The disappearing bee colonies across the world and the impact a bee extinction will have on the food industry is a topic that Varsav Games Studio touches on upon as soon as Bee Simulator starts up. However, the game is also joining a trend of fun titles starring unexpected heroes such as goats, pieces of toast and geese. In Bee Simulator's case specifically, it could end up getting lost in all the noise even though it has an important message to share, and that's because it doesn't quite live up to its message or its concept.
You wake up as a bee, oblivious to the dangers of the world. After a short briefing, you're sent out into the world, or at least the park in which the tree housing your colony stands. Because of the fact that you're a bee, your objective is to collect pollen, and this process has been simplified somewhat and resembles the game Flower. You fly past the flowers and pick up pollen as you go. You're not just any bee, however, but also the protagonist of a game, and this means that you're quite the ambitious bug. Soon you'll be helping lost squirrel younglings, racing through hoops, beating up angry wasps (because just like in real life, bees are good and wasps are evil) and working towards finding a new home for your colony. The whole concept reminded us of the platforming adventures of old that were popular during the PlayStation 2 era, specifically Dog's Life, which followed the animal theme like this one.
Despite having a simple premise, there are plenty of mini-games that bring a bit more variety. The duels against wasps and other antagonists are manoeuvred through timed button presses, which may not be super realistic (bees generally tend to go up against bigger predators by surrounding them and essentially suffocating them as a group). Something that offers a bit more of a true-to-life experience is the fact that you're sometimes prompted to guide another bee by dancing, which is done through matching the other bee's movement patterns. There are also some hunting sequences in the game as well, but we didn't jump for joy when one appeared as they're too easy up to the point when the camera messes up, making you lose sight of the next checkpoint. The pacing is pretty calm when you're flying around at a realistic pace until you've collected enough energy to temporarily boost your speed. It's worth noting that you can do all of this with up to three friends in a separate multiplayer mode, where you get to explore three areas and engage in various mini-games.
The world you'll explore of course can't measure up to the AAA-games of today, and the people you come across as you're minding your own business look as though they're made out of plastic and none of them react on the fact that a bee is all up in their faces. If you choose to sting someone (which generally speaking isn't a great idea for an actual bee to do, but we're talking about a bee with a built-in nitro booster here) you'll hear an "ow", but not much more than that. That said, however, the environments are pretty vast and fun to explore outside of the main story. In the park where you reside, for example, you'll find a lake and a zoo where you can expand the game's built-in flora and fauna encyclopedia by finding new plants and animals. The fact that the developer has managed to cram everything in, from bears to seagulls to frogs and elephants, makes the world feel pretty varied if you stray from the main path.
The whole thing is an odd mix of the real-life of a bee and video game mechanics. We get the feeling that it's meant to be edutainment that would have worked better in an educational setting rather than as a light-hearted downloadable console game. That said, one doesn't cancel out the other. Bee Simulator managed to get us to view bees in a more positive light, even though they're not as huggable in real life. For the impatient or mature gamer, Bee Simulator is perhaps not a game that you'll enjoy for very long, but it works significantly better as a game aimed at kids.
If we had to guess, we'd say that the sole intent of the game is to get children to sympathise with the bugs that are so integral to our survival as a species, and that's an admirable goal. Bee Simulator, as opposed to a lot of the indie "simulators" that are saturating the market, is a more serious take on the said genre. To build your own bee colony, planning production and sending bee drones out on missions could have been a pretty cool take on the easy-to-play strategy scene.
Instead, Bee Simulator is an educational game built around a simple little adventure that has the potential to grab hold of both younger players as well as true bee enthusiasts. Will it become the next viral success story? We doubt it, even if we appreciate the effort.