Apart from The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, the game that came packed with our shiny silver GameCube back in 2003, Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door must be my favorite GC game—or more importantly, my favorite Mario game ever. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on the Game Boy Advance does come close, though. And here we have Bug Fables by Panamanian independent studio Moonsprout Games, which is undoubtedly heavily inspired on Paper Mario.
I have been waiting for such a game for ages! Ever since Super Paper Mario and the disappointing 3DS Paper Mario sequels, it was clear that Nintendo wasn’t going back to a more stat-heavy based Mario RPG. Instead, we were left pasting stickers again and again. No interesting backstory with lots of optional quests, no RPGness, no huge world, no multiple joinable NPCs. The wait is finally over! How does it hold up?
Well, the answer is simple: great! Let’s see, what did I enjoy in the Paper Mario (and especially the GC one) series?
- Goofyness? Check.
- Paperness? Check.
- Badges? Check.
- Joinable NPCs? Check. Although to a very limited degree.
- Big world with unlockable secrets, shortcuts, etc? Check.
- Funness/happiness/joyfulness? Double-check.
- Combining items a.k.a. cooking? Check.
As a professional baker myself, I especially adored the baking honeybee in the Golden Outpost, that exclusively sells flour, which you can use to bake tarts, doughnuts, croissants, glazed honey treats, cupcakes, and more. Discovering new recipes was a great distraction—albeit an expensive one, if an expensive ingredient was turned into a mistake, healing one measly HP and TP (“team points”, or mana, just like in Paper Mario).
Moonsprout wasn’t constrained to the Mario universe, and that was perhaps a good thing. I thoroughly enjoyed walking around as a bug, meeting other friendly and less friendly bug races. On a few occasions, the game hints at you being part of a bigger “universe”, ruled by “giants”. I was able to catch a glimpse of a “great wooden structure”—a garden shed:
Bug Fables' story isn’t all too compelling, but its wonderfully cheery and joyful world kept me entertained. This ain’t your heavyweight role playing jPRG or wRPG. You play Paper-like RPGs to have fun, not to go deep and roll D20 dice. And once again, the Nintendo Switch is simply excellent for this kind of pickup-and-play gameplay.
It took me 27 hours to finish the game. There’s a lot backtracking involved which isn’t a big deal thanks to the ample unlockable shortcuts—given you collected enough berries, the local currency, throughout your adventure. After halfway through, the game is starting to feel a bit like a drag. Bug Fables runs out of ideas after a while, and the monotony of selecting the same TP skills time and time again starts getting a bit dull. In Paper Mario, you could switch up your party. I also never really felt the need to fiddle with badges as much as I would have liked. At that point, I started realizing that although I really really like Bug Fables, it’s not Paper Mario 3.
Yes, the side quests are mere fetch quests. But they also fetch cool badges, and even cooler books. Books? Books! You can fill up an entire library shelf and read them. The extra lore is only a few sentences long per book but a loving addition to the Bug Fables universe. And of course, these are all entirely optional, but you would be missing out.
A side quest eventually unlocked a hidden shop, and another one brought home an adventurer, allowing access to more stuff. Just like the cooking, it’s all joyful, but not particularly cognitively straining or requiring a lot of flex-work.
One of the least exciting parts of the game are the platform sections. The jump button feels a bit iffy, and some platform-based puzzles rely on repetition—presumably because I was too dumb to precisely position the team? It felt much more polished in Nintendo’s RPG adventure.
In sum, if you’re a Paper Mario fan, you simply must play this game. If you’re a big jRPG fan, I’d say hold off until it’s available at a discount. It’s not a hundred-hour game, and there’s not a lot of complexity involved. But nobody plays a Paper-like game expecting these things. It’s a perfect addition to other cheerful Nintendo-based games like Animal Crossing and Mario Party.
I genuinely hope Moonsprout eventually manages to squeeze out a successor.
Verdict:/5 I really liked it!