Bug Fables: The Everlasting Spring Review
Indie games covering the bases that their AAA siblings miss has become somewhat of a trend recently, and with the Paper Mario style of JRPGs it hasn’t been different. While Nintendo has progressively distanced itself from what many of the original fans of the series wanted (even though The Origami King is still great), the plumber-shaped hole has been regularly filled up, and the most recent game to do that is Bug Fables: The Everlasting Spring.
A love letter to the 2004 fan-favorite Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Bug Fables hits several of the same high notes, with only a few flaws hindering it on its way. Set in a bug-themed universe with many different and colorful places to visit, it has all we’d expect—and want—from a Paper Mario game: witty writing, charming visuals, interesting characters and a turn-based combat system that uses QTE to keep you on your toes. Now that the suspense of whether it’s good or not is out of the way, let’s get on to the why.
Bug Fables is quick to thrust you into the action, and give you access to most of your tools very early on. Before the first dungeon is complete you’ll already have the three characters, Vi, Kabbu, and Leif, in your party. Each of them has exclusive abilities for combat and exploration, requiring you to rotate between them in order to solve the world’s many puzzles. In combat, aside from different skills and QTE types, they can also target different types of enemy: Vi can hit flying enemies, Kabbu can flip over armored foes, and Leif is able to hit at any range (albeit not flying). As you level up and acquire new skills, they specialize further, becoming able to solve different types of environmental puzzles and inflict status effects in combat.
The formula is tried and tested, but Bugs Fable adds its own interesting twists to it: party order affects damage taken and received, characters can give their turn to others (although acting more than once in a single turn exhausts them, lowering their damage temporarily), and Medals (the game’s accessories) can further change each character and combat position. Actions in combat include normal attacks, analyzing enemies, using Teamwork Points (TP) to use special abilities, and so on. One interesting detail that shows just how much effort went into fleshing out the characters is that each enemy elicits a different comment depending on who you analyze them with. Everything is quite simple, but it comes together very well, and with the exception of some minor inventory management issues, the game’s mechanisms held up surprisingly well.
I do wish they’d found more interesting ways to manage the game’s resources, namely the items and TP system. Most inventory items are nondescript foodstuffs that recover your HP or TP, or give you some sort of buff—using them in and out of battle is essential, specially on Hard mode. Cooking them into better versions is also essential, but sadly takes more time than it should, as you need to click ingredient by ingredient and watch the chef’s animation every single time. JRPGs have always notoriously had… uninteresting item systems, but with games like Xenoblade 2 and Cosmic Star Heroine, which take things in new directions, I wish Bug Fables did something a little less traditional.
Visually, the game is a treat. The world being paper-like makes as much sense here as it did in the original Paper Mario game, but it’s delivered well nonetheless. Bold lines clearly separate the world’s different objects, and each region you go has a distinctive theme. Exploring the world and seeing all its different bugs and cities was half the fun, for me, even though the game’s platforming left a lot to be desired in certain sections. Having played it on the Switch, I can also report that the game runs perfectly well: with the exception of a couple of cities, the framerate is steady and solid, and throughout the whole game I never experienced any bugs (hah) or crashes.
Bug Fables is a game that gives you exactly what you’re looking for, if what you’re looking for is a solid take on the ‘classic’ Paper Mario formula. The game will take you anywhere between 25 and 30 hours to beat, but that amount goes up by another dozen or so if you decide to find the many collectibles and secrets. For those that feel Nintendo’s left them behind, Bug Fables is not only a worthy spiritual successor to The Thousand-Year Door, it’s a fantastic game on its own merit—even if it at times it relies too much on what’s already been tried before.