Bee Simulator fails to deliver on its interesting concept with unpolished gameplay and a rote structure, making it one of the generation’s most disappointing indie efforts.
The team’s passion for animals ultimately hamstrings what could have been a relaxing, flow-state inducing flight experience in the vein of Journey or Abzu. In an attempt to send its message about the bee’s importance to our ecosystem, educating players came before crafting a compelling game.
Where to begin?
Players control a newly-born honey bee as she’s tasked with collecting pollen for her colony’s hive. The simple narrative arc follows the beats you’d expect from a game like this. The bees are trying to live their lives, but humans start interfering.
This forces the colony to search for a new home before theirs is destroyed. Told through in-game dialogue scenes and 2D cinematics, Bee Simulator‘s “story” exists solely to preach about bees. Corny dialogue delivered by seemingly unprofessional actors further cements the story’s place as anomalous to the core vision.
Most of its two-hour run-time consists of two equally uninteresting challenge types: Pollen collection and chase sequences. The strict timer applied to pollen collection gamified what should be an otherwise relaxing jaunt. Chases suffer from the same problem. They’re the most difficult of the game’s five challenge types spread throughout its open-ended park, though, therein lies the problem.
The marketing and press release makes Bee Simulator out as a relaxing game about exploration. It sold itself as a wondrous journey through a large open-world park with discoveries serving as progress markers. Through this gameplay loop, players supposedly develop a deeper understanding of honey bees. While this holds true in the final release to some extent, that underlying vision is buried underneath its mediocre story mode and boring challenges.
In addition to the main story, Honey Park is littered with dozens of challenges and a few side quests. The challenges consist of five repeated challenge types: dances, fights, sting the bully missions, races, and pollen collection. As you can guess just by reading that exhaustive list, none of the challenges offer enough to sustain the amount of content present.
Dances and fights are the most interesting of the bunch if only because of how heavily they’re impacted by difficulty. Bee Simulator differentiates between its easy and hard modes most significantly in its handling of these challenges. Dances are simple Simon says affairs in which a bee moves up, down, left, or right and the player must repeat the sequence. The hard mode requires memorizing more moves in succession.
Fights are either the game’s most passive or mechanically dense distraction depending on the difficulty. On easy, red and blue bars sit along a meter. The player must defend when the cursor highlights the blue bar and attack and when it highlights the red bar.
Hard mode battles are much more intense with directional attacks, a special evade, directional blocking, and even an ultimate attack. They try to break up the game’s monotony, though they grow tedious almost immediately. As the story and these challenges ramp up, you’ll end up fighting up to three enemies in a row.
Combat is interesting in the early goings when you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. After two or three fights, though, you’ll settle into a comfortable rhythm that turns them into mind-numbing annoyances. After reaching this point of comfort, you’ll curse the people that decided to torture you with three battles in a row constituted interesting game design.
Preaching over Polishing
If VARSAV Game Studios put as much of its resources into polishing the game as they did making sure its audience knows bees flap their wings at 200 beats per second, it might still be worth a recommendation despite its misgivings.
Bee Simulator is at its best when you’re roaming the park at your leisure, examining every point of interest that catches your eye. It’s in these moments that Bee Simulator shows glimpses of what it could have been; an abstract and meditative experience. Upon completing the story, you’re dropped back into the park with an objective that simply tells you to have fun and explore. Unfortunately, as with all its mechanics and gameplay challenges, even the act of exploration loses its luster within minutes.
If there was an award for the lowest asset variety, Bee Simulator would win 2019 by a landslide. Honey Park is filled with hundreds of NPC’s, but there are only around eight unique models. You’ll often find the same character model duplicated two or three times standing feet away from each other.
Seeing the same person 15 times over a five-minute span is enough to take the wonder out of even the most explorative folk. It doesn’t help that even in the rare moments Bee Simulator does click, flying is about as awkward as steering a shopping cart with a defective wheel. Flying in a straight line is the best it can accomplish. Sharp turns and steering at moderate to high speeds never feels quite right.
Bee Simulator is a $10 educational tool masked as a $40 retail game. Its story mode provides about as many thrills as working a by-the-numbers desk job while its explorative bits suffer from the most egregious asset re-use I’ve witnessed all console generation.
Meanwhile, its gamification ruins the story mode and side content. Remove all the unnecessary challenges, add more assets, and string it along through a more abstract narrative and series of obstacles and VARSAV might have been on to something. Think Abzu; not generic open-world video game #9,999,987.
Do you agree with our Bee Simulator review? Are you going to get the game? What are your favorite Bee facts? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Do you want to read another review? Have a look at our Disruptor Retro Review. Are you pumped to fight a flower? Why don’t you check out the Yggdrasil boss fight in Granblue Fantasy: Versus?
Bee Simulator fails as an educational tool and a video game. Neither aspect feels fleshed-out enough to warrant spending money on such an unpolished, preachy product.