Hey look, a Kickstarter game! Let me flip the coin where there’s butter on “bad”.
Truth be told, I understand why a lot of these projects backed on Kickstarter turn out to be a lot of false promises. Think about it, you ask for a possibly inaccurate amount of money to make the game of your dreams, and it possibly doesn’t cover all the cracks. Maybe you spent a bit too much on the hair graphics, or hiring Troy Baker, and in the case of today’s title and Mighty No. 9, you spent all the money on really powerful marijuana.
This is the debut title from Beach Boys alumni Brian Wilson. Wakefield Interactive is the name of the studio– which means that Wakefield is synonymous with two wrecks as of now. Helmed by one Brian Wilson, who went to Kickstarter with a goal of 5,000 USD, he reached his goal and then some, while also pairing up with publisher Whitehorn Digital in the process, who were behind the recent BombFEST.
Obviously, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is not responsible for this title, but to jump back to the Kickstarter real quick, it’s impressive how the goal was reached. Brian doesn’t essentially exude confidence in his words, so much as he simply says “It’s ready, it’s just… y’know, advertising”. The Kickstarter states that the game is essentially finished, and from there, it’s simply “unforeseen consequences”, but… I dunno, man, something fucked up.
We’re veering off track, however. You play as Sunny, a lass stuck in a dead-end office job. Unfortunately there’s no printer to destroy, so she only relies on her childhood memories to get through the day. However, on one particular day, her boss tells her to work a bit harder into the night, and during a powercut, she finds herself reliving her memories in surreal detail.
It’s a character study, essentially. A really barebones character study of a lass stuck in a rut over her current position. Like all budding creatives, she laments her lack of focus in the world, annoyed at herself for being trapped in the job everyone hates. Immediately, you can establish a connection. Nobody wants a 9-5, even moreso when you want your work to succeed, and from that you can immediately project yourself onto her. It’s basic but compelling narrative design.
Problems arise from what Brian Wilson attempts to achieve from it. It feels like he wants to be darker with the material, and show that Sunny is a doomed individual, completely disregarding her problems with the world. However, he still attempts to connect her to the players’ own frustrations in the real world with memories relating to Halloween and getting lost in the supermarket. Once again, elementary establishments, which unfortunately fail.
Before we jump into that can of worms however, let’s go over the gameplay, which is a constantly evolving walking simulator. Most of it consists of simply walking through surreal environments that Sunny remembers from her past life, relating to the seasons. When you finish with them, Sunny will then find herself in an isometric square patch of land, where you have to rotate the world with the bumper buttons in order to collect honeycomb symbols. With the season parts, Sunny will find herself in the role of several different symbolic characters: rabbits and hares signifying something to do with parenthood, a monster truck which implies free will, this and that. Halloween will find yourself dodging random spooky pumpkins and zombies because… I don’t know, but they don’t necessarily tell us anything, nor do they fit in the game properly.
Why do they fail? One simple answer: Too many eggs in the basket. Brian Wilson is constantly attempting to evolve how the player plays Where The Bees Make Honey, with new control schemes arriving and leaving as quick as they came. It’s not enough that you’re doing these generic perspective puzzles, reminiscent of titles like Fez and Poncho, but now you’re controlling a rabbit, and now it’s side-scrolling, but now it’s top-down.
It wouldn’t be so bad if there was space to let these ideas breathe and grow, but this is a game you can complete in less than an hour, and there’s only two endings. Ten bucks for a game as short and as inaccurate design-wise like this is daylight robbery from the developer, and it doesn’t help that everything else on top of a misguided flow of gameplay is just as bad.
The controls, for example, are dreadful. I make no hesitation in saying that this is the worst-controlling game of 2019, and Brian Wilson patching certain elements hasn’t changed that. The worst part used to be when you controlled a rabbit looking for her baby. For some godforsaken reason, it was decided the fast-moving rabbit would use tank controls. No, seriously.
It’s been patched to where it feels more natural to control the bloody thing, but they only patched that one part, and not the Monster Truck section, which uses the same controls. Now this… this is where all your frustrations will lie. It is easily the worst section in any video game I’ve played this year, and I’m doing a yearly playthrough of Ride to Hell at the moment, goddamnit.
See, it’s almost Halo controls: you accelerate and brake by moving up and down on the left stick, and you’re supposed to turn with the right stick, but nope! You can’t go in a straight line with this piece of shit monster truck, and that’s really fabulous, because you also have to collect some shit honeycomb emblems while you’re in this tosspot of a vehicle.
Well, that was a vent and a half. Anyway, the aesthetic? Yeah, it’s alright. It’s really sweet and helps adds to this fairytale we’re being taken on. The grain is ridiculous though. The screen looks like it sat too close to a fireplace, and trying to take the beauty in is difficult when it feels like our TV has suddenly turned into an easycap device.
The music can eat a bag of wet gravel, however. It’s so unbelievably cheesy and under-produced. Someone plinks and plonks on a guitar too loud to appreciate, and the Halloween level music is just a 30 second loop. The vocals on the track should help add to this atmosphere, but once again, they’re louder than everything else and ruin it.
Finally, Sunny’s performance is great. Sure, the writing doesn’t help, and it’s hard to grieve with her due to this breakneck pacing, but she’s definitely acting professional. She puts her all into it, even if you notice that she’s playing both Sunny and Sunny’s Mom. Good job to Alex Wisner on that part.
I don’t get Where The Bees Make Honey. It’s so close to being a profound statement on freedom of creativity and breaking your shackles, but it goes by way too fast to cement any form of meaningful message inside. Slap on some awfully optimized gameplay sections, and you have a game that misses more than it should’ve.
In the end, coming straight from the heart is not enough to recommend Where The Bees Make Honey in any capacity. I can appreciate the narrative design to a point, but Brian Wilson has attempted to make so much with so little. Pack on some frustrating gameplay elements and underdeveloped puzzles, and you have a game with a pretty face but no meat behind it.
This Review of Where The Bees Make Honey is based upon the Xbox One Version.
It does more than its walking simulator contemporaries, and it's pretty, but then it's also anemic in its approach, offering nothing but a heartfelt message, and no satisfying ends.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.