The plight and decline of the humble bumblebee and all its relatives has been one of the main environmental headlines over recent times. They are dying out, and that could be due to many different factors; disease, climate change, and human pesticides. If they go for good it could have serious problems for us as a race, for they have a direct impact on the food chain. On a lighter note, did you know that honey bees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pot of honey? Or that they communicate with one another by dancing? These are just some of the many facts I have learnt by playing the highly informative Bee Simulator on Xbox One.
Bee Simulator holds the title of one of the most interesting premises released this year. Not many games put you in command of any kind of insect, let alone the pollen hunter itself. You play through things as the hero bee – Beescuit (there are a lot of bee puns so hold on tight) – going from birth, as we watch her grow up and learn to be a great bee, saving her hive. The hive itself is located in a tree, which in turn is found in New York’s Central Park, where we find a whole community of bees willing to help you get started in life – including the Queen Bee herself. But worriedly humans in hard hats are eyeing up the tree, and that is never a good thing.
The game plays out like a sort of GTA of the bee world, but don’t let me confuse genres here because this is a family game at heart – sort of like Pixar meets a school educational program. You fly around Central Park, through a myriad of different locations like a zoo, a funfair or even a boating lake. The park is full of people, animals, other insects, and your mortal enemy – the wasp, and you’ll get to meet all these guys as you fly around using the left stick, moving up and down thanks to the controller bumpers. The flying is fine and dandy too, but there are times when it feels just a little bit slow or cumbersome; certainly not like you’d expect the whizz of a bee to make. Also, there have been times in which I’ve found myself flying inside objects like tree trunks or drains, having no idea of what direction to go in, just bumping around. By the end of the campaign, it does get a lot easier though, and flying will fast become second nature.
Your bread and butter in this bee’s life is, of course, to collect pollen from plants, bringing them back to the hive to store food for the winter. To do this, the age-old flying checkpoint comes into play, working as circles in the sky. As the bee, you will need to fly through these circles to collect the pollen. Grab enough pollen and you’re just left with heading back to the hive to deposit it in the honeycomb. At times though you will need to hunt out specific pollen types from rare colourful flowers, which you can discover by moving into a special first-person point of view, seeing the world and all around you in a very different way.
Throughout Bee Simulator you will discover several other activities to enjoy, across the main story mode or through side missions. For instance, there are chase sequences that involve trying to chase down another insect through checkpoint rings in a race loop. This can be both thrilling and hugely annoying at the same time, especially when you hit objects on the flight plight. Then there are moments in which you will need to fight an enemy, like a wasp or rival bee, working through a series of turn-based quick time events. You’ll also fast learn that bees communicate with each other by dancing, and the development team have dropped in some lovely dance sequences whereby you are left to copy the movements of other bees. There are also naughty kids and balloons to sting, other collection-type missions to partake in, and a host of things to do in the park. Thankfully, it all works pretty well too.
The story missions themselves though provide a very neat package; one that tells a good tale and gets you in the mood for trying all the other different types of activities. It’s a short one as well, so kids – who the game is quite obviously aimed at – won’t get bored or lose interest. With that in mind, it’s good to see Bee Simulator turning teacher too, with knowledge points to obtain by completing tasks or getting pollen, unlocking a whole library of information about bees, their neighbours and the environment. Again, the kids will love these moments and sees the game come across as a great educational tool. In fact, I think these moments are the strongest bits of Bee Simulator, for while it’s a good ‘game’, occasionally the mechanics let it all down.
Bee Simulator looks decent enough too, but it fails to ever stun and it does have a bit of a last generational feel to it. The loading screens are a bit too frequent for my liking as well, breaking things up a bit too much. I do however very much like the hive and the design of it, as well as the cartoony feel to the environments. The super-special first-person view which lets you seek out unique pollen is a great bit of visual design, as are the 3D models you can collect in the library. There is an appropriate soundtrack that keeps the action moving along nicely too, and a big shout out has to go to the lead bee and the stoner fly that turns up during one maniacally good scene.
Bee Simulator on Xbox One works well as a good educational family experience. It will provide small kids with some great characters and a nice story, but should also give them some challenging but rewarding gameplay that is relaxing and fun. For the adults, it might fall a bit short of what is to be expected for a ‘simulator’ – the tasks can be a bit too simplistic, and at times it all feels a bit rough around the edges.