Attack of the Bugs from Empty Clip Studios
Some of us still alive remember the joy of heading down to the local strip mall on our banana seat bikes with streamers fluttering off the handles and a baseball card stuck between the spokes so we could run into the variety store for freezie pops and to rent a VHS of some kind of grindhouse horror movie about ghoulies and goblins and slashers that we could watch while eating popcorn and pointing flashlights at each other’s faces before passing out in our sleeping bags.
That is the world that a series like Netflix’s Stranger Things tries to capture but will always feel like a tribute -not quite authentic.
Spielberg, in fact, was a master at capturing what really made those days so special – the brazen candor of it all. The warts and farts and greasy faces and scuffed knees. Microwave dinners and Reagan on the TV and homework and parents fighting. A secret girlfriend or boyfriend you met by the bike path at 6:00 pm on Saturday when you should have been at home setting the table. The comic books you stole in your puffy jacket but stored meticulously in a plastic sleeve with cardboard backing. The lead stains from miniature figurines from your D&D game. The stink of your sneakers. The fake vampire blood that accidentally leaked in your desk drawer.
The funny thing is, the subject of Attack of the Bugs is not based in the ’80s or around latchkey kids. It uses a 1950s creature feature drive-in aesthetic. Kitschy wall art and Eames Brothers furniture set upon tiled floors and shag carpets, so you can stage your defensive. When coupled with its plastic toy soldiers, Nickelodeon bug spray cans and nail shooters, however, it just becomes any young kid’s magic realism fantasy: saving the world – or at least your suburban family home – from the depths of evil that have cracked asunder a rift in your basement, to unleash waves of slowly creeping crawlies.
A cross between a rail-shooter and tower defense, the aim is to stave off bugs coming to attack you at your prone position – you are deliberately stuck at knee-height on the floor – while you send artillery to infiltrate and seal off their portal.
As waves of bugs emerge, your supplies will run out and you use a grappling hook to draw deliverables to your spot, whereupon you can choose what resource to resupply. Will you take more nails, Mr. Robotos, or toy soldiers? Or will your take the AOE bug-killing vapor?
Let Me Count the Ways
I will say, I would like to have seen more variety in the types of weapons that could be deployed. I would like to have had destructible environments and even the ability to wield the set dressing at the mobs. I’d like to see some thrilling boss fights. Sure there are a few minor twists, and it is nice to have craftables show up after a few levels, but there just isn’t enough there. Though this is one of the better multi-platform VR games (it can be played on all the current HMDs, including GearVR), it still feels a bit unfinished, like a well-polished demo.
If this were a standard game, it would never make the cut – it would simply be too slow-paced and simplistic to even factor, but as a VR experience (I played it via SteamVR using an Acer “Windows Mixed Reality” headset on an MSI Stealth Laptop), it has the right pacing, vibe and chunky objects to aim at, dispose of and wait for subsequent waves to be fun.
Typically I dread another wave-based rail shooter – they are a dime-a-dozen in VR space, but Attack of the Bugs manages to bring the heebie jeebies with its spatialized audio – the sound of skittering and scratching, crawling out of the shadows and nooks and crannies, at a fair enough pace that it isn’t overly exasperating. As my opening paragraphs hopefully convey, this package offers a transportive experience that summons another time, where fantasy and reality merged together in a world full of mystery and excitement, bred mostly of imagination, friends and too many Pixy Stix. If you are just getting into VR and looking for a reliably fun experience, this is a solid choice on any platform.
Attack of the Bugs is available via Steam and the Oculus Store.
Watch the official trailer for Attack of the Bugs below: