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Yes, Postbug. It's like a postman, except it's a bug. Or more accurately, a ladybird, which a friend informs me is taxonomically very much not the same thing. But that's probably missing the point.
The point is that this is in many ways a simple digging game. The setting is an odd mix of cute and terrifying, in that you're an adorable little bug that dies. Frequently. You're trying to deliver mail around a bizarre invertebrate town where the recipients are usually dying as soon as they leave their houses, and where your role quickly shifts from mere postbug to one-man guerilla army, civil engineer, thief, and battlefield commander, as you try to avoid getting killed by the myriad enemies that are frankly everywhere. I'm pretty sure that logically the ratio of spiders to non-spiders is such that they should be dying of starvation or eating each other by now. Nonetheless, there's a job to do, and you've got to prove you're bug enough for the task. Even if there's nobody alive to read it, the mail's got to get through.
One of Postbug's key features is that you don't know most of the rules when you start out. It's intentional that you're somewhat wandering around in the dark (this happens literally in one of the levels). I like this, and feel that the experimentation aspect of it provided a lot of fun - the levels are well designed, too, to give you some rough idea of what's going on, but with a fair number of tries often needed before success is achieved. This is in many ways what gives Postbug its interest - you're constantly working out ideas and strategies to get through the game, looking at what order to complete different areas in, and formulating wider strategies (as to which boosts should be used where) as well as the skill-based play on any individual level.
So, into specifics. The minus points and suggestions first:
- The crab shells and edible blues might've been too rare. In my winning run I didn't collect enough crab shells to use that powerup at any point. This is especially odd as those powerups are in many ways less powerful than the commoner firebugs (red). The fact that spiders usually ate the stage II blues before I could get to them restricted their number a lot.
- It feels odd that we're not given any reason to care about our fellow bugs and mail recipients. In fact, murdering them often makes perfectly good sense (especially, for example, on the first Post Office level, so they don't eat the green bugs you want). If there was some way of getting bonuses/powerups/points for getting rid of all enemies on a level, pegged to survivor numbers, that might be good? Not sure. I certainly felt like I wanted to care about my clients more than i was actually encouraged to.
- I'd like to see a few more places where there are puzzle options for solving things; there are already some great puzzle mechanics (mostly around "how do I not break this egg full of spiders that will kill me") but there could certainly be space for more cerebral puzzle styles in places.
- It was perhaps a bit too easy to trap oneself by rolling boulders over bottom exits - though in fairness there was almost always a way round.
And a spoilered one:
- The ending, if wryly amusing, was also a bit of a kick. Having survived spiders, lava, bees, near-drowning, crabs, jellyfish, falling boulders, etc, one gets quite attached to postbug and ending the thing on the bug being electrocuted and killed was just too much of a downer at a time when the player ought to be feeling a sense of achievement. I'd have been happier leaving the "don't fly towards the light" and then postbug whizzing off to an uncertain future.
And then a list of particularly neat points:
- The bee mechanics are fantastic, and a very enjoyable part of the game indeed. There's nothing better, after all, than being able to really turn the tables on one's longtime spider-foes.
- I made a fishpond in the first level, and it was great. Even though I killed one of the fish during construction by dropping a boulder on it.
- The range of powerups is neat, and interesting in that they all behave significantly differently enough to be worth having.
- The differing mechanics of the blocks (dirt, water, lava, grass) all make a good amount of sense and allow a lot of scope for creativity.
- Watching the various animals pootling around always gives the right impression. The spiders manage to crawl suitably, you genuinely feel the fear you get when you've angered hymenopterans when bees are attacking you, etc etc. (I appreciate not everyone knows what angering bees etc is like - I have stepped on a wasp's nest before in my life. It's something that stays with you). The ladybirds manage to be pretty cute too.
In general, I think Postbug provides a pretty fun game, and for a first offering from its creator Hemingway Games it shows a lot of promise. There has been mention of a possible level editor in the works, which would add a great deal of new potential to the game. It'd be nice to see more expansion of the idea (I feel like a dragonfly could make a good boss level somewhere in the mix), certainly. Overall I felt very positive about it, and it was just about the right difficulty to give a few hours of testing and challenging gameplay without being eternal or life-absorbing on the one hand or mind-numbingly dull on the other. A good rating for a neat little game.