One thing we love about most casual games produced in Western Europe: The quality of their production values, which in the present case serve to only further underscore smart level design and sharp handling. One thing we also hate about these selfsame titles though, as duly exemplified in Beetle Bug 3: Their frequent naivete when it comes to more tender North American sensibilities. Assuming you don’t mind a few cultural hiccups, however, there’s honestly little else to keep us from recommending the title, which shines as one of the more intriguing action-puzzle hybrids in recent memory.
No bones about it: You’ll be immediately blown away by the adventure’s sense of style and personality, with spectacular hand-drawn audiovisuals wisely complemented by the use of comprehensive voice-acting. In other words, not only are story interludes frequent and welcome (if a bit too lengthy, and unable to be scrolled through at rapid pace – just viewed or skipped), they’re also a real treat.
Likewise, animation and special effects quality is incredible, with a hand-drawn cartoon aesthetic leaving room open for all sorts of delightful visual zaniness, including exploding crates and fire-quenching bubbles. Even more stunning, the designers make excellent use of these devices, with stellar sound effects and music bolstered by a chatty hero ("Who’s your daddy now!"). Such nifty touches are further brilliantly integrated to the point that the lead character can actually bang on the screen – causing the glass to visibly shatter in a thrilling illusory touch – and yell when you idle behind the keyboard.
So just what sort of tale are you in for exactly? Suffice it to say an appropriately zany one that sees its star, dopey dad Beetle Bug, attempting to recover his kidnapped grubs at the request of an irate wife. (Who stunned us by telling him to "Get off his lazy Irish butt" within 15 seconds of booting the game, a caveat that surely won’t beappreciated by anyone that despises stereotypes, or possesses a smidgen of Celtic pride…)
And, of course, the kind that starts out relatively simple, but soon takes a turn for the more devious as a workmanlike learning curve slowly steepens the further you progress through each self-contained stopover on the lone play mode’s campaign map.
Stages may seem straightforward at first – controlling Beetle Bug, you’ll use the mouse or keyboard to navigate mazelike levels attempting to retrieve your lost children and guide them safely to exit doors. But soon enough, you’ll realize that obstacles like crates, locks, walls, pipes, enemies and more lie between you and victory, making forward progress tricky. The catch, of course, being that you’ll have to use your wits, and a limited supply of power-ups, e.g. mines and other obstacle-clearing devices, to clear or move obstructions from your path.
Keeping your kids free from harm is also important; just as you have a limited health supply from which hearts are subtracted when wounded, so too will the headliner lose vitality when the little nippers are slain. (A strangely morbid touch for such a lighthearted outing, especially when you consider acid vials and boulders can be dumped on their heads.) Bottom line: Given a limited number of possible moves or options, you’ll have to figure the one or two correct solutions required to collect your kin and hit the road.
Thankfully, though a limited supply of lives is provided – and continuing after losing them all frustrating takes you back to the tale’s beginning – challenge levels aren’t spectacularly difficult. Nonetheless, following a few throwaway early encounters, the saga soon picks up speed, and you’ll quickly become hard-pressed to think ahead and use deft moves, as well as strategies for managing a limited inventory, to bypass later levels. All told, a considerable mix of reflexes and ingenuity is required to carry the day through, making the game instantly endearing, especially to old-school gamers (spiritually, the title looks and feels like a classic Amiga/PC offering) or diehard fans of the genre.
While we’d like to have seen creator Intenium pay as much attention to political correctness as the solid translation job, let’s be honest. At the end of the day, Beetle Bug 3 is just a game, not a philosophical agenda, and a darn engrossing one at that.