Since its release in 2004, fans of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door have been waiting for a sequel that lives up to the original. After the announcement of the upcoming Paper Mario: The Origami King, fans are wondering if this is the game they’ve been waiting for. Thankfully, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling, by Panamanian developer Moonsprout Games, is now available on consoles and offers the aesthetic, gameplay, and charm to scratch that Paper Mario itch.
Many moons have passed since Queen Elizant the First passed away before completing her life’s goal: locating the eponymous everlasting sapling, a plant rumored to have extraordinary powers. Her daughter, Elizant II, has hired you, a group of explorers, to locate the sapling for the crown. Bug Fables is a charming RPG with exciting turn based combat and a delightful cartoon aesthetic. Controlling a party of three adventurers, you will explore the kingdom of Bugaria as Kabbu, the stalwart beetle, Vi, the headstrong honeybee, and Leif, the mysterious warlock moth. You will explore the farthest reaches of the kingdom discovering secrets, fighting monsters, and meeting unique and interesting characters.
The combat in Bug Fables is nearly identical to Paper Mario. Each attack is more or less successful based on how well you completed various quick time events. This makes combat a lot more engaging than just selecting a menu option and it also makes individual battles more personal. Medal points replace the badge points from Paper Mario and can be used to equip medals that boost your character’s stats. While limited in scope, this allows for a little extra strategic freedom when facing a particularly tough boss or challenge.
The art style of Bug Fables can best be described as “adorable”. The similarities with Paper Mario are strikingly obvious, but it works well with the whimsical atmosphere the developers were trying to cultivate. Every NPC, monster, and boss is unique and well designed. Different classes of enemies populate different areas, changing their appearance to suit their environment and making each location feel more genuine. The music also promotes this feeling as every location features a different song that makes the area feel alive. The songs are catchy, exciting, and really add to the overall sense of adventure.
Outside of combat, Bug Fables focuses heavily on exploration. Reminiscent of some Metroidvania-type games, certain areas are unavailable to you until acquiring certain skills or abilities. Each area contains interesting and unique locations, characters, and secrets. Most of these secrets take the form of stat upgrades, but can range from treasure to entirely new areas to explore. Certain areas will never become available throughout the main quest and are only accessible after completing certain side missions, which really encourages exploring every corner of the intricately crafted world. While some games encourage exploration by giving the player an open-world and no boundaries, the most effective exploration style games make the player work for their reward. While Bug Fables doesn’t give the player the freedom to explore the entire map right away, slowly unlocking new and unique areas is rewarding and fun.
By far the weakest aspect of Bug Fables is the platforming sections. While the levels offer unique and interesting challenges, the controls are not designed for precise movement. Each character is just a 2D sprite interacting with a 3D landscape and it’s impossible to determine exactly what direction you’re facing, especially when jumping or attacking at an angle. Certain levels were so frustrating and out of place that it almost felt as though they were created by different people entirely. You’ll need to solve numerous puzzles throughout these sections as well. This requires that you use all three of your character’s abilities including Kabbu’s horn, Vi’s boomerang, and Leif’s ice magic. While the puzzles themselves are interesting and satisfying to complete, slow, confusing character selection and tedious controls make these sections, at best, a chore and, at worst, an exercise in anger management.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling features a fun and deep turn-based combat system, a cast of unique and charming characters, and a huge amount of content to explore beyond the main story. While occasionally frustrating and tedious during the platforming sections, Bug Fables is the perfect thing for those Paper Mario fans looking for something to hold them over until July, when The Origami King releases. If you like laid back games with charming characters and tons to explore, Bug Fables is the game you’re looking for.