Every now and then, a game comes along which really surprises you. Not always in a good way of course. Thankfully, Bug Academy is a game that surprises for the right reasons.
A game about different types of insects working their way through lessons at the eponymous school, Bug Academy doesn’t sound like the most interesting premise for a game. Yet there’s an awful lot of ideas here, with the ‘lessons’ (essentially sandbox tasks taking place across nicely sized 2.5D sandbox levels) often being incredibly inventive, amusingly surreal and open ended enough to allow for experimentation and improvisation in completing the task at hand.
There’s such a large variety of tasks to complete that it feels like there’s almost always something new to do, with only a few task types repeated or recycled over the course of the game’s 33 stages. The different bug types – flies, fireflies, mosquitoes and bees – all have unique abilities that are utilised in their own set of lessons; quite often, the lessons revolve around physics puzzles, but there’s plenty more to sink your teeth into than just moving and flinging objects.
You’ll be delivering fridges as a fly, working your way through a dimly lit maze as a firefly, stopping thieving cows from stealing gems as a planet-protecting bee and copying abstract paintings using the liquid absorption ability of the humble mosquito, amongst many other things. A few of the tasks are extremely frustrating – building a tower is a lesson that pops up a few times, for example, and is pretty annoying. This is due partly to the game’s sometimes erratic physics, as well as the slightly disobedient nature of the insect companions you collect to help you out along the way – but stages of this nature are, thankfully, few and far between. There’s so much to like here that the more irritating stages are soon forgotten about; it’s easy enough to move onto the next task in the game’s hub world, or even tackle the lessons put in place for a different type of bug. It’s refreshingly open in terms of what order you’re able to tackle lessons, though you’ll need to collect trophies to unlock the last few stages for each bug type, generally you’ll unlock them through play without any trouble.
The Switch version is a little rough visually – an issue which doesn’t affect the PC version, which is a little cleaner, smoother and more vibrantly coloured – but this is a minor nitpick. The general visual design of the exaggerated bugs and balloon-esque cows featured throughout has a sort of wonky charm that remains even in the less accomplished Switch version.
Oh – and who’d have thought that Bug Academy would be educational for humans too? There’s always a new, genuine fact about bugs that pops up on screen – many of which are fascinating to learn.
With the variety of tasks on offer – that can put up a serious challenge when aiming for silver and gold trophies on each – and plenty of little hats to collect and customise your creatures with, Bug Academy has plenty of content to justify its price tag. It’s an awful lot of fun and manages to overcome the few gameplay annoyances with sheer charm and inventiveness. Excellent stuff – and a very pleasant surprise. Having played through Bug Academy, I’d certainly be keen to try another set of lessons in a sequel, particularly if the same level of variety and inventiveness can be maintained.
Disclaimer: Ultimate Games provided me with a game code for review purposes.
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