Bugs Must Die is the first release by DG Games Workshop, a small indie developer in Shanghai. This vehicle-based twin stick bullet hell markets itself as a spiritual successor to Konami’s Jackal from 1986. Like many of the small indie games I end up covering, Bugs Must Die has largely gone unnoticed by most people, and that’s a shame because the game is pretty good at what it sets out to do.
Bugs Must Die
Publisher: DG Games Workshop
Developer: DG Games Workshop
Platform: Windows PC
Release Date: April 5th
The title adequately sums up what little there is to Bugs Must Die‘s story. You are part of an intergalactic pest control agency, and there’s a planet full of nasty alien bugs plotting the destruction of humanity that could use a good genocide. To accomplish this, you’ll drive around in an armored vehicle packed with enough high caliber rounds and heavy ordinance to level a small city.
You’ll get short cutscenes before, during, and after missions, but as you’d imagine from a retro-inspired arcade bullet hell, the story of Bugs Must Die isn’t what you’re here for.
You’re here because you like giant guns, explosions, and dead bugs, and in that respect the game is more than happy to oblige. It’s probably for the best anyway, because the game’s translation isn’t exactly stellar; it’s not outright atrocious, but you can definitely tell that English is the developer’s second language.
While the game features several modes, your first taste of Bugs Must Die will be its campaign of 16 missions. There’s some pretty nice level variety, both in terms of environments and mission design. You’ll visit volcano-blasted wastelands, dense alien jungles, vast underground bases, and more.
Some levels are fairly straightforward paths from beginning to end, while others are a bit more open. There’s even branching paths in several of them, with one path typically being more challenging than the other. This ensures there’s a good amount of replayability, especially if you want to 100% every level.
The objectives of each level could be anything from navigating a death labyrinth, to driving around completing a series of objectives, or simply surviving waves of enemies for a set amount of time.
There’s a few defense and timed missions that are especially annoying, but for the most part the game manages to be challenging without getting overly frustrating. Levels also have a few sub objectives that give you a reward upon completion, usually being a sneak peak at whatever sweet new weapon you will unlock once you beat the level.
The biggest issue I have with Bugs Must Die from a difficulty standpoint is the number of firefights with offscreen enemies. It’s not uncommon to see incoming barrages of projectiles from something you can’t quite see, and depending on what weapon you’re using, you might not be able to hit back at it from where you are.
The most annoying enemies, however, tend to be melee-based. They have a pretty nasty lunge distance, and their attack patterns aren’t very well choreographed, though they are at their most deadly when they suddenly lunge at you from offscreen.
The first time you “die” in a mission results in you being ejected from your vehicle in a weak and highly vulnerable escape pod. Should you survive for 30 seconds, an aircraft will bring you a replacement vehicle.
Levels are capped off with a boss encounter, and like you’d expect, they all have their own unique mechanics and patterns to learn. Like the environments themselves, the bosses are colorful and quite varied; arguably too much so.
The bosses are inspired by various classic video game and pop culture icons, resulting in a mishmash of mechs, muscular soldiers with ‘roid rage, giant bug monsters, and even a vampire or two. If you don’t mind the boss designs themselves being all over the place and just want some challenging battles then it’s not too big of a deal; I personally just found it a little jarring.
Besides the main campaign, there’s two additional modes. Challenge Mode includes a set of remixed levels including unique boss encounters and rewards that aren’t in the main campaign. Hell Mode is the game’s ultimate challenge, and places restrictions on your arsenal. All told, you could probably get around a dozen hours out of the game just from the three main modes.
By far the biggest strength of Bugs Must Die, however, is its sheer variety of weapons and abilities. There’s tons of guns and gadgets to equip that you’ll gradually unlock as you progress through the game.
There’s multiple characters and vehicles to choose from, all with their own stats, strengths, and weaknesses. For example, the jeep is your balanced vehicle that’s okay at everything, while the tank has greater health and firepower at the expense of speed and maneuverability.
Each vehicle has a weak machine gun with unlimited ammo, but you can carry a small arsenal of other primary weapons like miniguns, rocket launchers, laser cannons, shotguns, heat seeking cluster missiles, and more. You start with three primary weapon slots, and unlock more later on.
In addition to your main weapons, there’s also loads of sub weapons. You start the game with a grenade launcher and shield drones as your options, but quickly unlock more with each cleared stage.
There’s napalm grenades, airstrikes, giant spiked balls of death that bounce between enemies, the list goes on and on. You can eventually equip upwards of six primary weapons and nine sub weapons, and there are way more than that to choose from.
All these options have a downside however, as swapping guns can be a little finicky. There is a tactical pause menu that lets you swap weapons so you aren’t just scrolling through them manually, but it just doesn’t feel as fluid as it could be. The game could really use a proper weapon wheel, or perhaps even hotkeys.
If the sheer amount of primary and sub weapons wasn’t enough though, there’s still slots for more gear. You can bring along a single cooldown-based ability too, most of which are defensive in nature. The default character has access to a whirling blade that circles your vehicle, a dash, and a block that temporarily roots you in place, but negates all damage for a brief amount of time.
If that still isn’t enough, there’s also super attacks like screen-clearing airstrikes, and single use drones that you can purchase before a mission that will orbit your vehicle. Suffice it to say, Bugs Must Die has more than enough weapons and gadgets in its arsenal to keep the combat fresh.
What’s more, all of the primary weapons can be upgraded with money you acquire in each mission, and there’s several other ways you can upgrade your vehicles to give you an edge against the alien menace. This also means that, should you find yourself having a hard time with a particular level, you can always grind to upgrade your gear.
While the core mechanics, gameplay loop, and combat variety in Bugs Must Die are all great, the game does have its fair share of flaws. I briefly mentioned how common it is to have firefights with offscreen enemies earlier, and this sometimes extends to terrain or obstacles obstructing your vision of enemies or items, especially on the jungle levels.
On the subject of terrain, it can sometimes be hard to tell what on the ground is merely texture work or decoration, and what is a legitimate obstacle. I’ve also had issues where the coin explosions from the scattered arcade machines and chests in each level resulted in some currency landing on inaccessible terrain, meaning I couldn’t get them.
As an aside, I also really wish Bugs Must Die had multiplayer. I think this genre is perfect for co-op, but there’s none to be found here. I can understand that even local multiplayer could be difficult for a small team to implement, but I think players could get even more mileage out of the game with some type of cooperative play. The developer is quite active on the Steam forums and has proven to be receptive to feedback and suggestions before, so here’s to hoping they consider it.
There’s no denying that Bugs Must Die could use a little more polish here and there, but overall it’s a fairly enjoyable retro-inspired arcade shooter. There’s a huge variety of weapons in the game, a decent amount of replayability, and a good level of challenge that only occasionally gets particularly annoying.
Its not the best game in the genre I’ve ever played, but it does enough right to get a recommendation from me if you are in the market for a challenging new twin stick shooter. Luckily, the game has a free demo on its Steam page, so go give it a try.
Bugs Must Die was reviewed on Windows PC using a review copy provided by DG Games Workshop. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.