“Ah, Ant Island!”
A Bug’s Life has been a favorite Disney movie of mine since it hit theaters in 1998. Flik, an optimistic ant imbued with unique qualities, resides in a colony plundered by a posse of troublesome grasshoppers. Their leader, the heartless Hopper, demanded food from the ants at the onset of a new season. When the accident prone Flik causes the collected grain to plummet into a nearby creek (oops), the grasshoppers are less than pleased. To endure no future impairments, the colony sends Flik off on his enthusiastic journey to recruit tough bugs and get rid of Hopper and his gang.
A platform-style video game was released alongside the riveting story of A Bug’s Life which closely mirrored the events that transpired in the film. A short snippet from the movie itself was displayed before each level commenced, giving a general idea of what Flik will be confronting next. Tallied at a total of fifteen levels, A Bug’s Life for the original PlayStation is one of the glitchiest games I have ever invested my time into while still being somewhat entertained.
A simple tutorial is available at any given moment to those who are looking to clearly understand the basics of A Bug’s Life. The tutorial stars Mr. Soil, a minor character from the original cast of the film directing Flik on how to change camera angles, the usage of tokens, and other notable concepts. Some enemies are also present, one being a black ant… which is a tad odd seeing as Flik is also an ant. Surely there must be a method to the madness, like some sort of evolution theory, but it really isn’t worth the headache, nor losing sleep over. Aside from that enigma, the commentary is prominently eerie as if the instructor ant is reciting a bedtime story, but you learn to adapt to it. Kind of.
Once the player is accustomed to the fundamentals of A Bug’s Life, the first level plays out in a casual fashion. Flik, characterized by a perpetual smile and enthusiastic anecdotes, begins by meandering through the carefree Ant Island. The first stage is titled “Anthill”, which is basically a second tutorial. Flik has the opportunity here to experience each berry type (his ultimate weapon) and seed transformations that are available during the game. Seeds are dispersed throughout each stage – some can be carried by the puny Flik while others are embedded into the ground. It’s easy to depict which ones are portable because Flik will do a flawless handstand on those that can’t be shifted.
Letters of Flik’s name are also floating around. The four characters combine as one of the bonus items required to unlock an additional movie clip. You know, just for a little extra something. Enemies are scattered and easy to clear, though they do respawn (unless they’re mutilated with the Golden Berry). Completing Anthill in its entirety provides Flik with a general idea of what he’s up against in future endeavors. The little guy needs all the support he can get.
As I previously mentioned, Flik has to gather certain “tokens” in order to progress onward. Granted, not every token has to be obtained, but sometimes a green token is needed to grow a leaf plant. You have to reach that higher ledge somehow. As more of the identical colored tokens are attained, Flik achieves a new and improved style of said plant that can be developed instantaneously. If he’s lucky enough, he can grow an enhanced homicidal berry to accompany him throughout the current level. It all depends on how much effort and time is put into a stage, considering gathering all tokens is in no way a requirement. It’s a pretty fun challenge though. Not to mention, annihilating bugs with the overpowering Golden Berry is quite the accomplishment, too (and a bonus item.)
As Flik butt-thumps his way through life, it’s far too noticeable that the adjustable camera angles appear to be a pain more than they are helpful. There is an abundance of hiccups in the graphical interface, presenting awkward stutters in the gameplay. Following Flik’s movements shouldn’t be a headache, but it is. The environment encompassing him can’t seem to keep up with his tiny ant feet. I lost count on how many jumps I’ve misjudged due to how impaired the framerate is. A Bug’s Life lacks a smidgen more than I’d like in the visuals category, but Flik’s cheerful commentary makes things a little less frustrating.
Boss battles are quite frequent in A Bug’s Life. Some are far too simple and others result in several ant deaths with an added string of vulgar jargons. Navigating Princess Atta as she carries the helpless Flik while concurrently dodging vengeful insects is one thing, but when you’ve got Hopper on your ass, it’s a whole different story. Bye bye, buggy.
Many of the advanced levels are downright maddening. Ranging from frolicking through the city to happening across a bird’s nest, Flik’s journey gets complicated. Luckily the ability to save Flik’s progress is accessible at any time while chilling at the main screen. Any level can also be replayed as long as Flik has previously conquered it. Various video clips are also unlocked after the final hurrah of each level. You know, just in case you want to watch segments of the film in crappy quality. No judgment here.
While collecting grains and piloting Flik in an eccentric fashion has its moments of joy, the gameplay flaws are too prevalent to ignore. A Bug’s Life is meant for players who don’t give two hecks if the game runs adequately, but rather want to relive the exciting journey of an underdog just trying to find a place in his colony. Hovering through a deep ridged canyon and grasping a dandelion as means of life or death definitely yields suspense. That, and the bug-hungry bird that consistently appears at Flik’s most vulnerable moments. Ah, the life of an ant.