Paper Mario successor, or paper thin wannabe?
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
Release Date: 2019 (PC), 2020 (Consoles)
Developer: Moonsprout Games
Platforms: PC, XB1, PS4, NS (version played)
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Paper Mario is a series that has garnered a massive fan base ever since it’s first release on the N64 twenty years ago. Unfortunately, ever since the release of the series’ magnum opus The Thousand Year Door (all the way back in 2004) the franchise has never been the same. Super Paper Mario on the Wii was made to be a platformer (a pretty good one actually), and Nintendo has never returned back to the old formula of games since. Instead what we have gotten are a couple games (Sticker Star on 3DS and Color Splash on WiiU) that have completely torn away what made the first two so great. They had bad character designs, an mission based world, and most importantly a completely different combat system which stripped away features such as partners, exp, and badges. Suffice to say, a lot of fans were miffed, and feel pretty abandoned by Nintendo.
Enter the indie developer Moonsprout Games, and their game Bug Fables. Bug Fables started out as a kickstarter project a few years ago with the inspiration to be a true Paper Mario like game, and smashed its kickstarter goal. The title had been on my radar ever since last year, but now that it’s on consoles I finally got my hands on it. So does Bug Fables do its job at being a good Paper Mario game? It’s a huge undertaking for an indie to try to replicate a game like Paper Mario (especially considering its fanbase), but as a huge Paper Mario fan myself lets just say I was rather pleased with this game.
Bug Fables takes place in the land of Bugaria where unsurprisingly all of the games characters are indeed types of bugs. These bugs though are more capable beings then the ones you would find in real life. These bugs have created their own human like societies and kingdoms, and can do all sorts of stuff such as cooking and fighting. The main stars of the show are Kabbu the humble beetle, Vi a self absorbed bee, and Leif a moth who is seemingly from the past. These three together form what is called an exploration group, part of an association with the purpose of helping other Bug’s requests and needs. The Queen of the Ant kingdom asks the three to investigate the dangerous Snakemouth Den in order to find a special artifact. This artifact (and two others like it) is the key to finding the whereabouts of a special seed called the everlasting sapling. The everlasting sapling is said to give its holder everlasting life which the Queen is trying to get ahold of. Thus starts the journey of team Snakemouth to find the everlasting sapling.
Just by looking at the game you can tell that it was heavily inspired by Paper Mario. The characters all look Paper like in a 2D on 3D environment. This alone will get Paper Mario fans excited, but the biggest question is the combat system. Fortunately, the combat is just like the first two Paper Mario games if not even BETTER. This time you control three characters instead of just two (the aforementioned Kabbu, Vi, and Leif), and they all act like equal main characters, not just as one main and two partners. Every time you attack with a character you have to complete an action command that varies from button presses to waggling the control stick back and forth. Each character has their own unique talent as well that have to be used to attack certain enemies. Kabbu’s attacks can pierce defenses and flip enemies over. Vi has a boomerang that can reach flying enemies the other two can’t, and Leif has ice magic that can be used to freeze enemies that are hiding underground.
Like Paper Mario the team also has skills that can be spent using points called TP. These range from merely more powerful attacks, to multi enemy attacks, to attacks with status effects. The fan favorite badge points also return, they’re called medal points in Bug Fables and work wonderfully. With these points you can equip medals you find throughout the game which give you certain buffs, and help out a lot. Like skills these buffs range, but even further. Some badges make you resistant to certain status effects, some can help you find objects in the overworld. One of these badges even changes a character’s skill consumption to take health instead of TP. Like most RPGs (except for modern Paper Mario ironically) defeating enemies earns you exp that allow you to level up and upgrade either health, TP, or MP.
That’s not all when it comes to strategy though. You can also choose how you line up your team in battle. The character in the front always does more damage then the others, and you can even relay a character’s turn to another who has already gone and give him a second turn (at the expense of lowering the taker’s damage). Every fighter also has the ability to spy the enemy to learn more about them, and have their health appear during the fight. This all combines for an incredibly fun and strategic system that possibly even surpasses Paper Mario like I said earlier. There is also a hard mode that you can turn on or off at anytime for those seeking a greater challenge (the game can feel a tad easy at times). Plus a medal you get at the beginning of the game allows you to bypass weak enemies that don’t give you much experience in case your overleveled or something.
Unfortunately, the balancing can feel a bit off at times as there were enemies very strong I fought yet gave me little exp. As well as weaker enemies that gave me lots. This isn’t a big issue though. Overall I can say this is one of the funnest combat systems ever. Fighting both bosses and even standard enemies is a great time due to the strategies you can perform, and how rewarding it can be.
The game’s world and characters are also very entertaining. There are a variety of unique locals and NPCs to stumble apon throughout the journey. You’ll have to scour a desert, infiltrate a thieve’s hideout, entertain a crowd of people in a termite colosseum, and more. The dialogue is also outstanding. Everything was well written, and the game is very funny too. The chemistry the three main characters develop is fun to watch, and pretty much every npc in the game has a unique design which helps make everything feel more charming as well. You can hit the minus button and the characters will comment on where ever your at, and you can even have your party comment on different NPCs as well. You can also find these lore books that add even more depth to the world. I’d go as far as saying it’s got Mario levels of charm.
You’ll also encounter different puzzles as you search the lands for the everlasting sapling. Each character can perform various moves in the overworld that are used to beat these puzzles. Vi can throw her boomerang to hit switches, Kabbu’s horn can break rocks, and Leif’s magic can freeze water. The party also learns more moves throughout the journey deepening the puzzles. Most of the puzzles are fun, but there not as great as puzzles you’d see in say a Zelda game. Also, Vi’s boomerang is frustratingly hard to control, and the platforming sections in the game are not tight. You get used to it though so its not a big deal.
Besides the main quest there are also sidequests to complete. There a decent amount of them and they range from fetch quests to more deeper quests. Regardless, these are a HUGE amount of fun, and a certain amount are unlocked after each chapter. This allows you to kind of play the game the way you want, you don’t always have to be doing the main quest, and these quests can be very rewarding too. I’d argue that the deeper quests can be just as much fun as the main quest. I won’t spoil too much, but some quests have you learning more about certain NPCs, and there are a couple really good sidequests based on some of the main characters as well.
This game is also a collectionist’s dream. Spying on enemies will fill up your bestiary, and you can also cook food and turn them into recipes too which are recorded as well. The recipes system is pretty deep as it involves combing certain foods together to make something new. It can help in battle as these dishes can provide many buffs, and its just really addicting to do. Spying enemies also allows you to use them in a mini game called spy cards. Its a battle card game that isn’t very important in the game, but is actually pretty deep and fun. There’s also a total of 107 medals to collect, and 50 crystal berries (that can be used to buy rare medals) scattered throughout the world to collect. So like I said collectionists dream, plus there are NO missables in the game which is amazing. It’s all incredibly addicting, and I managed to actually 100% the game myself which I rarely do.
The visuals as I mentioned earlier are very Paper Mario (which you can probably tell by now pretty much everything is Paper Mario). The different areas all look colorful, and inviting, and pretty impressive overall considering its not actually Mario. The game runs very smoothly too aside from a few FPS drops here and there. The music is incredible. Again, think Paper Mario, but mixed with a standard JRPG as well, and you got Bug Fables soundtrack. The battle themes are epic, the overworld themes are catchy, and the music always fits the mood. I still can’t get some of the themes out of my head.
As you can tell I probably like this game. I’ll have to clarify though if you don’t actually understand fully. I LOVE Bug Fables. Everything I’ve mentioned in this review Bug Fables mixes together to make an absolutely outstanding game. From the awesome battle system (which again I’ll say might be even better then Paper Mario) which does not feel old or too familiar, from the addicting sidequests and collectables, to the fun story, this game has it all. It honestly just reminded me of how ignorant Nintendo is being with the Paper Mario series when an indie can come in, and make a statement that we need old PM again just like that.
Here is hoping that Bug Fables becomes its own series because we may never see Paper Mario go back the way we want it too. Although, if it doesn’t and Bug Fables does become its own series I think I’ll actually be satisfied. Seriously, I could not stop playing this game until I completed it at the 40 hour mark (the game’s main quest is about 25 hours), I lost more sleep then I should have. I don’t just recommend Bug Fables to Paper Mario fans, but any RPG fans in general. A game this good doesn’t normally just pop out like Bug Fables has. Honestly, it might be one of the best RPGs ever created.
Amazing and rewarding combat system
Addicting sidequests, and collectables
Well written, and funny dialogue
Lengthy game that doesn’t overstay its welcome
Some awkward overworld controls
Minor balancing issues
REVIEW SCORE: 10 out of 10
Review by Andrew Wright