BeeJuice, available for iOS, is a tense, skill-based action game from developer Anselm Scholz. Mirroring its simplistic art style, BeeJuice‘s goal is clear: guide a bee through a treacherous 2D environment while collecting enough flowers to grant you access to the next level. Although the presentation is charming and the premise easy to jump into, the experience of playing BeeJuice is a mixture of exultation and frustration.
BeeJuice is presented in a combination of two artistic styles. The background for each stage is a real photo taken of a lawn or garden, while the foreground consists of your bee, flowers, and foes, drawn with cartoonish design. While I enjoy the novelty of the hybrid style, the busy backgrounds can be distracting at times when there’s already so much on the screen. Perhaps this was an intentional design choice to bring a little extra difficulty to the game, but if so, it was unnecessary.
The nuances of the controls take time to learn, potentially causing players to exit the game in frustration. Part of the problem is the layout of each level. With the exception of the first few stages, the spacing that the player navigates through allows for a very small margin of error. Combine that with both a running timer and imprecise touch-screen controls, and what you end up with is a challenging, but occasionally frustrating gaming experience. The player can develop techniques over time that can help offset these difficulties. For example, using their thumb to steer the bee as opposed to any other finger will give the player a steadier, more consistent responsiveness. By learning not to take their thumb off of the joystick area, the player can keep the bee from inadvertently shooting off in the wrong direction when contact is reapplied to the screen. Even with these tricks, however, the game is going to be difficult for many players.
I liken BeeJuice to having a go at the classic tabletop game Labyrinth. The roller coaster of emotions brought on by barely surviving at every given turn is what makes the game fun. Unfortunately, like Labyrinth, it’s necessary to make a perfect run, or the attempt is considered a failure. With a game that has so many different elements adding to the difficulty, it would’ve been nice to have a little leeway by either upping the countdown timer or providing a limited number of lives to complete a successful attempt. Because of the back and forth between enjoyment and frustration, BeeJuice ends up in that zone where it’s neither notably great nor bad. A player’s experience with the game is likely to change with every sitting.
Prospective customers willing to take the plunge can look forward to future updates. Planned changes include 30 additional levels, performance ratings for each level on the level selection screen, the option to change the joystick location, and more. It’s always nice to see developers not only giving players bonus content, but also fixing oversights from the original release. Hopefully these additional levels will introduce new challenges and other game mechanics to refresh the experience for players who’ve made it through the existing 60 levels.
It’s difficult to figure out who the target audience for BeeJuice is supposed to be. Colorful visuals, playful music, and simple puns would lead everyone to believe this is a children’s game, but the patience and dexterity needed to succeed would seem targeted at a slightly older audience. For players ready to take on a serious challenge, I recommend BeeJuice as fun diversion complete with achievements and leaderboard rankings. Casual players should definitely try the lite version found in the App Store first.
BeeJuice was reviewed on an iPad using a digital copy provided by the developer.
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