Giant Insects Reign Supreme in Wii's Escape from Bug Island

I'm a big fan of "big bug" movies, so it would seem obvious that I would pick up a copy of a survival horror video game called Escape from Bug Island for my Nintendo Wii, right? Well ... not necessarily. When the game first appeared in the U.S. back in 2007, it was panned by most video game reviewers. Yet with this game's drop below the $10 price point, I recently decided to give this game a chance anyway to see if the critics were right. Speaking as a big bug movie fan, they weren't.

I can think of several survival horror video games for the Wii that have better graphics, better level designs, and better stories. Even Wii's other bug-centric game, 2009's Deadly Creatures, has better production values. Yet where Escape from Bug Island really delivers is where it delivers the most: It's got plenty of big, icky, human-eating bugs ... and that is AWESOME! Read on for my complete review.

In Escape from Bug Island, you play as Ray, a university freshman who reluctantly accompanies Michelle (Ray's secret crush) and Mike (Ray's best friend) to Beelzebub Island, an isolated location that's perpetually shrouded in a thick fog, so that Michelle can study the island's insect population. After Michelle and Mike wander off from the characters' camp site, Ray goes after them and encounters the island's many monstrous residents while searching for his lost friends.

Bug Island is a basic game as survival horror titles go. The graphics lack polish and the music cues are few in selection. The game's story is simple--there aren't many characters, and there are no puzzles to solve or secret codes to remember. Even the game's time travel subplot, which has you playing some of the levels again with new weapons and unlocked areas, doesn't complicate the overall story or game play. That said, the game's dialog is written in a hokey style that openly pokes fun at the game's b-movie premise. (Case in point: one of your weapons is a can of bug spray.) Bug Island isn't the same over-the-top exercise in camp as Zombies Ate My Neighbors! or Stubbs The Zombie, but its attitude of self-mockery is impossible to miss.

The game is played mostly from a third-person perspective, with occasional shifts to a first-person perspective depending on the weapon(s) you are using. Your weapon inventory grows from simple blunt objects (a stick, a baseball bat and rocks) to more sophisticated means of self-defense (knives, swords and guns) as the game progresses, and each level consists of maze-like forests, swamps, caves and ancient ruins that you have to traverse from beginning to end. Even though controlling Ray's walking and running motions through the Wii nunchuk is somewhat clunky at times (he doesn't handle sharp turns very well), controlling the weapons through the Wiimote is both accurate and intuitive.

A giant centipede feeding frenzy.

As the game's title suggests, Bug Island provides an ample supply of bugs for you to avoid, squash, beat, shoot and/or kill. The bugs range in size from a foot long to human height to car-sized, as well as various points in between. They include centipedes, flies, cockroaches, spiders, crickets, praying mantises, moths and maggots. (Curiously, spiders are the only arachnids in the game--over-sized scorpions, ticks and mites are nowhere to be found on the island.) These bugs crawl on you, jump at you, fly into your face, stab at you with their claws and cut you with their sharp mandibles. They buzz, screech and make other noises that one would expect to be made by really big bugs. The only normal-sized insects are the ones that fly together in large swarms that will eat you alive in a matter of seconds if you attract their attention. Fighting off this menagerie of creepy critters will inevitably make your skin crawl, so much so that anyone who has entomophobia and/or arachnophobia should avoid this game.

If the big bugs aren't enough, Bug Island provides plenty of other monsters as well, including sharp-toothed flying fish, bear trap-like carnivorous plants, giant frogs, and King Kong-sized apes with exposed brains and glowing red eyes. There's also a selection of human-animal hybrids such as lizard women, dog-like creatures with human faces, and a delightfully disgusting human-insect hybrid that has a steady stream of maggots dripping from its abdomen.

Indeed, Bug Island has enough monsters to rival any Resident Evil game, and the scares they produce are intensified by the game's use of ambient noises and pervasive application of fog. In a practical sense, the fog hides some of the game's graphic shortcomings, but it also leaves you guessing time and time again as to what will crawl, jump or fly towards you next.

If you're a creature feature junkie like me, then Escape from Bug Island is the game for you. It's the worst camping trip that you'll love to play.


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