Developer: VARSAV Game Studios
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Version Reviewed: Digital
Category: Adventure, Education, Simulation, Study
No. of Players: 1-2 Player
Release Date: November 12, 2019 (EU & NA)
Bee Simulator by developer VARSAV Game Studios is their first Switch title and released on consoles and Steam this fall. The game has appeared at press events and game conferences over the last year, garnering high praise due to its unique premise where you play as a bee helping their hive to survive and thrive in a new habitat.
You start off Bee Simulator selecting a name for your bee and getting introduced to the queen of the hive and a few other worker bees. After that, there are some basic tutorials teaching you how to fly and navigate around the game world of Central Park in New York City. The main campaign of Bee Simulator has you going through eight main story beats consisting of collecting pollen, discovering certain types of flowers, scouting for a new hive location, preparing for winter, and more.
Early on in the story, the hive will come under attack from people looking to take down the tree where the bees live. Because of the danger of the tree getting chopped down, you need to eventually find a new hive location that drives the story forward. Along the way, you will also fight predator insects, show other bees how to escape the caves under your tree through a bee dance and many more intricate bee specific tasks.
Bee Simulator plays out similarly to a flight simulator in how you navigate. Using the Left Stick you can move your bee forward and backward, the trigger buttons move you vertically up and down. As you collect pollen from flowers you begin to accrue Beetro, which acts as a speed boost (nitro) with the X button. A is your action button, and B declines options. Along with collecting pollen you also can also eat from foods you might find sitting on picnic tables, food stands, and more. Eating food results in gaining more Beetro and maxing out your speed boost, which can be helpful in navigating the park. The Right Stick lets you move the camera which is most helpful in flying through the 3D world of Central Park and seeing rings you need to fly through while racing.
There are several mini-game moments in Bee Simulator that help break up the traditional flying and collecting of pollen. From time to time, you will encounter predator insects which you must fight in a rhythm battle of sorts where pressing the Y and X button acts a shield and fight maneuver blocking incoming attacks and lowering your opponents’ health respectfully. The fights can consist of one to three predators like other bees, wasps, and hornets, but aren’t particularly difficult or varied affairs.
Races are another mini-game moment you will encounter throughout the main story as well as later in the games postgame free flight section. The races have you flying through green rings, catching air currents, power-ups, and trying to avoid spider webs as you race through the open world, underground, all while trying to catch a speedy bee friend. The races were the hardest part for me though I beat most of them after two or three tries. You could miss a few rings during your race, though if you missed too many you failed and had to restart.
There are a few other mini-games you will find during your campaign along with some side quests that expand the story and world of your hive a little. The main story included a few of each type within the eight chapters and each of them was fun, though slightly repetitive in nature.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Bee Simulator is primarily a single-player story campaign. There are eight main chapters in the campaign which starts off with a tutorial introduction to the mechanics in the game, such as flying and collecting pollen, using your bee vision (think Batman Arkham Asylum Detective Mode), dancing to communicate with bees, and fighting. The mini-game style pieces make up the whole plot of the game and have your bee character moving from spot to spot in New York City’s Central Park.
There are seven main areas in the park in which you will need to navigate such as your hive, the zoo, a carnival, the boathouse, picnic area, and more. You can fast travel to each area without a penalty and moving seamlessly from section to section is also possible as the map is open to you from the start. The story missions will take you to specific locations and markers on your map. Along the path, you will find side quests like the aforementioned bee dances, pollen collection, and races.
Bee Simulator also has a two-player split-screen mode which will allow you and another friend play through and complete the missions together. The added helper bee is a great addition, though my one complaint is that split-screen means less view of the world which really should be viewed in the full-screen size, at least for some of the missions so you can appreciate the open world.
As you play through the game you earn experience knowledge that can be used to unlock 3D character models in the hive library, as well as unlocking different bee species, hats, and Beetro trail colors. The different bee species adds a nice visual change to the game. Having your bee wear a hat or cone on his or her head just seemed silly. The Beetro trail effects reminded me of the splashes of colors and effects when you score a goal in Rocket League.
The sounds of Bee Simulator are a bit hit or miss. The game does have ambient noise that plays in the background like city sounds or gibberish from human NPCs. I found the sounds of people talking to be nonsensical and took me out of the gameplay from time to time. The other bees you will find or enemy insects you will fight are also voice acted. I found some of the character voices to be over the top and out of place while others almost muffled and hard to hear. Luckily you can change the voice acting volume, which I moved to about 50% on the slider. The Background music in Bee Simulator is a mindless loop of music which I quickly muted. I preferred silence or listening to my own music while I buzzed around the city.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Bee Simulator has some areas of shine and polish and then other sections of the game look downright muddy. The insect characters in your hive or the wasp, hornets, etc. that you come across often look well modeled and true to their real-world counterparts. The environments are mostly dull and lack any polish to them, which is sad since having blocky or low texture backgrounds takes out the realism in which Bee Simulator seems to strive for. The humans walking around Central Park move in a janky unimpressive way and pop-in and out of view as the draw distance suffers.
I never noticed any stuttering in Bee Simulator, but there are plenty of loading screens which you will see often. The load screens do supply the gamer with an interesting fact about bees, though there doesn’t seem to be that many since I saw the same loading screens several times during my short playthrough.
Bee Simulator on the Switch seemed to be a unique take on the open-world flight simulation game genre and was one I had looked forward to from the first time I learned of the game. While the story is endearing, its short. The things to do in Bee Simulator lack the hook that I was hoping for.
At the end of the game, the main quest was completed in an evening and the mini-games that I had to play several times over just weren’t that appealing. Bee Simulator suffers from a lack of overall visual polish as well, which often time took me out of the realistic visuals of the characters over the bland world.
I wanted to love Bee Simulator. But ultimately, I was let down. Maybe my expectations were set too high as I had been hyped for the game for the year or so prior to playing it as I learned more and more about the progress of the game through press releases and twitter updates.
In the end, the experience is a good one to try though it didn’t meet my expectations for thegame. I feel that Bee Simulator just lacks the “umph” that would have made it memorable on Nintendo Switch.
THE VERDICT: 6/10
*A Review key was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review
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