Where the Bees Make Honey Review - Terror and Madness

03/27/2019 - 12:00 | By: Ron Welch

Indie games are a mixed bag. Pick one at random from the Steam Store and you’re just as likely to get a Papers, Please as you are to get a Thief of Thieves. Indie games have enormous variation in style, concept, and especially quality. That’s where the truly terrible come in, the endless horde of Unity engine asset flips stumbling through Steam Greenlight. I’ve sampled all these flavors at one time or another, but Where the Bees Make Honey is different. The bees left their hive half finished, surrendering their home to roaches and mites. There’s no sweet nectar here, only disappointment, bugs, and unspeakable horror.

You play Sunny, a telemarketer. The office is empty, but Sunny has to work overtime once again. No one will answer her calls, and Sunny is losing hope. Her sense of identity is fading; she has become an office drone. A phone ringing from another cubicle interrupts Sunny's monologue.

It’s Sunny’s boss, but I have no idea what she was trying to say. I had headphones on, but all I could hear was a Peanuts-style “wat wah wat” trombone in the audio mix. The trombone was so distracting that I completely lost focus, and I imagine Sunny had as well. Already I had high hopes. This was interesting if nothing else.

where the bees make honey sunny
There's a pretty extreme tonal shift between the "real world" and Sunny's memories.

 
 

The lights short out only moments later. Sunny must restart the generator, inconveniently located in the basement. Sunny flips the generator back on, and the whole world goes white. The colors are different, more vibrant. It's as though Sunny has just entered the dream realm. The office has transformed into a beckoning jungle. I stumble through a portal and I’m caught completely off guard.

The camera switches from first-person to a 2.5D sidescroller. Our PS2-era Sunny has somehow transformed into a cartoon character less detailed than human characters from the first Toy Story. I’m very confused at this point. I thought this was a puzzle game, not a platformer. Truth be told, Where the Bees Make Honey isn’t really any one thing.

After churning through a jungle full of technical bugs that caused Sunny to fall thought the floor and then launch herself into the air, I come to the first “puzzle.” Two walls stand before me. By pressing the left and right bumpers, each one lowers incrementally. Not really a puzzle, but I was sure they’d build on that concept. If only I knew how wrong I was.

where the bees make honey glitch
This was the first of many deaths caused by insanity. In time, you will know the tragic extent of my failings.

In the next scene, cartoon Sunny is now a Lilliputian in the kitchen of a Brobdingnagian. I cross a toothpick bridge and a prompt comes up to press the bumpers to “flip.” Tendrils of unnatural geometry grab Sunny and drag her down, suspending her in the wood plank. She tries to wiggle free, but the world folds in on her, pulling her in like quicksand until the controller stops responding. I quit to the main menu and try again. Now Sunny flips, but she’s walking on air, upside down. At least it didn’t crash.

Now we move to a puzzle section. These act as an intermission between the larger stories. The puzzles themselves are fine, they’re essentially a watered-down variation on FEZ. You need to collect three honey medallions. Some areas appear inaccessible, but you can change your perspective and trigger mechanisms by rotating the map.

 

While puzzles are very easy, they're also extremely buggy. Sometimes rotating the map wouldn't trigger mechanisms, but that's just the beginning. Without fail, poor Sunny clipped through the map and went flying through the void on nearly every puzzle. Another bug caused Sunny to collapse on herself and disappear into a pocket dimension whenever rotating the map obscured her from view. Although some hellish cosmic horror reveled in killing Sunny dozens of times, I was determined to help her escape this evil.

where the bees make honey puzzle
Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer.

After the first puzzle, we get to the real meat of Where the Bees Make Honey. Sunny has four stories, each recalling a key moment from her childhood set to the background of a particular season. The first of these memories involve losing her bike on a cold winter night and subsequently causing a forest fire. In gameplay, this consists of leading Sunny along a narrow road until you reach a side-path. The road is blocked by an invisible wall until you investigate the path. At the end of each path, you’ll find a giant bicycle part.

I had no idea what to do here, but walking in circles around the bicycle parts triggered the “objective complete” chime, which told me to go back to the road. During this section, Sunny occasionally stuttered through the geometry and her walking animation failed to the point the cosmic horror had her gliding across the landscape.

 

After another puzzle section, we’re in Spring. In this memory, I took control of a rabbit bounding through a grassy quarry while an audio drama about a lost Sunny wandering through a grocery store played in the background. I lost faith in Where the Bees Make Honey at this exact moment. The controls were already clunky, but this … this was something else.

The rabbit moves with all the precision of a tank churning through the molasses flood. Paired with a stubborn and unresponsive camera, as well as a delay in the controls, this section was actually painful to play. It’s probably no coincidence that I took migraine medicine shortly after finishing Where the Bees Make Honey. Poor controls are exacerbated by tight canyon walls and invisible walls on all sides, making the navigable area much smaller than it appears. Every time I touched one of these invisible walls, the rabbit would fold in on itself, implode, and fly into the air with outstretched limbs as though I was playing Goat Simulator.

where the bees make honey platform
Terror and madness take their toil. Watch your step.

Just walking the rabbit down a narrow path was challenging, but then we hit the platforming section. Using the most unresponsive controls I have ever experienced, you have to complete an open-world platforming section. If you fall for any reason, you have to go all the way back to the ramp and try your luck again. This shattered the narrative momentum of the grocery store scene happening in the background as I jumped up the crag for the seventh time.

Summer is next. You play an RC monster truck. This controls much better than the rabbit until you need to turn or jump. How unfortunate that this area has a lot of jumping and several hairpin turns.  I’d also say the audio mix was notably bad here as the rev of the engine was so loud that I couldn’t hear Sunny’s narration.

After conquering a series of switchbacks, the cosmic horror dropped me in an open sandbar. I had no idea what Where the Bees Make Honey wanted from me here. Much like Sunny on the stairs, I navigated the RC car by bumping into invisible walls, hoping the cosmic horror would give me some sense of direction. I then saw three honey medallions floating over a sandbar. I drove up to the first one and shouted “SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY” as my monster truck flew through the air and landed on its side.

where the bees make honey truck
For three minutes I was lost in time and space, repeating my death over and over again.

Unlike every other game with acrobatic cars (Rocket League, Crackdown, Halo, etc.) Where the Bees Make Honey doesn’t have a button to flip your car. Instead, whenever my car flipped on its side, I helplessly spun about for a few seconds before respawning 30ft in the air.

Wouldn’t you know it? The cruel director of this horror show chose to spawn me directly over the curve of a hill thirteen times. I fell thirty feet, unable to move, hit the hill, and flipped on my side, unable to do anything but add tallies to my notepad as I descended further into gibbering madness. This glitch made up three minutes of my total ninety-minute journey playing Where the Bees Make Honey.

After another puzzle sequence (which I broke immediately), we hit the fourth season. It’s Halloween night. Sunny is out for treats, but instead, she gets a bag full of dirty tricks. You arrive on a suburban street. Despite 2.5D navigation, the cosmic horror uses invisible walls to force you under a ladder. This section introduces a health bar. You have three hearts to navigate five puzzles. If (when) you fail, you start from the beginning. The first puzzle is a goofy Mr. Potato Head-looking pumpkin. It follows you around. No problem. Next up we have pumpkins rolling in a pattern. Again, no problem.

Next, I had to take some muscle relaxants due to the severe tonal whiplash. The street broke away into a hellish, gaping nightmare precision-platforming section with zombies guarding the platforms and a generic zombie nurse reaching up from below. This section is only difficult because the platforms get increasingly narrow and the zombie patrols have a tiny window of opportunity between them. The zombies don’t matter, you have three hearts, after all. The narrow platforms proved far deadlier due entirely to ice-rink controls.

where the bees make honey zombie
BEHOLD THE INFINITE MALIGNITY OF THE STARS!

Escaping zombie chasm, we face two more Mr. Pumpkin Heads, followed by a very long walk down the street. I could see something at the end of the screen, but I had no idea what it was. It looked like a solid wall of shadow, which I thought meant an exit portal. At this moment, the true terror reveals itself. The screen zooms out and a house-sized pumpkin rolls over little Sunny, grinding her shattered bones into the sidewalk. Back to square one.

When I finally got back to the giant pumpkin, I discover it’s an Indiana Jones-style chase sequence. You run back toward the zombie chasm in a straight line without any enemies or challenge. Then something odd happened. The house-sized pumpkin stopped right before the chasm and despawned like someone had opened the developer console and typed /kill. No musical sting, no sound effect, no visual explanation. I thought it was a glitch as the cosmic horror left the pumpkin’s light source behind, mocking me. I couldn't bear to watch Sunny die anymore.

Thinking I had to cross the chasm again, I look at the pattern for a few cycles until I realized it wasn’t possible. With nothing to lose but my time, I walked through the pumpkin’s light, hoping Sunny would not be eviscerated by some cruel deity. Turns out that was the solution.

This moment can be a great lesson in level design. There’s no reason to make the player walk all the way down the street, then back to the chasm, then up the street again. It would be far better for both player engagement and thematic license if the giant pumpkin came from the left side of the screen. This would prevent the player from instantly dying to an unforeseen obstacle and would benefit from the age-old film technique of lateral movement. When characters walk left to right on the screen, it means they’re advancing the story. Whereas the right to left means they’re going backward. Where the Bees Make Honey ignores all of this and just wastes a lot of time by forcing you to backtrack to a previous puzzle, only to abruptly despawn the threat without warning or explanation.

where the bees make honey mysterious light
Success so clearly in view, or is it merely a trick of the light?

Now the final puzzle room. The geometry is like honey, first sticking to Sunny’s shoes until it ultimately sucks her in and strangles her once again. There’s no restarting from a checkpoint, only Continue or Quit. At first, I watch with a quiet discontent. As Sunny implodes again and again and again, I look away in shame. Her little lifeless body falls to the void, consumed by watchers in the dark. I begin chanting the forbidden rituals of hideous, antediluvian outer gods, hoping to appease them with this endless sacrifice of an innocent child. In my heart, I know there can be no hope in this hell, no hope at all.

By some miracle, we free ourselves from this cosmic prison and return to reality. Sunny stares at the wall, dazed, reeling, about to break. Surrounding her are pictures of her childhood depicting the four scenarios. Yet, even here, we can feel the madness of unknowable gods encroaching on reality. Why is adult Sunny a realistic 3D model while photos of her child self are cartoony? I can’t say. Why did the photo of rabbits remind Sunny of being lost at the grocery store? I have no idea. It matters not. I only wish to appease the cosmic horror, be it Hastur, Yog Sothoth, or the great Cthulhu.

After an outro monologue, we return to the main menu. There’s no option to quit to desktop, only to start a new game. The cycle starts again. The endless slaughter of innocents trapped and consumed by non-Euclidian geometry will go on for untold centuries.

Now I wish only to return to the placid islands of ignorance I so enjoyed before stumbling across Where the Bees Make Honey. I invoke the sacred ritual, bane of bad games, “Ctrl+Alt+Delete” and the nightmare ends.

I’m breathing heavily. Hands trembling. Head pounding. I know what I must do. I look at my Steam library and I invoke the final ritual to banish this evil forever. It is my last hope, but it may just save us all from this stygian nightmare. I right click "Where the Bees Make Honey" and select “Uninstall.”

90 minutes never felt so long.


TechRaptor reviewed Where the Bees Make Honey on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC via Kartridge, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Review Summary

1.0

Where the Bees Make Honey tries to convey its message through nostalgic childhood memories, unresponsive controls and a plethora of technical issues that undermine everything. There might be something to the puzzles, but they're weak and extremely buggy. This game is physically painful in its current state.

Pros

  • Interesting Puzzle Ideas
  • Decent Message

Cons

  • Buggier Than A Beehive
  • Awful Camera
  • No Menu Options
  • Poor Level Design
  • Irritating Puzzles
  • Inconsistent Artstyle

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I love dissecting game design, seeing what works and what could be improved. While RPGs, shooters, and strategy games are my favorites, I'll tackle just about anything. I also do voice overs, make an award winning wing sauce, and (formerly) write about post-apocalyptic goodness.