Pixar seem to be releasing sequel after sequel these days and yet A Bug’s Life remains sadly untouched, fading further into obscurity with each passing year. It’s a genuine tragedy because the film contained all the humour and beauty of a classic Pixar title but, perhaps more importantly, gave birth to that oh-so-rare of things; a respectable movie-based video game. In 1998, Traveller’s Tales released an adaptation for the PS1 and N64, featuring over a dozen recognisable characters voiced by the original cast. It was certainly true to the storyline of the movie, but what was so good about the game itself?
Well, visually speaking, things are actually a little inconsistent, with the quality varying depending on what you’re looking at. Details on the player and NPC models are kind of fuzzy and some of the collectible items look very dated, even for 1998. However, the level environments themselves look great for the time. The terrain is varied and far from blocky but what stands out most is the colour scheme. The laidback opening level is vibrant with sunny blues skies and crisp stalks of green clover towering over your little ant body. Further into the game, however, and you’ll find yourself in underground tunnels lit by luminescent mushrooms or climbing the Ant Island tree at dusk. In every case, the colour palette is matched perfectly to suit the atmosphere of the level.
The wonderful colour palettes, the fantastic soundtrack and the novel seed-growing system are so perfect that the slightly dodgy character detail and beyond dodgy controls become a non-issue.
Unfortunately, trying to get Flik to actually navigate some of these locations is like pulling teeth. He builds up way too much momentum when he moves so his turning circle is absurd. However, he has got a very redeeming ground-pound attack. It may be incredibly overpowered, killing most enemies in one hit, but it’s irrefutably satisfying to use. Controls aside, the gameplay is actually pretty original for a platformer. Large orange seeds are littered all over the landscape and Flik can make them grow into plants by jumping on them. Traveller’s Tales managed to use this mechanic to create some highly engaging puzzles. Over fifteen different plants of your choosing can be grown and many of the seeds can be picked up and taken to be used all over the open-planned levels. You might choose to grow them into bouncy mushrooms to help you reach a ledge or a berry canon that attacks enemies. You even get access to dandelions, which allow Flik to glide across the level on one of their fluffy seeds just like in the movie.
The crowning glory of A Bug’s Life though is its music. Composers Andy Blythe and Marten Joustra use woodwind, percussion and middle eastern instruments for all they’re worth, creating an enchanting set of tracks that completely immerse you in the world. For a game in which you play as an ant wandering through the undergrowth, creating something with very natural tones was crucial and the composers went above and beyond.
Without a doubt the world that Traveller’s Tales created in the Bug’s Life video game is a work of art. The wonderful colour palettes, the fantastic soundtrack and the novel seed-growing system are so perfect that the slightly dodgy character detail and beyond dodgy controls become a non-issue. A Bug’s Life is still worth a replay.