The Bug Butcher Review - Pang Tribute or Rip-Off?

A beloved arcade game forms the foundation of Awfully Nice's shoot 'em up.

The Bug Butcher 1
Scientist gets captured in The Bug Butcher. Awfullly Nice

Noodlecake Games and Awfully Nice have brought The Bug Butcher, a run 'n gun shoot 'em up, to Android and mobile. The game originally hit PC earlier this year, but what's interesting is that since the game's January 2016 release, something interesting happened: DotEmu released Pang Adventures, a modern update of Mitchell's classic arcade game. And it turns out that The Bug Butcher takes clear inspiration from Pang, and in direct comparison, The Bug Butcher admittedly skews a bit closer to that classic.

It's still fun and has some of its own differences, but it makes for an ambivalent experience.

The Bug Butcher puts you in rooms where you have to shoot bug enemies that generally bounce around off the walls, as you try to shoot them all before you run out of time. As you splat enemies, you rack up combos, can charge up your special abilities, and get powerups to help you butcher those bugs more effectively. It's a game that gets ever more frantic as you go through the game's 30 levels, though you can get permanent upgrades to help you out.

While a significant part of the game is about learning how the game's systems work and utilizing them accordingly to stay alive, the campaign comes with an interesting element to it. Namely, every level has a fixed enemy pattern, so you can kind of memorize how each level works in order to beat it. You'll still have to work out good elimination strategies for the bugs, and time becomes a factor on harder difficulties and later levels.

But still, learning and pattern recognition plays a major role, as does the ever-present strategy of, to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling: "...keep your head while all about you are losing theirs..." It makes for an interesting combo of an action game, for sure. 

The 30 levels grow ever more challenging, and you might want to replay earlier levels in order to get more coins for upgrades that can help out, especially the character ability upgrades, not just the weapon upgrades.

Coins you get while playing are lost when you die, instead of being permanently collected, which is disappointing for those trying hard to get upgrades, since only beating a level gets you more coins. Panic mode is a difficult challenge and will test you. You'll have to work to get high scores, but there's interestingly two different phases to the game: one is figuring out how to stay alive when faced with myriad threats. The other is then finding ways to work quickly to keep the timer going, as it's constantly counting down, with the need to keep adding time before you hit zero. That adds an interesting degree to the game, for sure.

The Bug Butcher is a game that works fine with touch controls, though admittedly the movement controls are a bit small even on an 8" tablet. The thing is, playing this with a controller feels perfect, like the way the game is supposed to be played. And considering how lightning-fast reactions are necessary to do well, you will occasionally fall prey to the imperfections of the touch controls. The action buttons are fine, and their J-shaped layout works well for putting commands in quick, natural proximity to each other. But it's movement that will throw you off, even if it's just left and right.

 

This feels like a game that would be perfect with Android TV support, but sadly it doesn't have native Android TV support, though you can do so through sideloading, though the controller can't access the menus just through the controller, you will need a mouse to navigate the menus without a touchscreen. That's a bit disappointing, to say the least, because, with a little bit of UI work, it would be quite possible to play this game with controllers, and on Android TV! We think more games need to have Android TV support whenever possible, and while we're sure it's not just a simple switch to support Android TV, it seems well within the realm of possibility for a publisher that has released Android TV games before, and with the game's existence on consoles and PC already?

Also, we'd love for cloud saves support.

The Bug Butcher's similarity to Pang has to be noted. Also known in the US as Buster Bros., the concept from The Bug Butcher has many inescapable similarities, especially to Pang Adventures that released on mobile this year from Pastagames and DotEmu. The enemies being spherical, along with the bouncing nature of them, and how many of them split up, gives away the inspiration. Even the game's endless mode is called Panic, which Pang also has. This isn't to say that the two are exactly identical, to be fair – The Bug Butcher is a lot more rapid-fire in nature, and the powerups give it a more modern feel. Also, Pang is much more about working with or against the limitations of its various weapons, wherein The Bug Butcher, weapons are just additional pieces of firepower. Also, The Bug Butcher has its upgrade system and coins that make it stand out even in comparison to the modern Pang Adventures.

It raises a good question about just what's fair in claiming inspiration. Crossy Road takes a lot from Frogger, but Frogger is a more simplistic concept, and Crossy Road's endless scrolling really changes the game, along with its revolutionary free-to-play structure. Pang feels like with its several sets of rules, a game taking inspiration from it has to do more with the concept in order to stand out, and honestly, We feel like The Bug Butcher skews a little close for comfort. Pang is admittedly a bit of an obscure game, but after playing each of the two, it's clear The Bug Butcher owes a lot to Pang in its concept.

While The Bug Butcher could be a lot more original, it's also a victim of timing with a new Pang game having released a few months before the mobile release of The Bug Butcher. This game is fun and worth checking out for those who like a good shoot 'em up but don't expect too much originality.

The Bug Butcher is available now on Google Play.

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