By Nick Benefield / April 22nd, 2019
|Title||Where the Bees Make Honey|
|Release Date||March 26th, 2019|
|Genre(s)||Indie, Adventure, Puzzle|
|Platform(s)||PC, Xbox One, PS4|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone|
Those who have ever had the misfortune of becoming “stuck” in an office job know that the work often feels pointless, demoralizing, and exhausting. One of the most common analogies made for this type of work is that of a worker bee contributing to its hive. Where the Bees Make Honey is a recently released indie title which first originated as a project on Kickstarter. Created by Brian Wilson, the sole member of Wakefield Interactive, this title explores a variety of childhood moments from the perspective of an adult who now works as a telemarketer. As she narrates her stories, players take control of her younger self and explore the fantasy worlds of her childhood. Along the way, this game draws upon a number of different art styles, perspectives, and gameplay mechanics. It is currently available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, but I chose to take a look at the Xbox version. I went into this one not really knowing what to expect, so I’ll be focusing on the final product rather than its descriptions on Kickstarter.
At the game’s onset, you take control of a depressed telemarketer named Sunny. She is the only person in the office that day and the building’s power has just gone out. As she descends the stairs and resets the breaker, her reality changes completely and she begins to reminisce on her childhood memories, those where she was much happier. It’s at this point that the meat of the gameplay picks up and also where my reservations with it began.
My experience with Where the Bees Make Honey was indeed a memorable one, but for reasons that I’m sure the developer never intended. Right away, the first thing that will stand out to players is the art style. There are four to five very different styles spread throughout and none of them seem to mesh with each other (not for me anyway). In the opening sequence, the graphics as a whole can best be described as what one might expect from an early Source engine game. I mean no disrespect in saying that, but I feel that this is an apt comparison. If you take a look at the screenshots below, I guarantee that you will notice this as well. In stark contrast with that, some levels utilize a gorgeous, FEZ-like pixel art style. Still others go for a more realistic style with fantastic lighting details. There was even one level towards the beginning which went for a minimalistic, retro looking style that made me think of an old Atari game. Each of these styles seemed to be tied to a particular type of gameplay, of which there are several.
Before I speak too much about my experience with individual levels, I’d like to highlight several recurring types of gameplay that you’ll encounter in Where the Bees Make Honey. The first type has you controlling child Sunny as she traverses through a dreamlike world and interacts with different things within that world to advance towards the end of the level. There really isn’t much else to say about these segments as they tended to be pretty short and linear. The second type of gameplay has you controlling some other creature or device (i.e. a rabbit and an RC truck) and tasks you with platforming through a level to make it to the end. These too felt fairly linear, though they weren’t quite as short. The third, final recurring level type was one that I actually really appreciated. This type borrowed heavily from concepts pioneered in the game Fez. Everything from the pleasing pixel art style, to the rotating square level design, to the heavy emphasis placed on puzzles requiring different perspectives and rotations to solve them seemed similar. The credits at the end give a shout-out and thanks to Phil Fish, so the source of inspiration here is pretty clear.
As you may have realized from my comments above, the gameplay as a whole is just as mixed of a bag as the art direction. While this is not inherently a bad thing, I find myself asserting as much here. No two levels are the same and the gameplay in each tends to be radically different. The point of each level is to follow a different story from Sunny’s childhood and thus it makes sense that there would be differences. The issue with these differences is that none of them seem to correlate and the execution of each can vary from decent to near unplayable. It brings me no joy to speak ill of another person’s game, especially when that game comes from an independent developer. Having said that, there were several levels in particular that really soured my experience.
The first was a level in which you control an RC car and drive through a forested countryside. This was really neat and I enjoyed the different perspective. There were two jarring issues here though that tarnished the experience. The physics of the car were incredibly loose and painful to get used to. While I ended up learning to live with these, the other big issue was with the invisible boundaries. Every game has to set some boundaries for the player to keep them within the map, but I’ve never encountered a game where the boundaries are just straight up invisible. I would try to drive towards a barn that was a mere 300 ft away only to find myself smashing into an invisible wall. I began to realize throughout the level that there was only one narrow path to follow. At one point, I went off of a ramp, only to smash into one of these walls mid-air. This made the entire level for me seem more like a chore than a relaxing activity and I wish I could say otherwise.
The second level that stands out is one in which you control a rabbit. This is basically a “jump to the next platform to advance” type of stage. At first, I was very pleased with the wide variety of colors and great lighting effects, but this experience was muted by (once again) the poor physics. Rabbits are fast creatures and I imagine moving around as one would be a bit of a challenge. The difficulty in controlling your rabbit here though is much more aggravating. Everything feels slippery and I felt that there was some delay in my movements. Combined with the looping sounds of a busy grocery store in the background, I was more than a bit peeved by the end of this level.
The final level was perhaps what really delivered the final nail in the coffin for me. You control Sunny as she attempts to walk down the street during Halloween. As she walks, there are a number of zombies and sentient pumpkins that can attack her. This is the first and only time that you are given a life bar and have the ability to “die”. This would have been interesting if Sunny had controlled decently. Unfortunately, I found Sunny’s movements to be both slow and delayed. There was also a prevalent issue where Sunny would die after taking just two hits. The heart counter at the top of the screen indicates that you should be able to take three hits. While this was occasionally the case, more often than not Sunny would die before all of the hearts were depleted. This level still felt more playable than the RC truck level, but not by a whole lot.
On a more positive note, the music was fairly enjoyable. I say fairly because not all of the levels had background music. For example, that aforementioned rabbit level was packed with the ambient sounds of a busy grocery store and looping checkout scanner sound. When it is present though, the music is pleasant and each track fits in well with its associated level. I can’t say that any of the tracks really stood out to me as memorable, but there also weren’t any that left a bad impression.
By and large, Where the Bees Make Honey is more of a linear, semi-interactive series of stories than an actual game. I didn’t find any of them to be particularly engaging or meaningful, though I again take no pleasure in saying that. This is a rather short title clocking in at around 3-4 hours, but it tries to pack a lot into that short span of time. A few reviews back, I was rather preachy about the concept of games being an art form. While I don’t intend to get back up on my soapbox, I must say that I think this game was trying just a bit too hard to be artistic and different. The concept of playing through childhood memories in fantasy worlds based on them sounds great, but I feel that none of them correlated and they were way too linear. If your intention is to hearken back to the joys of being a child, then the ability to explore is very important. The gameplay was indeed varied and took on many different forms, but the execution of each (with the exception of those Fez-like levels) was very disappointing. Had the existence of constant bugs and glitches not been present, I could have justified a slightly higher score. I appreciate the great deal of effort that I’m sure went into making this title, but unless some serious revisions are made, I can’t recommend picking this one up, even at its current price point of $9.99.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
brian wilsonPCPlayStation 4PS4SteamWakefield InteractiveWhere the bees make honeyWhitethorn DigitalXbox One