Title: Bee Simulator
Developer: Varsav Game Studios
Release Date: November 14 2019
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Genre: Adventure / Family Friendly
When it comes to simulation games, the genre can appear to be overcrowded. There seems to be a slapped-together sim for every different kind of thing and every other type of person. Bee Simulator could have been just that, another generic game. However, actual care was put into its creation, and the result is both educational and engaging. Polish developer Varsav Game Studios and publisher Bigben Interactive (WRC 8, V-Rally 4, and others) have taken a simple idea and turned it into a great experience that works for gamers of all ages.
The journey begins with a simple honey bee that dreams of being more than just a pollen gatherer. Life at the hive is not easy for those who aspire for new horizons, but this little bugger is exceptional and will do everything to save her family and make the Queen proud. This makes for a charming adventure that’s full of plenty of action and even some combat.
Simulator games do not have to be necessarily dull or tedious. I’m sure a “true” sim would have been played from the strategic vantage point of the Queen: ordering her soldiers and workers around to make the hive prosper. Thankfully, this game keeps things accessible and takes the perspective of one single bee who flies in search of prosperous winds to get to the all-important pollen.
Dialogue between bees is highly entertaining, mixing memes and puns to give this adventure a bit of humor. The game does take the subject matter seriously, but with a relaxed approach. The storytelling is straightforward with the usual quests, missions, and objectives. However, it adds more variety by having amazing facts about bees (and how nature affects their ecosystem) unlockable by collecting ‘Knowledge Points.’
When it comes to this bug’s life, flying makes up a majority of the gameplay. You navigate your bee searching for advantageous gusts that will carry you across the small but open world. You’ll rescue some of your striped brethren that are in distress or engage with evil foes who get in your way. Aside from the main quests that advance the story, side quests are also available to conquer. And if that’s not enough, players can also take part in unique challenges. There are races, dances, fights, gathering pollen, and, my personal favorite, ‘sting a bully.’ These optional activities are marked with specific colors on the map and allow the player to earn Knowledge Points.
Racing has you compete in a one-on-one dash to the finish line. There are checkpoints, but the primary strategy is to utilize wind paths in the most effective way possible. The Dance challenge tries to replicate how the bees communicate through highly stylized movements. It’s a memory game, where you’ll have to mimic the patterns you see on the screen.
The Fighting mini-game is perhaps the most intense and fun activity you’ll do. The evil wasps are up to no good, and it’s your job to pin them down before they can do more damage. The battle controls are simple. Following the instructions and actions on screen is enough to get you through an altercation. No one likes bullies, especially when they are destroying the flowers.
Above is just one of the few ways you can collect pollen. It might sound easy, but it can be a difficult task: the rarer the flower, the better the haul. Different types of flora will have a distinctive color when using your unique ‘bee vision.’ This encourages more exploration and will have players seeing more of the game. Your bee will accumulate all that yellow flowery dust, and once full, you won’t be able to gather any more until they return to the hive to deliver that sweet cargo. I found the act of gathering from the outside world, and going back to your home base was enjoyable with a cool boosting ability. To charge it, you’ll need to consecutively collect pollen from the same type of flower while buzzing around. You can also use sugar sources as a substitute: Luckily, the humans have left tons of sweets and pastries laying around.
Among the things Bee Simulator does right is mixing real facts within the story and gameplay features. It may seem like fiction, but when bees are carrying so much pollen, flying is more laborious, and they can run out of stamina. A nice dose of sugar re-energizes them and makes them ready for the long trip ahead. This is just one example of how the game incorporates the capabilities and limitations of its subject matter into the gameplay and world design.
Playing as a bee has never felt so fun: the experience of flying across a park with other bugs and tremendously huge humans is overwhelming. As mentioned before, the developers make use of Knowledge Points and allow players to unlock real facts about animals and flora. In addition to this, when exploring the world, you’ll come across many different sights and creatures, which can later be unlocked at the hive. This acts as a museum of sorts where players can read about these animals and flowers and how they intermingle with a bee’s world.
Traversing the outside would feel empty without the fantastic visual art that Varsav Game Studios put in. They did a superb job stuffing the game with life. It’s visually rich with intense colors and vibrant details. The sound design is excellent as well: Flying across the map while hearing different human-made sounds or just the chirps of insects is something to behold. Watching the big city in the background while gathering nature’s most excellent resources almost feels like an adventure itself.
Bee Simulator makes usage of Unreal Engine 4, which on its own, is a powerful tool. A lot of pre-assets were used in the game, but I don’t mean it negatively. Our main insects look beautiful with lots of small details. Somehow, they even made the six-legged, flying creatures adorable, which is not something you often say about that species. Exploring inside the Hive is just as gorgeous as the outside world with walls of dripping honey. Unfortunately, the human models look generic, with some noticeable lesser-used textures that appear bland. Nonetheless, the game is beautiful to look at and highly inspirational.
The level design is simple but also fuses well with the game, sound, and sights. There’s also an easy mode for all the young gamers for further accessibility. And for those that like custom avatars, you can unlock and play around with different skins to customize your protagonist. Unfortunately, the campaign is short, with about 4 hours of game-time. There are the Knowledge Points and challenges to keep you coming back for more, but even those are limited in scope.
Bee Simulator does a great job simultaneously acting as an educational game as well as a fantastic adventure game. It’s well-optimized in most areas, but its short campaign and generic models will probably leave you wanting more. At least it doesn’t wear out its welcome. Newcomers might look back at Bee Simulator with a nostalgic mindset as they learned how to respect, appreciate, and love these interesting insects. Other gamers might want to pick up this title to see what all the buzz is about.
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