This physics-based mini-game package gave me the urge to research flea circuses, of all things. I saw one at a funfair once and felt disappointed – it was simply a circus diorama with numerous fleas merrily jumping around. A case of poor artisanship, it seems – the fleas are supposed to be tied to miniature carts, balls, and other small-scale objects using ‘invisible’ thread. As the hapless insect struggles for freedom, they give the impression of performing.
It’s no wonder I felt dissatisfied – stroking a stray cat or dog would’ve provided the same experience.
Chances are anybody diving into this bug-based jamboree won’t be left feeling similarly disappointed. This is a game eager to please, presenting a vast amount of comical challenges (exams) to blitz through with reckless abandon. You control groups of gormless flying insects, with each species having a unique skill. Much like Nintendo’s Pikmin, the more in your posse, the easier it is to ferry objects around. Out to ruin the bug’s education are a bunch of equally gormless cows, shattering their hopes in dreams by generally getting in the way.
Missions are far from typical involving pizza delivery, diamond mining, bank heists, ghost catching, and a few examples of Angry Birds-style destruction. It also borrows the three-star ranking system from Angry Birds et al, with later stages requiring a certain number to unlock. Stars also give access to a range of funky headgear, providing something to work towards.
Bug Academy’s controls are purposely loose, contributing to the chaos. The boss-eyed bugs build up momentum quickly, zipping across the colourful environments while smashing through walls and sending objects flying. Only the tower building missions call for precise movement, all of which have generous ten-minute time limits.
Even when reducing large buildings to rubble, or toppling large towers, the humble Switch copes with the chaos admirably. The backdrops are rather appealing too, featuring a papercraft visual style similar to Yoshi’s Crafted World.
It’s the sheer variety of missions that impresses the most here. The aforementioned bank heists involve eluding security systems and avoiding searchlights before grabbing a giant diamond and smashing your way out. Missions with fireflies entail navigating underground mazes, while the bee’s ability to shoot adds projectile firing into the mix, allowing for target ranges and balloon popping shenanigans. The mosquitos are easily the stars of the show, however, able to spew various fluids. This leads to some delightfully messy challenges based around painting, cooking, and firefighting.
While a handful of concepts are recycled, subtle twists – such as warped gravity – prevent them from being wholly identical. A couple of missions would have benefited from refinement, however – a mission to protect a pile of gems from cows on jetpacks ended in failure, but rather than giving the option to retry we were left twiddling our thumbs until the timer ran out. In fact, the minimum criteria to pass an exam is incredibly lax in general with only later challenges requiring multiple attempts.
Also: the ghost hunting mission is one of the lamest, entailing nothing more than dragging a vacuum cleaner around a haunted house. With zero visual feedback when inhaling ghost cows, it’s a far cry from the Luigi’s Mansion pastiche we were expecting.
Bug Academy’s frustration-free nature is both a blessing and a curse, albeit more so the former. It wants you to have a good time – it’s inviting, colourful, and silly. The missions are delivered in quick-fire succession, and it’s always a mystery as to what nonsensical challenge it’ll stump up next. Then, after only three hours of play, it’s time for the final exam.
The only real depth comes from going for gold medals, which requires level layouts and key item locations to be memorised. If you’re happy to settle for a trophy cabinet filled with nothing but bronze medals and a splash of silver, Bug Academy will be over before it really gets going. Go for gold and it’ll serve you well, although chances are you’ll also start to see the game’s more frustrating side. There’s nothing worse than spending 5-10 minutes creating a tower only for a single wayward bug to ruin your hard work.
While Bug Academy doesn’t disappoint – it’s far too cheery to do that – it may have benefited from more bite. Nevertheless, it still provides an itch that’s fun to scratch. Ned Flanders would approve.