By Gabriel Jones 18.10.2016
With a title like The Bug Butcher, and its accompanying pictures of a guy blasting alien abominations into gooey bits, one would expect this game to be a standard shoot 'em up. Surprisingly enough, it goes in a slightly different direction, taking inspiration from the classic Buster Bros. arcade games. Instead of using a harpoon to pop inexplicably dangerous balloons, Harry butchers legions of bouncing bugs with his trusty machine gun.
Harry's mission will take him through thirty levels of alien-infested rooms. The goal is always to destroy everything—oh, and look good while doing it. Looking good isn't just about wearing a stylish orange suit with a blue visor. Killing more than one bug in a short amount of time creates a combo. The combo is the backbone of the scoring system, since it creates a massive multiplier. Taking damage isn't just bad for Harry's health; it also causes him to drop his combo, and that's usually enough to ruin potential high scores. Taking too long to obliterate monsters is also a bad idea, so Harry might find himself running head first into awful situations, just to keep that precious multiplier bonus going.
As if the waves of gruesome slugs and cravings for points weren't bad enough, there are other complications. Harry had a…strange childhood, so for reasons beyond understanding, he can only shoot straight up. Thankfully, this is convenient because the foul creatures spend a fair amount of time in the air, and over Harry's head. The invertebrates that stalk the facility come in many shapes and sizes. They also exhibit different behaviours, such as bounding off of the walls and floors like a racquet ball, or spitting acidic sludge at the hero. Some enemies are especially durable, and focusing on them risks losing the combo. In these situations, it's helpful to leave one or two weak bugs alive, simply because they can be used to keep the multiplier bonus going. Many of the levels have traps to account for, such as force fields and jets of fire.
Alongside the machine gun, Harry has a wealth of temporary guns and special powers to take advantage of. In most levels, a scientist will periodically drop weapon crates. The ammo for these extraordinary guns is limited, so it's worth taking the finger off the fire button, and conserving precious firepower. Strong lasers, devastating missiles, and the always welcome Gatling gun make short work of the nasty foes. Everything that gets squashed adds meter to a special gauge. When this gauge is filled, Harry can unleash one of a handful of powers, such as invincibility or a deluge of homing rockets. These are best saved for those truly desperate moments. There's a shop that allows for upgrades to be purchased. There are a few perks, as well, though most players are liable to stick with the shield that allows for a free hit. Losing the shield doesn't break the multiplier combo, so it's especially helpful. Most missions don't take more than a couple of minutes to finish, anyway, but a fair amount of time can be spent on them if chasing the highest leaderboard spots.
The survival mode is a wave-based affair, and Harry must try to stay alive for as long as possible. Death is an unfortunate inevitability here, so the emphasis is on managing limited resources—such as health—while keeping that all-important combo bonus going. Time is also a factor, because it will run out. While clocks can fall from fresh corpses, they only add a few seconds, and disappear if they're not quickly scooped up. In between waves, a shop menu can be brought up to obtain upgrades. Survival mode can also be played cooperatively, although it's limited to couch friends only.
There are a handful of minor nit-picks that bring down this otherwise exceptional game. Before enemies appear, their imminent arrival is announced via on-screen indicators. This is greatly appreciated, but it would have been nice to specify if the incoming monster is a boss. Since enemies tend to approach from the top of the screen, Harry will opt to stand underneath, so he can immediately take out everything that appears. This normally useful strategy is undone when a massive boss appears, squashing Harry before he has a chance to react. In the Survival mode, bosses get their own indicator, which is welcome, but rather odd. These massive foes also seem to have slightly larger hit boxes than they should, so they'll damage Harry, even if it doesn't look like they're really touching. It's a nuisance, but doesn't affect the game all that much. Anyway, it's a better idea to crush the bosses with special powers, rather than attempt a protracted battle.
The Bug Butcher does a fine job of paying homage to the arcade titles that inspired it. Rather than attempt to be an inept clone, this shoot 'em up goes for a faster, more frenetic take on the concept. The variety of bugs and traps makes each level feel fresh, and there’s enough of a difficulty curve to keep everything interesting. When played for score, this game becomes even more enjoyable. It’s not quite as polished as it could be, but all things considered, Awfully Nice Studios delivered a quality product for insect-blasting enthusiasts.