Review: Little Bug (PC)

Developer: Buddy System
Publisher: Fig Publishing Inc.
Genre: Platformer
Platforms: PC
Rating: N/A
Price: $9.99

 

 

If anyone clicks my profile picture at the top of this review,, they will find that I cape hard for indie games, at least 5-to-1 compared to the AAA stuff. Little Bug is an example of a game that I purchased on a whim as soon as I learned of its existence on a video game forum. I am pleased to say that I do not regret my act of spontaneity.

Content Guide

She took the scenic route home, so she’s late.

Similar to games like Journey, Little Bug is ostensibly a spiritual voyage. The game does not explicitly lay claim to any specific faith tradition. Yet, I can detect vestiges of Afrocentricity, though for the purpose of educational and cultural enrichment rather than indoctrination.

Very early in the game, players will pass by a dead cat on street named Roadkill.

Review

Taking a stroll through the ‘hood.

I purchased Little Bug simply because besides Clementine from The Walking Dead Season 1, I cannot think of another game where a little black girl is a NPC or playable character, let alone the protagonist. When I fired up this game on the ol’ 60″ plasma (I plan to ride the tech until the last TV dies or when OLED stops costing the GDP of Greece, whichever comes first), my children who were present in the living room at the time stopped whatever they were doing at once and began to watch, enraptured by the character named Nyah on the screen. Like her, my youngest wears glasses; my middle child shares her vivid imagination; my daughter understandably associated herself with the character upon sight of the braids snap-on barrettes. Because my kids did not move from their seats, I played through Little Bug in one sitting. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, representation matters.

I, too, focused on Nyah, determining that her walking animation is stiffer than I am accustomed to for games of this type, while absolutely melting at the sight of her rotating animation when a bouncy blue creature launches her into the air upon contact. Reminding me of the spring jump animation from one of my all-time favorite games Sonic CD is always a good thing.

Take note of the complete shift in mood from the initial screenshot.

By “games of this type,” I am referencing Playdead’s Limbo and INSIDE, and Sand Sailor Studio’s Black: The Fall. In those titles, the child protagonists generally move from left to right on the screen, solving puzzles along the way toward their objectives. It is likewise with Little Bug; Nyah begins her journey by exiting from a school bus into her neighborhood in what appears to be the projects based upon the background architecture, the big body vehicle passing by the foreground, the broken fence, and the stairwells. A black cat suddenly manifests from thin air and runs away from Nyah until she encounters a dead cat in the street, after which the mobile feline disappears and the world transitions into blue tint. Fondly naming cat’s apprition Roadkill, she presses on toward home after collecting a cat collar and skull. Eventually encountering a tall wall, a controllable sphere of light appears to tether her over to the other side. The ensuing bouncy bears and dissolving platforms function as a tutorial to prepare gamers for more difficult obstacles later.

After ascending the stairs, Nyah hears her mother on the phone worrying about her. The girl tries to report to her mom the events that transpired on her trip home, but she is not hearing any of it. Her mother’s neglect devastates her, turning her world upside down. This reality jettisons Nyah from this reality, and into a fantastic dreamscape.

World turned upside-down. Or sideways.

Like Limbo and INSIDE, players must guide the defenseless protagonist toward her goal. Here, Nyah either treks through the unpredictability of a dream, or she is gifted with the ability to access an alternate dimension. Little Bug resists a straight answer as to which, but instead encourages players to press forward—as Luke Cage would say, “Always forward, never backward.” For the record, I believe the game takes place in the former, given how the death mechanic works.

I could not help but laugh. This reminds me of The Flesh from Nickelodeon’s KaBlam! Ouchies!

Though Nyah cannot jump on her own, her guiding light propels her via the momentum created from tethering. This is a key deviation from Playdead’s formula, as the solutions to the puzzles in Little Bug often require players to navigate puzzles with physics. This works without a hitch for all but arguably three obstacles requiring precise execution. Unlike the aforementioned games, Nyah is not mutilated or worse upon death, but simply pops from the screen in a beam of energy, returning to the last checkpoint consisting of an altar of candles. The shift from “git gud” and “try hard” into encouraging messages of endurance as brought forth with Celeste persists here.

The game did not lend me a hand in order to figure out this sequence.

For the venturesome players, the Little Bug features more collectibles than it is possible to keep in Nyah’s lunchbox. Upon collection, these items reveal details concerning the relationship between three generations of women, plus Nyah’s personality and interactions with her teacher. I find this approach to storytelling captivating, because one must stop and devote attention to details such as Nyah’s lamentations concerning what her mother once was to her. Single motherhood is often discussed with derision, so it is invigorating to experience a game that highlights its struggle. Nyah launches into her adventure after venting about her baby sister recieving her attention, after all. Though Little Bug is no bildungsroman, it does convey many of the negatives associated with coming of age for (a) little black girl(s). Put another way, this kind of writing is novelist caliber.

Seeing this just reminds me of how old I am.

Collecting items simply for the sake of doing so or feeding them to Roadkill is the one digression this title offers from its standard gameplay loop. Even with those distractions, I finished the main portion of Little Bug in a brief 190 minutes. Recycling items with Roadkill unlocks challenge levels, which are nice, but they only ornimentally lengthen the game. They simply do not fit within the scheme of the game which is supposed to be a single continuous journey.

Almost like having her own shooting star.

The art direction in Little Bug is impressive for its otherwise humble ambitions. I absolutely love the selection of neons that create a jazzy tone similar to how Dr. Facilier provides vigor to The Princess and the Frog. Spike-haired spirits, dreadlocked giants, and disembodied appendages provide Little Bug with an authentic style derived from the black imagination that lacks an equal in the gaming industry. This game seems to pull from children’s books like Abiyoyo or Zomo the Rabbit.

Improvisation is a key component of the blues aesthetic.

Little Bug maintains a conscious understanding of what it is. At $9.99, it delivers an experience that is long enough to provide satisfaction, yet short enough so that its limited mechanics do not weigh down the experience it offers. For the price, this title provides what I expect from an indie game: a unique experience that is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.

 

The Bottom Line

 

 

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Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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