Not Especially Sweet

HIGH The isometric levels are harmless enough, I guess.

LOW Entry-level ruminations on the loss of innocence.

WTF Not having an option to exit to desktop.

I haven’t told this story publicly before, but here at GameCritics, we were once catfished. We were asked by a very enthusiastic publisher to preview their upcoming release. I feel no remorse in saying that the game in question felt like a high school project, because that’s exactly what it was – our “PR contact” was actually a teenager who’d been experimenting with game design. Not wanting to discourage that kind of young spirit, we gave him some harsh (but fair) feedback in private, and I hoped I would avoid accidentally signing up as a volunteer playtester in the future.

That’s not quite what’s happened with Where the Bees Make Honey – its developer is in college, not high school, and he apparently had the name recognition to raise over $6,000 for the game’s Kickstarter campaign – but I nevertheless entertained the notion that I’d been duped again when I first booted the game up and was greeted with cringe-worthy dialogue, shoddy programming and a dearth of even the most basic features like subtitles or the option to quit out of the game. Everyone starts somewhere, and I can’t fault the purported one-man team at Wakefield Interactive for not having fully mastered Unity on its first go, but the moment this thing gets released on digital storefronts for actual money is the moment I lose sympathy.

Where the Bees Make Honey is about a woman at a dead-end telemarketing job who finds life as an adult to be a disappointing slog and frequently daydreams about her childhood, when her responsibilities were low and her imagination was endless. Even without doing any research, I could surmise the general age of developer Brian Wilson – not the one responsible for Pet Sounds, presumably – based on this conceit alone. He’s old enough to have had this revelation, but young enough to still think it’s profound, as if every adult on the planet isn’t constantly longing for the days of their innocence.

After a brief first-person prologue at Sunny’s office – wherein opening the pause menu causes the controls to reverse, for some reason – we’re sucked into a series of vignettes in which Sunny recounts some of her favorite childhood memories, all while delivering such insights as, “I miss being eight. What a number, right?” Even everyday environments such as kitchens and backyards are presented as sprawling and fantastical, mirroring the wonder through which children see the world.

What follows can loosely be called a puzzle-platformer, though Where the Bees Make Honey only ever challenges the reflexes or the intellect by accident, like when a solution doesn’t properly trigger or when I get lost because I’ve clipped through a wall.

The closest we get to a defining mechanic are the Captain Toad-esque isometric levels in which Sunny, dressed like a bee, is tasked with collecting the honeycomb pickups from Banjo-Kazooie. Spinning the camera at 90-degree intervals reveals hidden nooks and often manipulates mechanisms sprinkled throughout the stages. Completing these sequences is usually a simple matter of trial-and-error, but they look nice and are generally harmless, which, I presume, is why the marketing focused on them.

Less successful are the instances in which Where the Bees Make Honey branches out into other genres for the sake of drawing some of the thinnest metaphors imaginable, all centered on the trite theme that the world is more interesting through a child’s lens. A play session with a remote-controlled monster truck morphs a backyard into an expansive forest. A night of trick-or-treating involves outmaneuvering actual zombies. A memory of Sunny getting lost at a grocery store inexplicably manifests as a platforming segment featuring a rabbit with tank controls.

Again, I can’t overstate how much every aspect of Where the Bees Make Honey feels like a student project, from the way it looks to its frequent lack of sound effects, to the banality of its dialogue and the painfully earnest diction with which Sunny’s voice actress delivers it. The fact that it doesn’t work properly, often locking up when I tried to navigate its menus with a mouse cursor, further underlines that this effort has no business being sold for actual money.

As a self-professed narrative adventure game, all of this would be at least slightly forgivable if Where the Bees Make Honey had an insightful point to make. But again, it’s tough to find an adult past their early 20s who hasn’t spent hours reminiscing about life before we had these pesky “jobs” to deal with. As such, I can only respect Where the Bees Make Honey as a personal project and as Wilson’s means of grappling with his loss of innocence, but the fact that he raised thousands of dollars to bring it to fruition feels like a con job.

P.S. The Steam page hilariously lists “GTX 980” under the game’s minimum specs. Wilson is apparently under the impression that he’s produced a more technically demanding game than Metro Exodus.

Rating: 0.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Wakefield Interactive and published by Whitehorn Digital. It is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 90 minutes of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Everyone and has no descriptors. There’s one sequence in which some mildly spooky Halloween-themed imagery is employed, but that’s it.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No subtitles are available. Given that this is a narrative-centric game, players who can’t hear the dialogue will have no idea what’s going on. This game is not accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls through its launch window. The WASD keys are used to move, while the space bar is used to jump and the Q and E keys change the camera perspective.

Mike Suskie
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