- Developer: Varsav Game Studios
- Publisher: Bigben Interactive
- Release date: 12th November 2019
- Genre: 3rd Person Adventure
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Eco-friendly educational experience. Granted, these words may not conjure up images of gaming excitement and entertainment; however, Bee Simulator manages to carry its message of conservation and care while still providing a reasonably fun and playable game, but not without some shortcomings.
Right from the get-go, Bee Simulator gives you facts and information about our little bumbling friends, but it manages to convey its message without bee-coming preachy or annoying in the way shouty activists with placards can be.
Our character for this adventure is a small worker bee (we called ours Beeyonce) who after hatching, begins her first tentative steps to beedom. The first few missions serve as the tutorial and teach you the mechanics of flying, collecting pollen, and completing objectives. Once you’ve completed these first few missions and got to grips with the controls, it’s time to head out into the big wide world.
The game is set inside a large park, reminiscent of Central Park in New York. There are main quests and numerous side quests you can complete, along with a few different challenges too. Challenges involve things like winning fights against other bees, wasps or hornets, while there are also challenges related to chasing another bee around a course, collecting pollen as fast as possible or doing dance challenges.
To call this a simulator is a little disingenuous, as the arcade-style controls and mini-games are anything but a simulation. Controlling your bee is awkward, with the expected strafe manoeuvre on the left stick being largely ineffective. You basically point your bee in the direction you want to go and fly straight ahead, although even then, the poor centring of the camera will see you clipping obstacles quite frequently, and getting the camera stuck behind things just as much. This problematically inaccurate flying is compounded when you attempt the follow races, during which you must attempt to navigate hollow logs, drainpipes and tunnels. With a little practice, you can get around fairly well, but it always feels like you’re navigating well despite the controls, not because of them.
The storyline of the game guides you on a short but sweet journey where you go to work for your colony, and eventually save your six-legged family from the interference of humans. As far as longevity goes, unfortunately, the whole campaign can be completed in a matter of hours, and it represents rather poor value for money, especially when there is very little replay value to be found. You can fly around and search for the often difficult to find side missions and challenges, but they lack enough challenge or reward to make it worthwhile.
Dance challenges have you repeating a pattern of movements that are limited to up, down, left and right. It’s too easy for grown-ups, but kids may find some semblance of challenge. Fighting is also pretty easy. You can block, and attack. There’s a little challenge in matching the direction of opponents attacks when you block, and some of the battles against multiple enemies may take a couple of tries, but overall it’s not particularly enjoyable. Then there are the race challenges. Some of these are really easy, but some involving tight turns as you follow the blue rings that mark the path you must take are frustrating, as it’s too easy to miss a few checkpoints and have to restart.
Background music is provided in the form of a beautifully composed orchestral score, and it sets a pleasant ambience as you buzz around the park. If you’ve ever been near a swarm of bees, you’ll know the sound is actually pretty loud, but in bee simulator, the star of the show is woefully under-represented. The voice- acting here is underwhelming, with the cast having the sickly sweet vocalisations of an early morning kids’ TV programme.
Everything is bright and colourful, but there is quite a lot of texture pop-in. It seems to have been a design choice, as items in the distance shift into soft focus, and it does help give the illusion of grand scale, but the way textures pop-in as you get closer is immersion-breaking. The skins for your bee look good, and you can unlock additional skins based on real types of bee (no comical hats or bee capes here). There are a few fun locations to explore, but they are underutilised, with very little to do in most of them apart from a brief story mission or challenge, which are similar to those anywhere on the map.
From the family-friendly style, lack of any real peril and cutesy voices, it’s clear this game is meant for children. Luckily, I have a couple of willing younger game testers on hand to give a less critical view of these types of games. Bee Simulator held their attention through a decent gaming session, and they really got into the theme of conservation of the bees. By these criteria, you could say the game is moderately successful in achieving what it set out to do, but apart from very young children, it’s unlikely to garner much admiration.
All of this aside, living the life of a bee, buzzing around collecting pollen, and seeking out the side missions and challenges is a very relaxing way to kill a few hours. It has its issues; but despite all this, I finished all of the missions, and have just a few challenges and side missions left to complete. Even with all of the problems with the controls and overly simplified gameplay, it’s still such a charming and peaceful game to play, and while it’s not going to create much buzz, it is enjoyable.
If anything, Bee Simulator has achieved its goal of highlighting to younger gamers the plight of bees and how we need to protect them, and for that, it should be lauded. Unfortunately, having a worthy and wholesome message doesn’t make up for sub-standard gameplay. With a campaign that is too short and challenges that ironically lack enough challenge for them to maintain interest, it’s hard to recommend Bee Simulator as a full-price purchase.