario and his folded friends, but almost everything is done better by Moonsprout Games’ take on the genre.
A PAPER THIN PLOT?
The game kicks off with a cutscene outlining the history of the old ant Queen Elizant’s search for the Everlasting Sapling, a source of eternal youth, and her failure to do so. The new Queen Elizant II, the old Queen’s daughter, continues the search for the fabled sprig.
That’s where our trio of explorers come in: Kabbu, Vi, and Leif. The team is newly formed over the course of their first adventure – a jaunt through Snakemouth Den to locater an Ancient Mask, which will aide the Queen in finding the sapling. Their quest for the remaining artifacts will see them travelling throughout the bug kingdoms, sidetracking occasionally to aid various other bugs who they meet along the way.
Most of the bugs you will help will be done so via sidequests, but other quests you do will be essential to proceed further. Regardless, you will have a lot of fun with most of them. Some of the quests are superb, including one that appears to be a simple fetch quest for a piece of stolen silk, but develops into something more. The writing for the whole game is absolutely spot on and at no point did I ever feel like mashing through text boxes just to end the conversation. Main characters and NPCs are all likeable and compelling. As someone who dislikes RPGs, this point is extremely noteworthy. Many RPGs seem to waste your time with trite dialogue, but Bug Fables does it perfectly.
A BUG’S LIFE
When you first load the game and see the town plaza with its insectoid residents alongside the [excellent] soothing music, you are hit with just how charming everything is. That very first screen really sets the mood for how sweet the game is.
Visually speaking, the game apes Paper Mario to a T. Even with my unfamiliarity with the series, I can see that the visual style of everything in the game mimics that of Nintendo’s RPG. The characters are all flat, showing off their paperlike nature as they turn. The battle UI is almost exactly the same. The more you compare, the more similarities you see. But you also get the feeling that that’s the point. The fanbase has been exasperated for years now, craving a return to the glory days. The developers are merely doing what Nintendon’t.
Let’s meet them:
WHAT DO YOU WANT? A MEDAL?
Throughout the game, you will encounter a variety of different medals. These will usually help your team get stronger, but require Medal Points in order to equip.
Here are some of the medals that may prove useful on your adventure:
BUG ME NOT
ANT KINGDOM ANTICS
The main hub of the game is the Ant Kingdom. Get used to it, as you will be here a lot.
THE MAIN PLAZA
Despite the imitation, the game crafts its own believable world. Every group of insects have their own kingdoms, which are beautifully represented in the game. At first the environments seem weirdly disconnected, but as the game progresses you will see just how everything pieces together perfectly. The world is also accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack: you get some lively tunes like the wasp battle music (which is my favourite piece of music in the game), but then also hauntingly creepy melodies like the music in the final chapter.
Whilst the game may resemble Paper Mario visually, it plays…. well, it plays exactly like Paper Mario too.
As an RPG, you find yourself wandering around the world exploring and talking to folk, taking quests and – ultimately – fighting foes for experience, which will help you get stronger. A dozen or so battles will net you with enough experience to level up and enable you to boost your health, your team points (for using special skills), or your medal points – which allow you to equip more medals: special equippable items that can make your team stronger in various ways.
Fights are a turn based affair: both attacking and defending work via QTEs – these can be timed button presses, mashing buttons (which can thankfully be disabled), holding buttons, or random presses. Your main attack is pretty straightforward, but your skills can prove a lot more complex. Defending, however, is as simple as pressing a button to defend at the right time – with a perfect press netting you a significant damage reduction. It’s a simple, yet compelling system, and there’s a surprising amount of depth too. If an enemy is particularly troublesome, you may want to freeze them so that they can’t attack. Is a heavy projectile going to hit one of your allies next turn? Cast a temporary shield to stop the damage. It has enough depth to maintain your interest, while being simple enough to allow newbies like me to enjoy the game.
In the overworld, you are able to use your attacks to stun enemies (granting you an extra hit in battle) and also for various environmental puzzles. The puzzles are mostly well done and are usually difficult enough to make you feel clever, but not hard enough to stump you for too long – with some exceptions, including one puzzle requiring the use of a strange beemerang quirk. I will admit that I had to resort to google to get some help with that one! Aside from the puzzling, you will also find yourself doing the odd bit of platforming. Given the flat nature of the characters, and the zoomed out nature of the camera, it can be quite difficult to platform sometimes. Often I’d walk off a tight ledge or miss a jump purely because of how the game handles it. Too many times I had to do blind platforming because of where it was expecting me to jump, or due to the camera not allowing me to see the place I need to jump properly. Some parts of the game change camera view because of the situation, so I feel like this is a problem that could have been rectified. However, you don’t lose any health and you respawn nearby, so it’s not a huge dealbreaker – but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
One thing the game does remarkably well though is the boss fight encounters. Across each of the seven chapters, you will fight a plethora of bosses and sub bosses – all of which pose a serious challenge. You will need to put all your fighting skills to the test in order to best these frightening bugs. The game also has some optional bosses too, which you can just stumble across via exploration – or through quests. These are a particular highlight and offer some of the hardest fights in the game.
I finished the game after just over 25 hours of play, on normal mode. Whilst I did take my time to do many of the side quests and extra bosses, I didn’t do all of them. I would estimate that doing everything would probably take around 40 hours – and that doesn’t include beating the game with the hard medal activated. For comparison, my playthrough of The Origami King was around 25-30 hours with a significant amount of the side stuff done as well. The side content here though is far superior to that of Nintendo’s offering. I did encounter a lot of bugs during my playthrough though, but thankfully those were just the denizens of Bugaria!
All in all, Bug Fables is an excellent title that I would recommend to everyone. RPG fans, particular those who like Paper Mario should especially grab this at their earliest opportunity. The game is so good, however, that I am pretty sure non RPG fans like myself will also have a damn good time. It may not be very replayable, as is the case with the genre, but there’s certainly a lot of bang for your bug (sorry).