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Sunday, April 14, 2024

'Bugsnax' Raises the Question: Do All Games Need to Be Replayable?

Adorably weird and heartwarming, Bugsnax was one of those easygoing titles that calmed many a gamer during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Set on Snaktooth Island, home to delicious bugs, the game’s mission had a straightforward premise—solve the mystery of what happened to explorer Elizabert Megafig—and came chock-full of delightful characters. It became something of a low-key hit for Young Horses, the small studio that developed it, but was ultimately overlooked because it was a launch title for the PlayStation 5, and PS5s were—and often still are—very hard to come by. Bugsnax seemed destined to be relegated to a specific time and place.

Or maybe not. Next week, Young Horses plans to release a free DLC, titled The Isle of Bigsnax, which dangles the potential for a Bugsnax resurgence.

Generally speaking, DLC isn’t a foolproof way to launch a game’s renaissance. Some players, like me, have forgotten the game’s controls and other idiosyncrasies by the time a DLC drops and don’t feel inclined to learn them again. Others just don’t like returning to games they feel they’ve already completed. But sometimes new downloadable content can build on a beloved game’s story. Isle of Bigsnax seems to fall into this category. In addition to adding to the original storyline, it allows players to, and I cannot stress this enough, build their own house—the kind of thing that really ups a game’s replayability factor.

That element is a tricky thing in games. It’s a fine line between replayable and repetitive, and far too many titles find themselves on the wrong side of it. Some games, like The Outer Worlds, try to go deep and long with their DLC and just end up being grueling. Others, like Mass Effect, can release something like Legendary Edition and pull players right back into the world they enjoyed getting lost in years ago. Bugsnax, meanwhile, doesn’t have the story depth of a Mass Effect, but it does have wildly lovable characters, something that makes it very easy to revisit multiple times.

There’s also something to be said for replaying a game just to make sure you cover all the corners of its map or collect all of its hidden gems and doodads. Not every game induces a completionist’s itch, but titles like Horizon Zero Dawn make exploring even unnecessary areas thrilling. Games like Assassins Creed: Valhalla, meanwhile, don't deliver a good enough experience to support the sheer number of collectables on the map. Having the ability to collect things when the game itself isn’t fun isn’t exactly useful. With Bugsnax, the joy is that you don’t have to collect every bug on your first playthrough—but they’re always there if you want to go back. Additionally, the game has introduced a new collectable (hats!), making it much more pleasurable to revisit all those landscapes.

At the end of the day, the question of replayability is a simple one: Did I enjoy it enough the first time to want to go back? Not all games pass this test; and, frankly, not all games need to. Bugsnax, however, never got the time or attention it deserved when it was released in 2020. With The Isle of the Bigsnax, the game is giving everyone a second chance to uncover its hidden charms.


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