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2017-02-13

Slugs and Bugs Review


Title: Slugs and Bugs
Renamed to "Slugs and Bugs: Invasion" on 2017-10-21
Release date: 2016-03-26
Developer and publisher: Anaximanes

I'm so glad for my recent run in with interactive fiction novels by Anaximanes. I have never heard of him before, even though "Slugs and Bugs" is almost a year old, but I'll be sure from now on to check on his progress once in a while. As if the title wasn't an indication, "Slugs and Bugs" (let's call it S&B, from now on) belongs to the squick sub-genre of erotic mind control fiction.

We probably should thank the legendary Tabico Mallory for basically inventing the squick erotica as we know it today, despite the genre having its origins in the Japanese tentacle anime. Squick basically revolves around naughty and terrible (or terribly naughty) things done to humans (usually of female sex) by non-humanoid beings. Beings that usually take the form of insectoids, arachnids and annelids. I do realize, that this is not everyone's cup of tea, as many people are disgusted by creeping, crawling critters, and the very idea of them crawling into certain moist and warm orifices would make them blanch. However, I think that is the very point of squick.
The Day of Judgement has arrived!
Squick purposefully combines two polarly opposite emotions in order to deliver its full impact on the reader. Just like netorare combines arousal with rage and the feeling of loss, squick successfully mixes arousal with disgust... and I'm a huge fan of the genre. I solely lay the blame for getting me into squick erotica at the feet of the aforementioned Tabico Mallory, whose works I discovered a few years ago and whose stories left a huge impact on my psyche. Not surprisingly, the very first story of hers I have read is "Adaptation", which seems to be the introductory story many people first encounter when finally starting to purposefully search the net for more squick stories. In fact, it's quite understandable, as "Adaptation" best illustrates what squick is all about in a modestly sized package.

Returning to Anaximanes, I'm almost completely unsurprised by the subject matter of his first story, considering he actually calls Tabico his friend in the official game thread. Now, I only imagine what kind of mind meltingly horrifying erotic story these two could cook-up if they only teamed up. On the other hand, Anaximanes has so many of his own projects currently in production, that it would be counterproductive for him to to team-up with anyone. As it is, I cannot even imagine how long it will take for his other interactive novels to see the light of the day.
That guy gets everywhere.
Anyway, S&B begins on a nice and sunny Manhattan morning, when Justine (full name - Shawna Justine Hope Swan Erin Sarah Charlotte Joli... yeah, her mom was weird), a lowly corporate drone wakes up to go to work and receives unpleasant news that the world might be ending today. The Eastern hemisphere is reporting the sky suddenly turning green and the the communications simply cut off. However, impending doom or not, Justine has to go to work, as her domineering boss Marlena takes no excuses and you must be in your cubicle by 8 o'clock even if you are dead and buried. Of course, it doesn't take long for the green sky phenomenon to reach New York too, and then the aliens start invading. Chaos, screams, death and despair! And the lowly office worker who sees reaching the rooftop of the Erebus Corporation she works for as the only means of survival. Will she try to be a good person and try to help her fellow office workers or will she leave the morals behind and set her own survival at any cost as the only realistic goal?
The definition of a bitch.
Here I want to make an interesting note and point you to the fact that Justine works for a company named Erebus, which means Darkness in Greek. What a perfect in-your-face name for a soulless corporation! Not to mention that Anaximanes' second game "Phantom", which I haven't played yet, has a major character named Erebus. Coincidence or not? Obviously not, as apparently all of Anaximanes' games are set in the same universe. That is certainly very ambitious of the author. He has already posted demos of at least three other games and it is apparent that all of them have common ties. This is one point where I'm not sure that Anaximanes thought it through, because not only it creates a world where aliens, magic, demons, rogue robots and insane clowns exist, but at least three different class 3 to class 6 extinction events start at the same time! Somehow the Earth in this Universe is very unlucky.
Third person pronouns.
Let's return to the protagonist of our story, Justine. She is generally a pleasant and kind-hearted, if a bit plain, girl, who is suddenly thrust in very extraordinary circumstances. There is just one thing that separates her from other survivors trying to escape their new alien overlords - she is a mind control fetishist. Since she can remember, Justine felt aroused by either the idea of being controlled by some insidious force... or being the controller herself. Thus it is not only the physical obstacles she must overcome in order to achieve her happy ending; in this story Justine is also fighting herself, as the current invasion is literally the embodiment of many wet dreams for her.

The arrivals subjugate and transform all the females they can capture and kill the males to use them as nutrients. It is somewhat of a staple that many works of squick erotica are more or less misandristic in nature - the males, if they appear at all, are usually either ignored or killed. I really don't mind, as I came to accept that as a trope when it comes to dealing with this specific subgenre. So, it's no surprise, that majority of the characters that appear in S&B are women and the appearance of the only three men is very brief.
Arachnophobes be gone.
Anyway, the aliens choose the Erebus building as the staging point of the attack on the American soil. It is not specifically told, but I suppose there are a few different staging points across the world for different continents. The streets turn into a hellish nightmare with the attackers hounding any and all survivors they can find, thus Justine surmises that her only chance is to reach the roof and wait for a rescue helicopter, if there are even any rescue efforts going around. Our heroine's trek through the skyscraper is one of enlightenment. The aliens have a hivemind structure, with their lowest members being workers, after that go builders, soldiers and finally minders on the top. The higher the Justine climbs, the more advanced and dangerous the enemies become.

In a way, S&B can almost be compared to a first person shooter or an RPG. The protagonist climbs higher and higher, evading or killing more and more evolved foes, until they finally confront the boss at the top. I don't know if it was intentional or not (I'll give the points to Anaximanes and say that it must be intentional) that the alien society closely resembles and mirrors that of the corporate bureaucracy with all its gaggle of office workers, accountants, managers and etc. In a way, I suppose the author is making a point that the corporate drones are not so different from alien drones. And just like office bureaucracy, the different "departments" of the alien structure poorly communicate between themselves, inadvertently giving advantage to Justine in a few tricky situations.
There's always one of those in an end of the world scenario.
A huge amount of S&B erotic appeal is centered on physical transformations. The aliens re-purpose human women to specific tasks by infecting them and changing their bodies. I found those changes incredibly erotic and have to compliment the imagination of the author. From the lowly workers to the leader minders, the infected women are changed into the very image of carnality. According to the aliens themselves, this is the first time they encountered the species that also use sex for pleasure, not just for breading. Thus they are experimenting, and through experimenting they evolve... As does Justine.

Quite early in the game something happens that mentally binds Justine to one of the aliens. However, the influence goes both ways. While the alien influences Justine, she, at the same time, influences the creature. It's an interesting symbiotic relationship that has a strong impact on the plot. The alien pushes her mentally to perform certain acts, but are those acts good or evil? Not everything is so white or black. The higher Justine climbs, the more the good and the bad choices blur together.
Luminescent milk.
Anaximanes claims that there are more than 25 endings in the game, but unless I counted something wrong I encountered EXACTLY 25 endings. Twenty of them are bad ends, after making a wrong choice, however even here the author's attention to details clearly shows. The bad ends are not some abrupt game over screens, but properly fleshed-out endings in their own right, some of them quite long. There are five endings to choose from upon reaching the final floor, and here I must voice one of the only complaints I have about this game.The endings stay the same, no matter what choices, that do not end in a bad end, you picked. There are quite a few situations during the game, where you can act like a decent human being, or give in to your darker urges. Unfortunately, I don't think these choices change anything at all, and you eventually pick your ending near the very end. In a way, It's a missed opportunity to include more interactivity, but I'm not particularly hung up on that.
Literal mindfuck.
In a way, the game is sarcastically self-aware, as our heroine leans on the fourth wall and complains that she feels like some dark outside force is controlling her actions. Yeah, the Internet and the many players on it are definitely a dark force :-). Moreover, the game is particularly good at subtle foreshadowing, highlighting the author's talent. Justine sometimes says or does something, that upon later inspection foreshadowed the the events to come, however it is done in such a manner that only the repeated playthroughs reveal this insidiousness. I'll reiterate the previous point an will repeat that Anaximanes is a great writer. "Slugs and Bugs" doesn't read like an amateur's work, but like a book written by a self assured professional. I feel that if he chose to go into writing and publishing actual books, he might actually find some recognition.
Bio-organic lollipop.
S&B has a large cast of characters, some of whom appear on the screen for a very short time, but the author somehow manages to make each of them memorable, and make us care about them. I have read some complaints on the Net, that the introductory portion of the game is too long, but I didn't feel like that. On the contrary, I relished the ability to get acquainted with the cast in the normal circumstances, before everything went to hell. the introductory portion also acquaints us with some of Justine's erotic fantasies, and here I must voice another small complaint. Most of her fantasies either follow fantasy scenarios or a based on her actual world events (like clown terrorist Giggler), but at one point she has a fantasy about the Cereborgs, who, while existing in Justine's world, are a secret project and she should have no knowledge about them. In a way, it breaks the immersion of the scene, due to a WTF factor, especiallye if one has already read the demo for "Cereborg:Inception".

"Slugs and Bugs" was made in Twine, a popular interactive story engine, which publishes in HTML, thus the games are playable in any web browser. From my own experience I spent exactly 9 hours to completely read through the novel, with all the endings and alternative scenes. According to the author, the script is more than 150k words long and took him about 2000 hours to complete. For those, who don't have a calculator nearby, it is approximately a year, working for six hours on the novel EACH DAY. God dammit! I'm pretty sure we won't see the third game in this twisted world for a long time.
Meet your friend, the vaginaface.
Now, let's talk about the actual presentation of the game. Before starting making free interactive novels, Anaximanes was a photo manipulator on Hypnopics Collective forum. And that is exactly the graphical presentation used for the novel - manipulated photographs. Each moderate chunk of text is followed by a photograph to illustrate the point, and I have to say that those photographs are superb. Many other Twine games that use photo manipulations lack consistency - sometimes the same character is portrayed by the photographs of obviously different people. That is not the case here. In "Slugs and Bugs" the consistency is absolute. Anaximanes chose a certain porn actress or erotic model for each of his characters and went with it using some really astonishing photoshopping to get the desired results. The results are almost completely unrecognizable and create a dark and foreboding atmosphere. Nevertheless, the author does express a desire to get girls to model specifically for his games, which would allow him to create photographs with an even better consistency than just taking photos from the net and trying to apply them to the script. Some zoomed-in images have minor pixellation artifacts, but they didn't bother me. What's more, some pictures have actual animations that greatly enhance the action.
Hello, beautiful!
Moreover, majority of the Twine games are silent, but S&B has an actual BGM score, which is astonishingly well tailored to each situation. Some people might not like that there is no option to regulate the sound level or turn it off altogether, but I feel that is a non-issue, especially because one can mute the sound in a browser (at least Firefox allows that).

As "Slugs and Bugs" is ultimately a smut game, let's have a few words about the sex scenes. Due to most of the characters being women, the total majority of sex scenes are yuri couplings, which is completely fine by me, as I'm a big fan of yuri. Not to mention, that even while reading straight mind control stories, I usually prefer those with a female protagonist. Now, because the game belongs to the erotic mind control genre of the squick sub-genre, the corruption/transformation sequences are more important and indicative of this work than actual sex scenes. It can be immensely rewarding to read about an alien parasite taking over the female body, erasing her personality and transforming her into a mindless drone, without any actual sex happening.
Now that I think, octopussy is such a dirty word...
The single most erotic scene for me personally happens pretty early in the game when our protagonist encounters her co-worker Vilita.
» Click to show Spoiler - click again to hide... «
The scene made me harder than an Eiffel Tower. Why are you inching like that away from me? I'm not a sociopath... honest. *hides the kitchen knife behind the back*

Anyway, "Slugs and Bugs" is a beautifully written, beautifully illustrated erotic mind control interactive novel with some of the hottest smut I have seen in a long time. Anyone who is not too squicked out (har har) by the main theme should definitely spend a bit less than 10 hours to experience this story. As for me, I played all the demos Anaximanes released to the public and have to say that "Cult of Corruption" is probably the game I would like to play next the most, as it has similar themes of mind control and squick, even though "Cereborg" has Sasha Grey, one of the most beautiful women alive, as one of his chosen protagonists.

Links of Interest

Official developer's blog
Anaximanes on Patreon
Official Hypnopics Collective thread (requires free registration)
TF Games Site page
Tabico's story archive (recommended reading)
Homealone_447's story archive (recommended reading)

Final Verdict: 98 %

2 comments:

  1. This is my personal favorite too, and I hope that I may mention my own thoughts here. As you say, Cereborgs and so forth appeared in this, but I wanted you to know that back then, I actually feared that folks might hate this title. I put fantasies from my old photo manips in, but Tabico read it and LOVED what I did. So, in the end, I created a massive universe that two years later is only growing bigger. I am looking forward to sharing so much with you and everyone else, and now that I found this place, I shall check here. I might also mention (for those that might not know) I have updated Slugs and Bugs and Phantom with new graphics and character unlocks. Thank you for reading my work, and I hope that when I begin releasing games (looks like Unity for the engine and probably an alpha within a year, hopefully), I hope you shall enjoy it too!

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  2. Releasing games? Sir, you have my interest, but you already have so many unfinished projects under your belt, how are you even intending to find time for games? I will likely enjoy anything you're gonna release, but don't tire yourself too much. Rest is also important. :-)

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