Some games are developed with more complex mechanics and deeper instructions than you’d need if you were trying to fly a jumbo jet for the first time. You know you’re in trouble when the game is still introducing new button tutorials when you’re two hours deep. But there are others that take it down to the basics, providing a very simple set of playing systems. Yes some are too simple – read: clicker games – but others work well with this simplicity.
One of those is Little Bug, a game that comes with a very simple set of moves in its playlist; but it’s how you use them that will determine how you master the game. You see, Little Bug is forever testing you, keeping you on your toes at all times – when you feel like you’ve got the hang of it, well, it’ll push your skills even more. If you think that a constant test of that nature is too much, then it would be a tragedy, for Little Bug is well worth preserving with.
Little Bug is a 2D platformer; one that revolves around a young eight-year-old girl called Nyah. We find her wandering home from school, collecting things in her lunchbox. It’s as she does so that she discovers a dead cat in the road, before bearing witness to the ghost of the cat; a ghost that leads her to an unreal world full of danger and intrigue. Rescuing her from this danger is a small ball of light – like a spirit – one that is capable of pulling her out of danger and getting her back home. From there she explains things to her mum, before being thrown back into the unreal world. With the help of the spirit ball, she has to find her way back.
What I like about the storytelling of Little Bug is how the narrative is drip-fed throughout the game, neatly worked via the gameplay. We learn bits of the girl’s history as we get sent to different areas, picking up more background from various objects that get stowed away in Nyah’s lunchbox. It’s a great piece of narrative design that works very effectively.
It is however with the gameplay where Little Bug comes into its own. You can move Nyah left and right, and she can pick things up, before placing them in her lunchbox. These are initially simple to find, but as the game goes on, items are hidden away in some very hard-to-reach areas. There isn’t a jump button – which you may find odd for a platformer – but instead, Little Bug introduces a very unique and interesting gameplay device in the form of the spirit ball.
It’s this which follows you around, controlled at the same time as Nyah; you do this with the right stick and Nyah with the left. By pressing RT the spirit releases a burst of light that grabs Nyah and pulls her up in the air. This only lasts for a short period before it lets go. So in very simple terms if Nyah is facing an obstacle she can’t get over, then the spirit will use the beam to lift Nyah at the right angle, helping her up onto the ledge. That’s the simplest bit, because it gets a lot harder as you go along – and it’s there where you’ll fast need some quick reflexes.
In fact, throughout Little Bug, reflexes will become your friend; that and a great sense of geometry. That’s because, like lining up a good pool shot a few times, you’ll mainly be using your spirit guide as a swing, helping Nyah get to other levels and combining it with level designs like bouncer pads to spring you up. The spirit’s beam can break through certain barriers, but you also need to not just worry about Nyah’s journey, but also about how you best go about navigating the spirit through as well. When enemies get involved, like some red-eyed monster who will hunt you down until they reach a barrier or fall into oblivion, it gets a whole lot harder. As you’d suspect, you’ll die a lot in this game and even though the checkpointing system is good, there are moments when it’s a little bit too unforgiving, leaving you to replay whole sections again. That could be a little cause of frustration.
It looks good though. Little Bug comes with a lovely cartooney vibe to it, with a brilliant colour system and great level design. I’ve found much fondness for the design of the lunchbox and the different enemies on offer throughout the game. The soundtrack is pretty good too!
Little Bug is deeply unique, especially regarding its main gameplay mechanic and some of the clever storytelling devices. It’s a game where the difficulty can prove to be very taxing, but it just about keeps to the right side of enjoyment, rather than spilling over too much into frustration. It could do with some more forgiving checkpointing, but on the whole the package is of very good value, and certainly has great production values for its price tag.
If you love a challenging platformer then Little Bug is definitely one of the games you should be playing.
Little Bug can be picked up via the Xbox Store