20th Nov2018

‘The Bug Butcher’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey


It’s Pang. Or, depending on your region, Buster Bros. Or Pomping World. Anyway, to the uninitiated, this means it’s an arena shooter in which you can only shoot upwards. Enemies bounce around the screen and you must time your attacks in order to dash under them and destroy them.

Some enemies split apart into smaller, more numerous creatures; some have staggered attack patterns; others stick to the ceiling. There are traps and obstacles, too: fire-bursts coming out of the walls, destructible platforms and intermittent laser walls. Then there’s the time limit, which is no joke – two or three minutes to wipe out all the enemy waves, or you’re starting the level over. And that’s before you even think about targeting a high score and challenging the online leaderboard.

So, The Bug Butcher wants to make you fail in a myriad of ways, and the challenge is considerable. On Medium mode, the struggle is real from level 10 onwards – and there are 30 levels in total, so you can imagine the pain of the final act. Your progress through the zones – which, disappointingly, nearly all have a samey-looking industrial greyness – is punctuated by elevator levels: tight rooms which act as boss battles. There aren’t dedicated boss beasts, sadly, just less space.

There are some concessions to help you along your way. You may not be able to jump, but you can dash sideways. Shoot enough enemies and you’ll unlock a superpower, which seems to be randomly chosen – trigger this and you’ll get a burst of invincibility, a powerful nuke, or the ability to freeze everything on screen. And there are powerups: special weapons which you’d be wise to save for the most opportune moment.

The graphics are crisp and smooth, eschewing pixel art in favour of a rich, hand-drawn comic book style. There’s some decent music as well, referencing classic chiptune, except with modern production values. While the melodies aren’t as strong as Nintendo’s, I got some pleasing Splatoon vibes from the weird alien vocoder.

The in-game UI is clear, with good visual and aural indicators. Its clarity is in stark contrast to the game’s menus, which are a confounding mess of arbitrary button prompts. Some guidance on levelling up your character wouldn’t have gone amiss, either – I didn’t even realise you could upgrade your weapons and speed until after my first playthrough.

The Bug Butcher is a fun little time-waster, even if it never quite touches the best of the cartoon arcade shooters on Switch (I’m looking at you, Graceful Explosion Machine and Aqua Kitty). The game’s difficulty curve is too often upset by contrived means of impeding the player’s progress. The last few levels were, for me anyway, entirely dependent on receiving the right power-ups for the job, as this was the only way to beat the clock. It’s hard to accept the umpteenth wipe when your chances are heavily randomised. Also, the insta-kill enemy type felt like a cheat every time it squelched from the ground.

It doesn’t take long to feel aggrieved over its balancing issues, but moment to moment The Bug Butcher is enjoyable. You’ll have seen all it’s got to offer within an hour of play – and probably beaten it in two, if you’ve no shame about selecting Easy mode – but like all arcade games, its longevity is all about personal improvement. Throw in the very welcome co-op mode, and the overall package is worthwhile if you spot it in a sale.

The Bug Butcher is out on Nintendo Switch now.


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