Escape from Bug Island Review
There are few experiences more wonderful than unexpectedly bumping into an old friend you haven't seen in ages. The immediate spark of recognition at the beginning of the encounter is an amazing feeling; not to mention the warm feeling nostalgia you get as a old memories return. I think some video games have tried to replicate this phenomenon by referencing older IPs their audiences grew up with or haven't touched in ages. While it may not have the same effect as seeing an actual friend, the heartwarming nostalgia that results from playing such a game can be nearly as exhilarating.
If you've watched as many b-movies as I have, especially in childhood, then you would have experienced this while playing Escape from Bug Island. I didn't get the sensation upon starting the game, but first experienced it as I ran through a mist-covered forest crawling with enormous mantises. As one approached and emitted a horrible squeal while readying its deadly claws, long expired memories resurfaced. Images of weekly horror flick showcases like TBS's Super Scary Saturday, TNT's Monstervision, and USA's Saturday Nightmares danced through my mind, and memories of Son of Godzilla and The Deadly Mantis came racing back to me. I was overcome with horror-nerd bliss at that moment, and all was right with the universe.
As I advanced, I delighted in spying various references. I swooned as I dodged flying, carnivorous fish like those in an old James Cameron movie and battled explosive ants similar to the fire-starting cockroaches in the 1975 film Bug. Between such campy onslaughts, the game treated me to silly cutscenes with terrible writing and grainy cinematography similar to many drive-in flicks. While these elements will put off some gamers, those who are in on the joke will appreciate the callback to accidentally hilarious epics, much as I did.
Bug Island swept me off my feet several times and wowed me with its style. However, my reasons for playing video games are not purely romantic, as I tend to value interactive elements over style. Sadly, this is where the game misfires.
I didn't notice it, but the first misstep appeared as I enter the preliminary tutorial. Here the game guided me through a laundry list of complicated maneuvers that achieved simple ends, all of which utilize the Wii's motion controls. At first, it' all sounded like a sweet deal, especially as the game introduced three different dodging moves, three basic attacks that shifted in strength as I swung the Remote more quickly, and even a first-person mode. After I completed the tutorial, I thought I'd stumbled upon a sleeper hit with surprisingly deep combat.
I didn't know how mistaken I was until I tested the control scheme against actual opponents. For instance, attacking aerial enemies sounded simple in the tutorial. I just had to hold 'Up + B' and swing the Remote like crazy. I thought I had it down pat until a giant cockroach flew out of nowhere and started nibbling on my skull. At that moment my fingers forgot how to perform the upward thrust, even though I knew what the button combination was. It took a long time for my hands to coordinate the attack, and by the time I did I had lost a fair amount of life.
I also had problems with the Remote registering certain button presses. At times, I'd execute an attack only to watch my character tuck and roll to the side because the game didn't register that I was holding the 'B' button.
You're probably wondering why I was so bothered by the game's control scheme in regards to combat. After all, this is a survival/horror game, and that usually entails avoiding confrontation as much as possible. If only... Unlike most members of the genre, Bug Island didn't usually give me the luxury of eluding adversaries, thereby preserving my health. Instead, most creatures pursued me relentlessly, only giving up after I plunged my weapon into them. That would be a fine arrangement for a standard action title, but not so much for a survival/horror game. Now you're probably thinking that this is certainly an action title and not survival/horror. If that's the case, then why does the control scheme consist of a large number of complex actions that execute simple maneuvers? Also take into consideration the stiff control response, which is usually key for building tension in a horror game. If this were a combat-centric title, then there'd be no need to build tension and the control scheme wouldn't be needlessly complicated.
The irksome controls and the game's genre confusion led to a fair amount of frustrating moments. For instance, there was one point where I went toe-to-toe with a gigantic gorilla boss who, through various maneuvers, always wound up behind me. Thanks to the stiff control response, turning around was a pain. Not that it mattered, because the ape would always charge at me and knock me over before I could face him anyway. Even if I tried to run away instead, the creature usually got a shot in before I could curve out of his path. Damaging him was worse. That required me to switch to first-person mode, aim the overly sensitive reticle until I had it positioned just right, hit 'Z' to switch to a projectile weapon, then perform an overhead swing with the Remote while holding 'B' to cut loose a projectile. I not only had to hope at that point that my projectile connected, but that the creature didn't attack while I was aiming. Ultimately, the battle was too drawn out and frustrating to be entertaining. Sadly, that's the case with a lot of the game.
I can't say I didn't at all enjoy my stay on Bug Island, though. If there was one thing I appreciated about the game beyond its style, it was the stiff challenge. Although I nabbed my share of healing items, a fair reward for taking the time to explore, the game still mercilessly ate my face off with tough baddies and rough situations. I can't count the number of times I had to run through an orchestra of crickets, batting them away as they attempted to latch onto me. Even when I stopped to slaughter them, they'd get several shots in and slowly drain my health. After that, I'd run afoul of lizard women who loved to ignore combo attacks and thrust themselves upon me, taking a few bites and further dishing out damage. Getting my rump handed to me wasn't what made it enjoyable, though. It was rising to the occasion and winning that I found gratifying, mostly because of how rough those situations were. I felt most alive at moments like that, even if I was ticked as all get-out.
Part of me wanted to adore Escape from Bug Island because the game knew its audience. This was a game that spoke my language, likely made by fans of b-movies for fans of b-movies. Sadly, though, that's about all there is to the game. While the clunky controls are not a complete game breaker, they're enough to make the game more frustrating than enjoyable. Perhaps the control scheme wouldn't have been so elaborate or confusing if the game were on a different console, away from the motion controls. I can imagine an improved Bug Island on Xbox 360 or PS3, with up to date visuals, intuitive controls (yet still a bit sluggish, as is necessary for a survival/horror game), and segments that are far more exciting than irritating. I'd rather not think about it, though, because I know it's just a fantasy that will be realized.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.