Bugs Must Die is a deceptively tough bug slaying gauntlet of terror. It's a game that will test your patience and shmup skills all while bordering on lunacy with nearly-unfair tactics. Thankfully Bugs Must Die's main gameplay loop is quite fun and hammers on that comfy "just one more" feeling. There's just enough variety in weapons, tanks, and powerups to keep things interesting. That is if you can tough it out and succeed in Bugs Must Die's murderous difficulty, designed only for one thing. Killing players, repeatedly.
Bugs Must Die is played by surviving bug-infested levels by driving and shooting bugs with your tank till you reach the end of the level. Be warned, this is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter hell-bent on destroying you at every turn. You won't be completing any levels without expert usage of Bugs Must Die's devastating arsenal of weapons, sub-weapons, melee attacks, and specials. Your ability to scavenge the battlefield will also be put to the test with limited ammo reserves and powerups. Prepare yourself.
Bugs Must Die is saved by two different features. Without these and I would have a hard time recommending this game to anyone but the most hardcore shmup fans. The game gives you one additional life for each level if your tank loses all of its health. But as per the usual Bugs Must Die style it's not all that easy. When your tank loses all life you get ejected into an escape pod. If you are able to survive a short time in the escape pod a jet flies by and drops another tank for you. Use it wisely, you won't get another chance.
The most important saving grace of Bugs Must Die is the ability to skip levels by paying a certain number of gold coins. If it wasn't for this feature I wouldn't have been able to get to half the levels in the 6 or 7 hours I've played Bugs Must Die. The paying for skips feature is a welcome addition to a really tough and unforgiving game.
Right from the start, you have a choice between three different tanks of varying speed, power, and health. Each of these is an equal tradeoff between all the stats with none of them being all powerful. You also get to choose between the starting 5 primary weapons, 4 sub-weapons, 3 melee attacks, and 2 different air support specials. This looks like a lot of choices but you can equip 3 primary weapons and 8 sub-weapons on any starting tank. Only one weapon has to side by the wayside. There are additional unlocks for each weapon type but these are masked behind unknown objectives. If that wasn't enough there are drones which will hover above your tank as you shoot bugs, assisting you in your slaughter.
Pickups & Powerups
As you pilot your tank through bug infested territories you'll have the chance to pick up ammo, health, additional sub-weapon charges, and the all-powerful powerup. All weapons minus the default tank weapon come with limited ammo so scavenging for ammo is nearly required for each level. All weapons have a sort of level assigned to them and by picking up a powerup you will "level up" the currently equipped weapon. This is the equivalent of turning a pea shooter into a bazooka. Picking these up is a must if you want to survive.
Shopping For Upgrades
Between each bug ridden nightmares, you will have the opportunity to shop for upgrades. These upgrades include large ammo capacity, more damage, or higher starting power level for each weapon. Drones are also for sale but beware, they are only usable once after purchasing them. The shop also has a category called "escape pod" but I haven't unlocked any items for it so I couldn't tell you what's there. I would assume this is where the upgrades for your little escape pod go. You know, that thing your in right before you die and start over.
Bugs Must Die is largely themed in bold retro reds, oranges, blues, and yellows. Everything is solidly bordered with bold outlines to match the boldness of the colors. I really like the graphics and design of this game. Bugs actually explode, littering the ground with their carcasses. The levels change up the color palettes and background scenery objects as you progress through the game. Bugs Must Die carries a bold retro feel without it actually being retro. There's not a whole lot of graphical faults when it comes to Bugs Must Die.
Ever since a Devious Dungeon review I've been turned on to bouncing coins. I really love the way coins look in this game and its even better when they bounce around. The way they pop out of dead bug husks and do a little jig are oddly satisfying moments for me. This might sound a little weird but check it out for yourself. Bouncing coins are a next-generation feature that no one knows they need yet.
The audio and sound effects in Bugs Must Die is as you would expect. You hear a good amount of "pew pew pew" with the addition of "slash slash slash" every once in a while for good measure. The most dreaded sound in the game is the metallic "tink" as an enemy hits your armor, bringing you one step closer to death. As the title would suggest, Bugs Must Die means Bugs Must Die. They also explode with a fantastic melody that sounds something like "squish squash squish". Overall the sound doesn't detract from the main gameplay which is a win for audio in my book.
Deceptively Tough as Nails, F%@#!
One of the major downsides for me is that Bugs Must Die is really really tough. So tough, I'd even call it overly punishing and unfair at times. To reinforce this point I spent the first 4 hours playing just the first level because I just couldn't beat it. I could flawlessly run through the level, reach the boss, get to the last stage and then just get obliterated. This wasn't fun and as it turns out was a pretty good glimpse at what was to come in future levels. More unabated slaughter.
I think this is largely due to how the game is designed coupled with expected reactions from the player. There are numerous times you feel trapped with no way out. I felt like I was deceptively lured to my grave without knowing what was happening until it was too late. It was enraging that enemies will start shooting you while they are still offscreen. This makes it a major pain in the ass when you can't see what you're supposed to be shooting at till you push forward only to find yourself pinched between two groups of enemies as they always seem to spawn to your rear. I don't mind a game being difficult but difficult to the point of unfairness is where I draw the line.
Not So Complete Controller Support
I used an Xbox Elite Controller for all of my gameplay time and for the game itself it works flawlessly. The controls are tight and the buttons work. The problem arises when you're starting the game and choosing your equipment. Certain portions of the menu like the level select and upgrade shop don't scroll at all with the controller. This forces you to get hands on the mouse and keyboard to get where you need to go. This is not a show stopper but it's annoying enough.
When you pick up a powerup upgrade for a weapon while playing it upgrades the weapon you are actively using. If you pick one of these up with a fully upgraded weapon it appears to be wasted. The same can go for things picked up while in the escape pod. I would rather it randomly upgrade a weapon than lose the opportunity. This feels like a minor oversight but Bugs Must Die is already hard enough and this just over complicates things.
Fumbling for Changes
I put this last as its probably the least worst thing Bugs Must Die can do. I found it quite difficult to change primary and sub-weapons while battling bugs. The buttons for this use the D-Pad which take your hands off the joysticks for just long enough to take a hit or two. It's not fluid or fast enough and doesn't match well with the frantic pacing of the game.