Apico is one of the most wholesome and cosy games I’ve experienced in a while. Despite being full of deep crafting mechanics and challenging gameplay, you could say it had me a little, bee-witched! OK now I’ve had my turn making a terrible bee pun, I’ll spare you reading any more for the rest of the review alright? Let’s find out if Apico is all it’s cracked up to bee (sorry!).
Cosy game or hardcore sim?
What first caught my eye with Apico was the cute mix of pixel art graphics and a Minecraft-style open world with crafting mechanics. Previously I spent some time with Stardew Valley and enjoyed the opening several hours, but eventually wanted something more exploration focused. Apico looked the part, and although I knew it was based around beekeeping, I didn't realise it was extremely focused on the concept of raising bees until I started playing.
In Apico, there's no combat or storyline outside of the core beekeeping concept. Underneath the cozy aesthetic and relaxing atmosphere, this is very much a hard-core beekeeping simulator. The developers were heavily inspired by the Forestry mod for Minecraft which allowed for a range of activities including automated farms, bee and butterfly breeding, energy production and more. In many ways, bee breeding is perfect for a crafting focused video game, as the bees themselves need to be nurtured in a mixture of wild and domesticated environments to produce a variety of products, which can be then be used for enhancing the hives, crafting more advanced materials and eventually sold for in-game currency. While the original Forestry Minecraft mod was quite broad in scope, Apico’s developers have focused purely on the beekeeping aspect.
Rather than draw direct inspiration from Stardew Valley or Harvest Moon with their ‘romance RPG meets farming sim’ gameplay, Apico doesn’t have much storyline or interaction with NPCs beyond simple transactions and gatekeeping. With a complete lack of combat, the main character has nothing to worry about aside from beekeeping - there’s no need to eat, sleep or do anything else. Sounds like a good life, to be fair!
While many games put outside pressure on players, spawning obstacles like enemies, or adding hunger which can lead to starvation, Apico is refreshing in the way it’s so highly focused on the core mission of beekeeping. There's nothing simple about this mission either, as the crafting systems allow players to build increasingly more complex machines to facilitate all aspects of honey production, bee breeding and even reintroducing endangered bee species back into the wild.
Apico starts off simple enough with the basic use of wood and stone tools. Initially players will be felling trees to craft tables, workbenches and a house. By following the wonderfully written set of guidebooks, players will soon be creating their own beehives and a variety of tools for extracting honey, flower seeds, propolis and other products from the busy bees. The game takes place in a large open world which is generated in a semi-procedural nature. The opening village spawns on an island separate from the larger world, with everything players need to master the basics.
The game keeps layering on these new mechanics at a fast pace, such as the introduction of waterproofing materials like resin, and the use of propolis to create glue. Soon players will be learning about the process of fermentation, combining water and honey in special tanks to create Apicola, which is the best way to make a substantial amount of ‘rubees’ (currency) in the early game. Later, players will have access to more advanced tools like microscopes, which allow them to learn about new bee species. Placing bees into the microscope will reveal their stats, which allows players to make better choices about which bees to crossbreed and hopefully create more productive species. There's also a predictor machine which will predict the offspring of new queens.
Hopefully it's clear that the beekeeping aspect of Apico is extremely deep. This is a game players can truly lose hours in. The lack of outside pressure whatsoever leaves players free to lose themselves in beekeeping, without needing to worry about literally anything else. While there’s no need to eat or sleep, players can spend time in bed or sitting on a bench to speed up time, which is useful during rainy periods when the bees stay in their hive and are non-productive. The game also has an innovative use of windowing and keyboard shortcuts, allowing players to create some complex crafting chains by having multiple crafting windows open simultaneously.
So Apico really is a game with a singular focus and outside of the main beekeeping loop there is nothing much else to do. All NPCs are very placid and there are no consequences for simply walking into most shops or houses and taking anything players need. This is actually a great way to obtain some useful tools in the early game, such as the microscope which can be simply stolen from the scientist’s lodge with no consequences. The NPCs themselves don't have any daily routines and just stand in their houses all day and night. Apico is a pure beekeeping farming simulator. As long as players understand what they getting into, they'll discover one of the most comprehensive beekeeping video games ever created.
Bringing Apico to life
Developed by a two-person team comprising of brothers, ellraiser and Metakitkat, the small studio known as TNgineers recently sat down with Game Rant where they discussed at the development of Apico. After playing the Minecraft Forestry mod, the duo realised that the beekeeping concept would make for a compelling game experience and set out to create a game with a positive atmosphere, channelling the jovial escapism of classics like Minecraft, Terraria and Starbound.
Surprisingly the devs admit to never having played the pixel-art farming hit Stardew Valley, as Apico has parallels within its own story. Once again, it’s time to swap the big city life for something more serene in the countryside - only this time it’s a forested island instead of a small town, and the family business is beekeeping. It’s also nice to see that TNgineers are still actively supporting Apico, with more updates on the horizon, including butterfly collecting and fishing, and according to a recent Twitter post, improvements to the way dialogue is scripted.
The bee all and end all?
I found the gameplay loop in Apico to be satisfying and addictive, once I got the hives up and running and was familiar with the basic mechanics. It's a game where there always seems to be more work to do, whether it's crafting honey frames or harvesting more honeycomb from the hives. I enjoyed harvesting various crafting materials from the bees and then crafting new machinery to improve production and increase efficiency. I didn’t get to try the game’s co-op mode, but I had a constant feeling that having another player or two in the game world to ‘help out around the place’ would have been very welcome!
Discovering new bee species is one of the strongest motivations players have to persist through game, much like the ‘Gotta catch ‘em all’ motto of the Pokémon series. Bee species are hidden throughout the world and by exploring and uncovering new areas, different species can be found which are then able to be captured, used in hives, cross-bred. Each species has unique stats such as lifespan, productivity and fertility. There’s other traits too, such as the rock bee’s tendency to only forage during the night. The game’s map is based around a series of islands, most of which are locked off at the beginning. Players will need to attain at least level 7 (measured in the amount of bee species discovered) before a boat is unlocked, allowing for exploration beyond beyond.
Apico can be a conflicted experience at times. It's a game that's simultaneously relaxing and calming once players get into the basic gameplay loop, but also stressful at times as it always feels like there is more to learn and more layers of complexity to uncover. Not to mention that the bees themselves need constant attention and every hive will need some kind of a manual input in order to keep it running and producing honey. Much like real-life beekeeping itself, playing Apico can feel like a second job, as players grapple with the various systems and the constant maintenance of the bee colonies. The menus and the crafting system can seem overwhelming too, as there are so many mechanics that take time to master. However, much like being in nature can soothe the soul, the calm ambient sounds and serene setting of Apico can be a zen-like experience.
At the end of the day, Apico is a great game for finding escapism in the business of beekeeping. Like building an expansive metropolis in SimCity, or constructing a productive farm in Stardew Valley, creating a set of thriving hives and a profitable honey business in Apico is an experience that will absorb hours of time. The relaxed setting, adorable pixel art and hilarious writing make the experience all the more pleasant. It may not ‘bee’ for everybody, but Apico is a charming beekeeping simulator that will surely delight those looking for a cosy escape from the daily grind. However, underneath the cute exterior lies a serious beekeeping farming-sim that offers serious challenges and rewards.
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