Indie game APICO hit PC back in May, but has now made its way to Nintendo Switch. APICO is a beekeeping simulator based on Minecraft mods and casual crafting games, and though it takes a bit of a learning curve, once you get it you're in for hours of fun - you may even get a science lesson or two. Plus, a portion of the money made from the sales of APICO will be donated toward real-life beekeeping charities.
APICO's Un-bee-lievably Cute Design
Visually, APICO looks similar to Stardew Valley thanks to its 8-bit design. I've never been one to gravitate toward 8-bit games - I want everything to look as detailed or stylized as possible - but I'm pleased with how well APICO's pixel design lends to the overall charm of the game. The character creator only lets you customize hair color and cut as well as skin color, but it's enough to let you emulate yourself or an imaginary character.
The bees of APICO, of which there are 30 different species, have cute sprites which become immensely easier to see and identify when playing on a TV. When viewing them on the Switch screen alone it became a little difficult to discern which bee species was which, especially when the more colorful and unique bees hadn't been discovered yet.
APICO's Gameplay Keeps You Abuzz
You can buzz through the gameplay "tutorial" or take your time with it depending on how quickly you want to get through the beginning quests. It took me a while to complete because I experienced a bit of a learning curve with APICO, learning the hard way that the best way to play is to multitask in order to yield the most resources for continuous use. It was a little overwhelming at first, but it did become easier to maneuver it all with practice.
There's definitely an order of operations to playing APICO which can be a bit frustrating to learn, especially if you're someone who's unfamiliar with the Minecraft mods the game is based on. The way you gather materials is fairly straightforward - cut the trees, collect the honeycomb, transfer or bottle liquids depending on what you need, etc. - but the key to success is consistency. Trying to juggle all of these activities doesn't make the game as relaxing of an experience as APICO touts, but it's still a nice way to escape from everyday life to help some digital bees.
The biggest annoyance with the materials and items in APICO isn't the fact that it's a balancing act to collect them as necessary - it's that there's no way to split up material stacks. If you have a stack of 99 logs, you cannot choose a 44/45 split or pick up a single one - you have to move and use the whole lot. If you want to preserve half of it, you have to watch the machine dwindle the numbers down to about half and then pull the item from the machine, which means you spend your time staring at the machine work instead of multitasking on other activities.
As you continue to do the different required material gathering, icons pop up above machines to show when the object is currently in use. However, unlike the bee items (hive, swarmer, etc.) that give you an icon to show the bees have concluded their cycle, the material gathering objects don't give any indication when they're done, which seems like a bit of an oversight. I forgot more than a few uncapped frames because the game didn't tell me my machine was done, which in turn slowed down my production rate for other items.
One thing APICO does get right is exploration, with a pretty expansive map to unearth and gather materials from. It can take a bit of time before you can access a basic boat, but once you do the world becomes a lot bigger with 4 different biomes teeming with new plants and bees to discover. APICO also accomplishes making Port APICO feel like something that's existed long before the player visits and will continue to exist after they're gone.
Scattered across the world are NPCs players can interact with by talking, shopping, or selling items. Most NPCs have a fun bee pun name - Beetrix, cousin Barnabee, and Bobbee come to mind - but all NPCs have their pronouns listed. It's a small gesture, but I loved the inclusivity of she, he, and they pronouns across all characters. It would have been nice to get to know the personality of the NPCs rather than most of them just congratulating you on your beekeeping accomplishments, but the lack of relationship building isn't a detriment to APICO.
Now to discuss the most important part of the game - the bees! As I mentioned before, the sprites are very cute but it takes a bit of practice to be able to determine which bee is which based on appearance. The science of breeding the bees plays a big role in the game - obviously - and you can test different bee's Punnett square genetics with microscopes or predictors to make for the most successful cross-breeding possible.
Once you breed and release enough of the "Lost" bee species back with the Rehabeelitator, you'll successfully change the conservation status to "Thriving." As a reward for your work and dedication, the local paper will print a story about your beekeeping exploits that you can view and keep. Even though they're just digital bees, it warmed my heart to know I was making a difference in the landscape and helping bees return to their natural habitat.
APICO Review | Final Thoughts
APICO will be an enjoyable experience if you're the kind of gamer who likes simulation games that make you feel warm, fuzzy, and buzzy. The one overarching qualm I have with APICO is that it states it's a relaxing game, but there are too many pertinent moving parts to make it a completely zen experience - even if the soundtrack is all lo-fi beats. If you're looking for a fun digital beekeeping experience with some of the grind of other simulation games, APICO is the choice for you.
TechRaptor reviewed APICO on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the developer/publisher. The game is also available on PC.
- Charming 8-bit world to explore
- Un-bee-lievable bee puns add to the atmosphere
- Real-life science lessons with Punnett square genetics predictors
- Too much to juggle to be considered "relaxing"
- Clunky material gathering mechanics