Having had no idea of what The Bug Butcher was before I sat down with the game, the only thoughts I had were of the local butchers on the corner where I used to live, how they got closed due to cockroaches in the back of the shop and how it made me cringe every time I walked past. Fortunately though, the butcher in this little indie title isn’t known as a butcher in the traditional sense, but more in the aggressive nature of the term.

The Bug Butcher is an action heavy, 2D side scrolling shoot em’ up developed by Triangle Studios. The story follows Harry, a brash and tenacious pest control expert called in to action by the last surviving scientists of a futuristic research facility on the planet Zoit. His mission? To keep himself and the last remaining scientists alive and protected at all costs until they can complete full decontamination of the facility.

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Upon arriving, Harry is met by one of the last remaining scientists, informed that the facility is teaming with powerful alien bugs and that he is the last hope to saving the valuable research. With this information and a weapon firing tutorial that ensures you are fully prepared and up to scratch, Harry heads into the facility to begin his extermination.

The gameplay on offer in The Bug Butcher is very similar to that of the classic arcade vertical shooting seen in titles such as Pang Adventures, with enemies coming into play from the top of the screen, before moving about the screen in constantly changing patterns whilst attacking the player throughout. Meanwhile, the player moves along the bottom of the screen shooting up at all the awful monstrosities coming Harry’s way. Whilst this may not be the most original gaming mechanic to date, Triangle Studios have made sure to add enough of their own twists to give the game its own unique feel, whilst staying true to the genre.

Whilst the controls are certainly simple enough, and the gameplay is perfectly suited for anyone looking for both a quick pick up and play blast or a several hour gaming session, the game itself isn’t quite as simple. Sure, with nothing more than a few minor button inputs required to keep control of everything Harry can do, you would be forgiven for thinking this title could potentially be too simple for its own good. But anyone following that trail of thought only needs to get past the first couple of levels in order to see that the overall gameplay requires much more should you wish to see the end.

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Taking place over 30 different levels, through five floors of the research facility, The Bug Butcher certainly has a decent opportunity to show off its best assets. After blasting my way through every last one of the alien critters, I can finally say that this is a game that certainly adds value to one of gaming’s oldest and best genres.

Whilst many titles throw you in at the deep end before watching you die over and over until you put down the controller, and others hold your hand too much to the point you feel more like you’re watching the game play out rather than taking part, not many are known to get the perfect balance to ensure enjoyable gameplay. Whilst the first few floors do a great job of getting the player used to some of the different enemy types, and showcase some of the more important features such as new weapons and upgrades that will be used throughout, the later levels really start to ramp up the difficulty. Initially you will require to do nothing more than make some quick dashing moves left and right as to evade the enemies. Later levels though will see you harnessing all the fire-power, power-ups and upgrades available to ensure you’re still alive at the end. And that’s just in order to complete each level.

Clearing rooms isn’t the only task given to you in The Bug Butcher. Each level has a timer counting down to decontamination; should you not have cleared out the stage by that point, death is imminent and the level will need to be started over. On top of the timer, there are score limits which the player is required to meet in order to get a better coin payout. These coins are another thing Harry must fight tooth and nail for in his time in the facility, with the currency required to upgrade the various weapons available. The Rocket Launcher and Lightning Gun along with several others are essentials, with upgrades including faster movement, longer lasting combos and of course power-ups which include freezing every enemy in sight, invisibility and a barrage of homing missiles sent towards all enemies on screen.

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Higher scores are met by reaching bigger combos and these are attainable by perfecting the gameplay – not being hit by anything but destroying everything. This is no easy task however as the screen can have hundreds of enemies appearing during each stage; being hit really is the least of your worries with later levels being difficult enough to ensure no one survives at all.

Implemented in each level is a star system that rates your progress, with each level having three stars available. My first run through only saw all three stars earnt for the first floor of each level, and from this point on my feeble platforming skills were only capable of mastering a couple at most. Whilst this is certainly okay should you only wish to see the end credits, those of you looking for 100% completion and a fulfilled achievement list need to be warned – this may be your toughest platformer yet. Along with the stars is a nice thumbs up which is earnt by meeting the required combo in each level. These are the one thing in the game I struggled terribly with, and after throwing in many hours, I still find myself working back through the second floor – with even the slightest hit from an alien attack reducing my well earnt combo down to a miserable 1x once more. The combos are the real aim should you wish for the highest scores, and if the shiny gold stars and a nice thumbs up isn’t quite encouraging enough, fear not, because the end of level global leaderboard should be enough to keep you coming back time and time again.

Whilst this may sound like a daunting task it must certainly be said that whilst there is definitely some challenging gameplay on offer throughout, at no point does it ever take away the fun from the game. The Bug Butcher is an incredibly enjoyable title with enough action to keep you going long after completing the main story.

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Away from the main arcade story offering, players have the option to play through the Panic mode. This is available to play in both a solo and co-op capacity. Panic mode returns players to the action once more inside the futuristic facility with a new objective – stay alive as long as possible. Yes, Panic mode is indeed the survival mode of the game with players choosing a floor in which to start before taking on a never ending alien horde. With three lives to see just how good your newly mastered pest control skills have become, earning coins is once more a vital part of this mode with upgrades and perks bought in. Panic mode has a nice leaderboard system in place to keep the competitive edge with your competition, and a perfectly smooth and enjoyable co-op offering for those wishing to take a friend along for the ride.

Overall and The Bug Butcher is a truly great title with entertaining gameplay on offer from start to finish, with a perfectly balanced difficulty curve and a great variety of weapons and enemies keeping you engaged throughout. With no real faults showing through either – although maybe the 3-4 hours it takes to finish means it’s a little on the short side – this may well be one of the standout titles of the year. 

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