The Bug Butcher is a great example of how to distill the most important elements of an arcade game into the bare essentials and polish them until they shine. The game is just fun, and it is the perfect palate cleanser game to play between the AAA releases that are everywhere this time of year.
The Bug Butcher’s premise is simple. You will be stepping into the shoes of an intergalactic exterminator who needs to clear a nasty infestation in a lab. There are 30 levels spread over five different rooms with an elevator level between each room. The bugs enter the room from the ceiling, floor, and sides, and there is a directional indicator showing you where the next threat will be. In case alien bugs trying to kill you is not enough motivation, each level also has a time limit until you and everything else in the room is destroyed. If you die, I guess they could always nuke them from orbit, because it is the only way to be sure. (I had to sneak some reference in here.)
Instead of chemicals, your character uses a gun to destroy the pests, and he can only fire rounds toward the ceiling. As the game constantly reminds you between levels, you can fire automatically just by holding the button and that typically works very well. After all you can have critters jumping at you and over you from multiple directions as you move left and right to avoid being hit and to line up the next perfect shot or dash quickly to avoid being smashed.
There are a huge variety of enemies to eradicate. The game starts you off slowly with bugs that bounce when they hit the floor or walls, but soon you will have enemies that only walk on the ceiling. There are also larger bugs that break into multiple smaller bugs after you cause enough damage. There are bugs that keep creating more little enemies until you finally destroy them and even bugs that fire back you. When you hit the later levels, this can cause a symphony of delightful chaos on the screen as you try to find the next safe patch of ground before you are overwhelmed.
Your default weapon is fine, but there are several special weapons. At the beginning, there is a lab technician who will be your guide and generate weapon power ups for you across the levels. They are limited use items that can disappear if not picked up quickly, but they can provide an enormous boost to your firepower and save your bacon if you are in trouble. These can also be upgraded between levels by collecting the coins dropped after killing a bug.
Some power ups can only be earned by killing bugs. On the right side of the screen, you will see a circular meter fill up a little more with every dead bug. One of my favorite flavors of this was when all bugs on the screen would freeze in blocks of ice. It is not long, but it lets you quickly finish a few of the harder bugs that give you the most trouble.
The Bug Butcher has three modes. The arcade mode is the single player game with an easy, medium, or hard difficulty. Panic mode lets you play the levels on medium or hard only and you can upgrade your equipment with coins at any time. If you die, the level will be restarted and any upgrades will be gone. There is even a local co-op Panic mode that allows either player to choose medium or hard difficulty.
The overall presentation was great. The music is an electronic mix with a heavy beat that fits the frenetic gameplay and even after hearing it multiple times, I looked forward to getting pumped up again. The cartoony graphics were bright and colorful, and they welcome you into each new level. The dialogue is sparse, but the banter between the lab tech and the exterminator easily made me smile.
With only one random crash, the game runs extremely well. Some of the level screens are filled with all kinds of disgusting creatures begging to be annihilated, and I did not notice any slow down or technical problems in all that mayhem.
Although the game is short, there is plenty of replay value. Your score is kept for each level, and it determines how many stars you earned. Once you have beaten a level, you can return to it at any time and work on any additional stars you may have missed. Depending on your skill level, this could be a real time sink for completionists.
The Bug Butcher is a marvelous arcade-style, shooting game. I was able to lose myself in the movement patterns of a new bug, and I felt a huge sense of relief when I was finally able to kill the last bug in a level with literally zero seconds left. It is short, but I have already returned to play more of the Panic mode and to replay some of the arcade levels. There are plenty of heavy titles with serious themes this year but if you want something light and fun, yet challenging, and something that has the increasingly rare, local multiplayer, you should definitely give The Bug Butcher a shot.
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