[Review] Bee Simulator – Nintendo Switch

Written by Stephen Hunter
  • Developer: Bigben Interactive
  • Publisher: Bigben Interactive
  • Release Date: 14/11/2019
  • Price: £34.99 / $39.99
  • Review code provided by Dead Good

STRAIGHT TO THE POINT

Ever wanted to be a bee? No? Me neither. However, if you did this game will probably get you as close to that experience as is currently possible (at least as far as I’m aware).

You begin as a fresh hatchling, and before you know it, you’re flying around all over the hive, being informed about this world you’re in and the role you play in it like a bee. You are not even 10 minutes old before you are sent to the queen bee to be given your job. That’s right, bees have jobs (who knew!), there are honey bees, scout bees, guard bees, and even nanny bees. Underwhelmingly the queen informs you that you are to be just a general honey bee, responsible for simply collecting pollen and making honey for the hive. Needless to say, you’re not too happy about this.

However, not long after starting your dead-end job, it becomes apparent that humans are looking to chop down the tree that your hive resides within, and now the queen is starting to make plans to find the colony a new home. This gives you the ambition to try and be noticed by the queen so that you can help find the new hive, and become the hero of the colony. But will you be able to create enough buzz and gain her trust?

SIMULATOR?

I can’t help but feel they got the title for this game completely wrong. This is definitely not a simulator. It’s actually a sandbox, action-adventure game. This game works like most sandbox games, where you have plenty of tasks to do, and you can do them in whatever order you like, whenever you like. You have the choice of your main quest, side quests, challenges, or simply collect pollen and bring it back to your hive. So, with all of those choices, you’d expect to be fairly engaged in this game and to have a fair bit of gameplay variety. Well, this isn’t the case. Despite having plenty to do, and plenty of freedom, it all feels very much the same for the most part. The majority of the game is spent flying around (as you’d expect) but the main issue with this, is everything is done by flying through rings. Collecting pollen? Fly through rings on top of flowers. Racing another bee or insect? Fly through rings that create a racecourse. Collecting items for a quest or challenge? Fly through rings on top of those items. It gets a little same old after a while.

There are a couple of variants, such as light combat, and some dancing, and whilst they are welcome breaks to the flying, they’re not really fleshed out. Combat is essentially timing your inputs. A small bar will begin to fill below the battle screen, and there will be small windows along this bar corresponding to either ‘X’ or ‘Y’. Press the right button within these windows as the bar passes through, and that determines how well you attack and block respectively. It’s very simple, and you will often find yourself breezing through battles completely unscathed. Dancing is a bit like that toy Simon from the ’80s. A bee will perform moves for three to six rounds depending, each round adding another move, and all you have to do is remember them and copy them exactly. Again, simple, but a welcome break away from flying.

One variant I did like, however, was the bee vision. There are different colours of flowers, that correspond to how rare they are, but the only way to see those colours is through bee vision. It gives the world this blue/grey wash, making the only colours that stand out those of the flowers, so they’re easy to pick out. It also adds this fragmented look around the border of your camera, that reflects different angles of your peripheral vision. it’s a nice little touch to make the player feel like their looking through the eyes of a bee. I just wish it did more than identify colours, feels like a missed opportunity here.

RISK AND NO REWARD

As I said earlier, this is a sandbox game with a decent amount to do. But what are we doing it for? Typically speaking you see character progression or earning new abilities/upgrades etc. Yeah, that’s not happening here. Here, everything you do, regardless of what type of task it is, will only earn you varying amounts of ‘knowledge points’. What are these knowledge points for you ask? Skins. That’s all that’s up for offer, different kinds of skins. Once I discovered this, I became so discouraged to complete everything.

Another factor that doesn’t help keep you motivated is how poor the in-game radar is. It’s represented by these bee wings at the top of the screen, and icons for different tasks will appear above them and slide to the left or right depending on which direction they’re in (not too dissimilar to Skyrim). The problem with it is nothing really works. The icons that appear are so small you can’t really tell what they’re representing, and they’re all the same block white colour. The tasks and challenges have different coloured waypoints, so why don’t these icons? Even more annoying is that you have to be in the general vicinity of these tasks, and facing in their general direction for them to appear. If you begin to fly away from the direction of a task, instead of the icon hanging on the edge of the radar and either staying there or looping around to the other side the more you turn, it simply slides off and disappears. This makes finding tasks aside from the main quest so frustrating after you’ve completed the first bulk of them. At times I could be flying around for up to ten minutes without finding a task, it really is an annoying feature. A mini-map or an option for an overworld map would have been a big improvement!

ECO-FRIENDLY

For what this game lacks in general gameplay, it really makes up for in everything else. From a technical standpoint, it’s great. Everything runs smoothly, there were never any frame rate drops in docked or handheld mode, load times are fairly short, there’s absolutely no stuttering when
changing gameplay styles, or between gameplay and dialogue, it’s spot on. I really appreciated the loading screens too, they’re beautiful pastel art style images revolving around the nature of bees and the part they play in the ecosystem, and also include a single random fact about bees. I really liked these.

The control is really good in this game as well, everything is really responsive, and they get the flying right. I’ve played plenty of games with clunky flying controls, GTA to this day still hasn’t got it right. It really works in this game, it was a little sensitive at first, but it gives you the option to adjust the sensitivity at any point through the pause menu so you can get it just right for yourself. Also, as you fly around collecting pollen and your pollen meter starts to fill; you can actually see the pollen-collecting into a small ball on your legs. Little details that I really did appreciate.

Only real performance thing that’s noticeable is that this game does have a fairly short draw distance, so as you fly around the sandbox world you will see trees, flowers, bushes etc slowly appear and all the background will have a blurred look to it. Honestly, though, this doesn’t really distract from the fact this is a very pretty and well-designed sandbox. You can see the developers really did the best they could here. Nothing feels cluttered. The whole world is a large park, but they break it up into sections, like the main park, zoo area, tropical area, boathouse area, but they all blend together seamlessly so they really do all feel part of the same park. They do a good job of making the park feel alive as well, you will see NPC humans walking around the park, or jogging, or handling a toddler having a tantrum etc; Along with seeing other insects going around doing their own business.

BAD, SELF-AWARE, OR BADLY SELF-AWARE?

Along with the very pretty world, are very pretty cutscenes. They’re really rich and colourful, presented in a 2.5D style, and all the dialogue is animated into the cutscene, I enjoyed them a lot. Also, the entire game not just the cutscenes, but all dialogue is fully voice acted. This aspect I’m undecided on. On one hand, it does help bring the feel of the game to life, it feels light-hearted and is definitely aimed towards children. But the voice acting is bad throughout, I just can’t tell if it’s straight-up bad, or if it is indeed self-aware. It generally feels overacted. It’s not wooden voice acting, nor is it good voice acting. For example, enemy wasps have an awful forced Russian accent, and there are foreign bees within the game usually called ‘Hostile Bee’ but they sound more polite than intimidating. I can’t quite make my mind up on what they we’re going for here.

SHORT AND SWEET

When I was a child, I used to love movie tie-in games. They were never great but I usually found them a lot of fun none the less (in most cases). This game really feels like those old movie tie-in games I used to play, except in this case there is no movie to tie-in with. The main story has a grand total of eight missions, and they’re all pretty short and simple, and move the story forward in a very direct way. I can’t remember any of the missions taking me any longer than ten minutes, and the whole main story only took me around 2 hours.

CONCLUSION

Given my complaints about the gameplay, I shouldn’t have enjoyed this game. But I really did. Despite its flaws, it has an incredible amount of charm. Even when it discouraged me with its lack of depth, I still couldn’t put it down. Everything is short and easy to do, it’s hard to get frustrated at it, I just really wish there was more to unlock than skins. I can’t recommend this game to everyone, but I implore you to at least look at it at some point. If you have a young child, you could find a lot worse than this game, it kept me engaged, so I’m sure it could keep a child engaged. It definitely needs more variety and depth, but take that aside, it’s a solid title. The one big stumbling block is its price point. There is nowhere near £34.99 worth of game here. Wait for a sale.

PROS

  • Great Sandbox Design
  • Good Control
  • Great Art

CONS

  • High Price Point
  • Lack of Gameplay Depth and Variety
  • Very Short

Verdict

Great game for kids, packed with charm. But a lack of depth, short playtime, and high price hold it back.
3/5

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