Buddy System's Little Bug is a visually stunning game with a simple premise: the child Nyah is walking home from school when she finds herself in a strange world full of dangerous spirits and broken buildings. In order to get home, Nyah must work together with an orb of light to traverse this alternate world. Little Bug's unique artstyle and mechanics create an experience different than any other game in the platformer genre.

The game is a platformer with a twist. The player controls Nyah with one control stick and a magical light with the other. Nyah is able to fly to the light instantaneously, letting her traverse the broken landscape of the spirit world. The players must use these elements in tandem to lead Nyah through dangerous surroundings.

Little Bug screenshot
The player controls Nyah and an orb of light.

The art and atmosphere of Little Bug is what drew me in even before I knew of its unique mechanics. Nyah finds herself in a world of perpetual night, full of chasms lined by fragmented, warped buildings. The only light in this world comes from the neon glow of spirits. They glow with an odd energy that is harmful to Nyah. This backdrop creates a visually appealing game, even if you do want to reach out and touch the things that hurt you. When outside the spirit world, the game keeps a charming, cartoon style that meshes well with the surrealism of the spirit world.

The story of the game was engaging, and told implicitly. The player learns about Nyah and her family life through the collectibles scattered throughout the levels. Each item you find has a bit of text, telling you Nyah's thoughts on them. Through her thoughts, the player learns that Nyah is a bit of a wild child whose curiosity often places a strain on her mother. This stress is compounded by the recent birth of Nyah's little sister. Nyah's thoughts reveal that she isn't very fond of her sister, and that she misses the time she spent with her mother before this big change. During her journey, Nyah is able to come to terms with many of the changes in her life.

Little Bug screenshot
Flavor text offering a glimpse at Nyah's personality and its effect on her home life.

The few cutscenes the game has illustrate enough of Nyah's family's dynamic without the collectibles being really required. If you're like me, though, and value learning about the characters in games, you'll want to collect as many of these extras as you can. Some may be difficult to reach, but the bits of information they reveal about Nyah and her life make each one worth the struggle.

I found myself instantly attached to Nyah, vowing to help her out of this dangerous world she was stuck in. Her love of things considered gross and her boisterous energy really reminded me of how I was when I was a child. My love for her grew further when I learned she is not a silent protagonist. She not only voices her thoughts through the collectibles, but also through the gameplay, and gets especially vocal when the player repeatedly fails to guide her past a chasm or an enemy. This made me feel bad to keep messing up!

Little Bug screenshot
I'm really sorry Nyah!

Despite the game's cute appearance, the puzzles are surprisingly difficult, and their difficulty remains in flux the whole game. I assumed that the late-game puzzles would be the hardest ones, but I found that many of the mid-game puzzles were more challenging than those of the late-game (not to say the end didn't have any challenging moments). There were many times I found myself redoing a section after repeatedly dying in the same spot.

Some areas had more than one way to proceed, so players could choose a path they felt capable of completing. In the more challenging spots, the game had a hidden way of showing the players a suggested course of action through. Strategically placed light bulbs built into the level indicated where the player should place the light. For gamers that want to play without hints, there is no way to disable these lights other than to ignore them.

Typical of most platformers, as Nyah gets further into her quest home there is more variety in the obstacles. Some of these challenges include spirits who hunt down both Nyah and her light, barriers that close only when she is flying with the light, and missiles that are guided towards her. The game's fantastic level design shows variety while it uses the same elements, and does an excellent job teaching players new mechanics. The puzzles are fresh, and become repetitive only if you get stuck on one and end up really doing it over and over.

Little Bug screenshot
Hint light bulbs show the player the recommended light placement in order to progress.

For the most part, the game did a good job with spacing checkpoints, allowing the player to rest before tackling the next step of the journey. But Little Bug is victim to a problem that plagues many platformers: long stretches with no save points. During some of the multi-step puzzles, I wished there had been at least some way to stop and take a breather, simply to give me a chance to assess the next piece. Many of these segments had, for a couple examples, a big chasm with no ground to land on or missiles firing constantly at Nyah. I found myself dying on these parts repeatedly, which never gave me a chance to see what came next. By the time I finally figured out how to proceed past the first part, I had to improvise the solution to the next part, often dying and getting stuck on the first challenge again.

 The unique light mechanic was not without its flaws. I found that the light's sensitivity varied. Even with similar movements on the controller the light's movements could be drastically different. The light also had a responsiveness issue with sharp turns, often getting caught on walls despite my turning motion. This sensitivity problem made some puzzles excruciatingly hard, and there were a few instances during timing-based challenges when it cost me the whole thing.

 

Along with the sometimes wonky controls, the game also had a few little bugs (ha) that only affected visuals, such as items not showing up. However, I did encounter one major problem. In the final level, if Nyah fell off one of the platforms, she would not reappear at the last checkpoint, and instead fell through the world. To fix this, I manually had to close out of the game and reopen it. While it started me at the same place as if I had respawned, closing and opening the game was cumbersome.

Overall, I recommend Little Bug, especially if you like platformers. It is a visually stunning game with a feel-good story and quite unique mechanics. I think the game is worth playing for the art and story alone, even for people who are beginners at platformer games — as long as you prepare yourself to be frustrated. Nonetheless, Nyah's physical and emotional journey is worth seeing through to the end.

Elizabeth reviewed Little Bug on PC via Steam using a code provided by the developer.