The Bug Butcher
The Bug Butcher is one of the most perfectly named games ever, I am confident in saying. It’s a classic side-scrolling run-and-gun with a few neat twists that quickly lead to equitable bouts of enjoyment and addiction. Anyone who wasted countless quarters in arcades on the forefather of the genre, the Metal Slug games, or who dug both the fast paced action and irreverent-to-gross humor of Alien Hominid from over a decade ago will find something to like about this game. And newcomers need not worry, the learning curve isn’t very steep and the instant enjoyment factor is, well, pretty instantaneous.
Plot is not the most important factor in games like this, but there is a plot here and it’s fairly enjoyable. You are the titular bug butcher, Harry, who’s been called to basically play gun nut exterminator at a top secret space lab against an army of terrifying, gross, and above all fleshy bug-type aliens. The only real dialogue or plot development occurs between our protagonist and one of the surviving simpering scientists, exchanges which introduce each new level and include a decent bit of well-written humor chock full of cultural references (I’m pretty sure Harry’s name is an ode to the Clint Eastwood classic Dirty Harry given his gun-toting, badass style; and if I have to tell you what a character in any piece of Science Fiction saying ‘I have a bad feeling about this…’ is winking at, we probably will not be friends). Both characters are masked throughout the game and depicted, as is everything else, in a gorgeously fun cartoon style.
You basically fight through hordes of wonderfully disgusting bug aliens who come in greater and greater waves, and greater and greater varieties as well. There are really some stand out beasts in this game, beasts who are both cartoonishly disgusting and body-horror horrifying at the same time: pregnant blue beetle monsters dropping gelatinous swarms of pink eggs from their pregnant thoraxes, that brown red thing that looks like some kind of hemorrhoidal tumor barfing larva and spawn at you, and (my most/least favorite) those bulbously swollen spiders that climb on the ceiling and snatch up your screaming scientist allies with their gummy tongues. The folks at Awfully Nice Studios have certainly done a terrific job of creating a whole swarm of different beasties whose revolting appearance just begs you to blast them to smithereens. All the bugs move in a distinct, set manner that makes their movements predictable on the individual level but gradually more vexing once they start to multiply. The bugs also have an interesting array of attacks which, along with their ever increasing numbers, is sure to keep even the most seasoned player on their toes.
“What about blasting them to smithereens?” you may ask? I’m happy to say the gameplay in The Bug Butcher is a real delight, fast paced but still with enough nuance to keep you coming back for more and trying just one more time (every time) for that higher score. You fire upwards at the flying and crawling and bouncing monstrosities surrounding you, and have access to a quick slide action that’s easy to master and fun to implement. The more bugs you kill in a row the more combo points you gain, which contributes both to your score and the amount of money you earn each go around.
And keeping those bugs dying is where the pick-up items come to your aid. As is traditional, you gather up weapon modifiers; special attacks/abilities; various health, damage, and defense buffs; and coins you use to buy upgrades to everything I just mentioned and more. The really interesting part is combining all these items, whether biding your time for the right use of each on or just unleashing an annihilation wave on your enemies. Between matches, the upgrade system is really intiutive and allows you to max out those pick-ups you find especially useful or fun, adding a nice layer of customization to gameplay.
I also need to take a minute to say how great the physics of The Bug Butcher are laid out. The real tricks are learning how and when to best implement the slide action (to make sure to max out those kill combos) and calculating both the weight and the bounce factor of each bug you blast out of the sky (the ‘are you going to fend this blob off or get smashed’ factor). This varies from bug to bug and from weapon to weapon. Part of the joy of unlocking and upgrading the various pickups and specials is playing around with what each will do against enemy class, how they can best be implemented at various points in gameplay. And once you really hit the rhythm and just get a whole mess of bugs trapped the bloodlust takes over and annihilating them becomes an entrancing pleasure.
Visually the whole game looks terrific, rendered in a very modern cartoon animation style. The bug design (as I mentioned earlier) is great all around and so are the levels themselves. My particular favorite was the garden area; for whatever reason the tranquil backdrop contrasted with the splatter and gore in the foreground really spoke to me. The music and sound effects are definitely very enjoyable as well, a wonderful variety of splats and laser blasts taking place over some rocking synth tracks.
All in all The Bug Butcher is a distinct pleasure I keep finding myself going back to. It’s got that great arcade feel and frantic pace you look for in a title like this, and is so deftly executed it could delight the most stridently anti-nostalgia gamer. But when you get right down to it, The Bug Catcher just makes it so darn fun to wipe out wave after wave of those gross bastard bugs, and that’s really all I need to keep me happy for a good hour or two at a time.