Review: Where the Bees Make Honey

Review: Where the Bees Make Honey

As soon as I started playing Where The Bees Make Honey, I knew that the game was going to be making a statement about childhood and adulthood, imagination and exhaustion with the rat race. I happen to love when game’s take a stand and say something, and it was part of the reason I was so drawn to it.

Where The Bees Make Honey has a few glaring mechanical issues, but if you’re able to have patience with it, you’ll find a game that’s pushing the artistic medium of games forward, combining ideas and aesthetics in a really unique and interesting way that, despite its short length, pack a surprising emotional punch.

Title: Where The Bees Make Honey
Developer: Brian Wilson
Publisher: Whitethorn Digital
Platform: PC
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided By Developer
Interface: Controller
Available on Steam, XBox One, and PS4

Where the Bees Make Honey tells a story about reflecting on different moments from a childhood, which are played and experienced from an adult perspective. At its core Where the Bees Make Honey is a puzzle adventure game, but gameplay variation is filtered throughout.

Where The Bees Make Honey (hereafter abbreviated to WTBMH) isn’t subtle about being about something.  Through the opening monologue by Sunny, the game’s main character, it becomes clear that this is a game about the importance of not loosing yourself.

We open on Sunny at work, a drone stuck in the hive of the Vocall office. She’s clearly at her wits end, over worked, stressed and has more than a few regrets about how her life has ended up. “I want to dream” she says, and you can’t blame her: this place looks soul-crushing. Luckily she doesn’t have to wait too long.

After a power outage, Sunny is soon whisked into a surreal, dream-like environment that forms the vast majority of WTBMH. Were also quickly introduced to one of the most interesting elements of WTBMH: the fact that it is made up of a variety of visual styles and game types. It’s perhaps odd to say, but the disjointedness of the game’s different aesthetic and mechanical elements is actually quite cohesive, giving the experience as a whole a very clear, dream-like quality.

Individually, some of the models and environments do leave a bit to be desired in terms of details and technical construction, but their clunkiness also adds to the clear nostalgia the game is meant to invoke. Sunny at one point says that “Sometimes I felt like those [imaginary] worlds made more sense than the real world” and that’s certainly the case many times throughout WTBMH: these fictitious and at times crude digital constructions filled me with nostalgic feelings of the 90’s and days of playing early video games.

There is a LOT of visual storytelling in WTBMH, and it is done incredibly well. The different environments and obstacles all speak to Sunny’s past and childhood memories. The level in winter, where Sunny reminisces about her bike and the freedom it gave her, in particular was incredibly powerful and poignant to me, using surreal scale and sense of space to really impart a feeling of loss and smallness.

WTBMH’s music and voice acting do a lot to help create a multi-media fueled narrative and deserve special mention. The fantastic voice acting by Alex Wisner is full of pathos, and I could feel Sunny’s emotions, both painful and pleasant, in her voice as the game’s story progressed. The soundtrack is incredible too, featuring songs by both Alex Wisner and Brian Wilson, and is paired almost perfectly with the game’s narrative beats.

WTBMH’s gameplay largely revolves around a series of puzzle levels. These all involve changing perspectives and turning a “cube” the exists around the environments to reveal new paths, change elements of the space and uncover ways to collect all the honeycombs needed to progress. These puzzles are a cool concept, and work very well. I just wish there was more of them!

WTBMH also offers a variety of type of gameplay. In between the puzzle sections mentioned above, you’ll have exploration levels with some very light spacial puzzles, platforming levels, even a “racing” level where you control a remote controlled monster truck. This variety does a lot to keeps things fresh, which I’m not sure would be the case if the game was simply one perspective puzzle after another.

While the basic concepts and narrative direction of WTBMH are unique and well imagined, the game does have some issues. The controls and animations are very rough. While in many cases this isn’t super apparent (and contributes a bit to the nostalgia I talked about earlier), this becomes a GLARING issue in one particular level where you have to do some precision platforming as a rabbit.

In the level, your playing through a memory of Sunny getting lost at a supermarket, imagined as a mother rabbit frantically searching for her baby. I love the  symbolism and the way this bit of memory is told, but almost threw my controller across the room multiple times when trying to jump my way up a rocky crag. Precision platforming demands tight controls, and WTBMH’s controls just aren’t. This same frustration also showed it’s face a little later when I had to make a sequence of jumps over a water element: missing one  jump, which was easy to do, saw me swimming back to the beginning, absolutely killing the pacing of the moment.

None of this felt like a “Jacob Sucks at Platforming(which, I mean, I do) moment, but more like the controls were actively working against me. This same feeling crops up again in the monster truck level, though it’s less noticeable there since you’re not doing precision platforming.

NOTE: I know that this is one of the things that Brian is working on polishing and fixing for the forthcoming 1.1 patch, which is fantastic to hear. If you get frustrated by things like this, perhaps throw WTBMH on your Wishlist and pick it up after these controls have been tweaked.

WTBMH is a short game, and will likely only take you between one and two hours to complete. While there’s a couple different endings, there’s also not much replay-ability. Neither of these facts particularly bother me, as it’s a punchy experience, and I think were it any longer it might not have quite the same emotional weight.

Where The Bees Make Honey is a game exploring important emotions, nostalgia and the threat we all face of loosing ourselves to the rat race that adulthood can sometimes be. While it’s artistic and mechanical variety and superb audio work are praise worthy, it is technically messy at points, and the controls need to be tightened up for it to be a universally enjoyable experience. However, make no mistake that Where the Bees Make Honey is doing it’s small part to push the medium of video games in a good direction, exploring concepts and ideas that art should explore.

I’m happy that I played WTBMH, and even happier that it exists to be played.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about the development of Where The Bees Make Honey, and about the developer Brian Wilson, check out our latest IndieDev Interview:

 

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Written by
Editor-in-Chief of IndieHangover.com. With a soft spot for epics, sagas and tales of all types, Jacob approaches games as ways to tell stories. He's particularly interested in indie games because of the freedom they have to tell different stories, often in more interesting and innovative ways than Triple A titles.