It’s been nearly ten years since Jerry Seinfeld wound down his eponymous critically acclaimed sitcom and the comedian has stayed nearly completely out of the spotlight since. With the help of Dreamworks Entertainment, he has made an unlikely return as Barry B. Benson, an animated anthropomorphic bee trying to find his calling after graduating from Bee college. The movie is a sure sign of a once edgy performer having settled down and had kids and the natural desire to create something that said kids can actually watch and at least partially understand. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes behind the words that Barry speaks you can imagine a bit of what Jerry REALLY wanted to say but couldn’t as a result of adhering to the conventions of a child-friendly movie…
But I digress. We’re here to talk about the Bee Movie GAME, the latest entry on a long list of entirely mediocre games based on entirely mediocre children’s animated features.
It is generally pretty hard to find fault with graphics in games that are based on computer animated features. Usually, the assets from the movie are provided to the developers and scaled down to fit within the parameters of each console, and while I can’t say for sure this is the case, it certainly looks enough like the movie to make this a reasonable assumption. Everything is rendered in that soft plastic style circa Pixar about 5 years ago, which is where everyone except Pixar seems to be stuck, CG animation-wise, which is to say it actually looks pretty good. Animations are consistent with the movie, with a few stand-out moments, such as when you turn Barry around while he’s flying and he’s nearly facing you. Additionally, the rain motion stopping/time lapse when Bee Vision is used looks particularly striking, and actually sets the game’s graphics up a notch above the usual fare.
Apparently, Kent Brockman is a bee. That’s right, he’s a bee, and he loves narration so much he’s doing it for two different species. Ok, so Harry Shearer isn’t part of the voice cast for Bee Movie The Game, but the guy narrating sounds so much like his news anchor character from the Simpsons I thought I was playing a different game part of the time (cue Nelson Muntz). I guess that’s not a fair gripe, though, and I must rather congratulate the fellow for channeling Mr. Shearer so well.
In fact, the voiceover, music, and sound effects are all adequately done, and once again, likely handed over by the filmmakers to make for better cross-marketing synergy. And while Patrick Warburton’s brief cameo almost came off as a parody of himself, my biggest complaint lies with Jerry, who has two modes of speaking in the game: really excited/ high-pitch Jerry voice and, well, bored Jerry voice. He does slip in a few jokes that hint at his former snarky glory, but it is very subdued and likely sanitized for our children’s protection. Mostly, though, he sounds like he is going through the motions.
Bee Movie’s main controls are pretty much the standard fare that typically grace the animated kiddie-movie license genre; simplistic and definitely designed for the little ones, there really isn’t much to talk about here. The low point lies in the car driving, which offers very little in the way of speed choice, namely, fast, and immobile. Hovering is kind of fun, but ultimately serves little purpose. Interestingly enough, the God of War controller button sequence system has a very strong presence in the game, with just about every other level involving a random string of button mashes, with the random part being the most irritating aspect when having to replay a section. Most puzzling moment required me to move around in circles in a human’s field of vision to fill up a gauge and get their attention. Now, I’m flying around in circles directly in front of the human’s face, and their eyes are darting around nervously looking around everywhere expect for right in front of their nose where I am literally waving my arms around like a big bumbling idiot.
Children’s games can be fun; I have played several with my two kids and generally have a pretty good idea what works and what doesn’t. Consequently, there is a serious problem if my 4 year old is nodding off and my 9 year old is repeating the word ‘boring’ over and over again…
From the get-go, the game is very self-referential, with the narrative setting up the game as a flashback during a talk-show interview with Barry about the events of the movie (“I even hear they are making a video game about it”, “Oh, really? I hadn’t heard about the video game…”). Bee puns fly fast and furious with stinging regularity (couldn’t resist), and at one point Barry cracks a joke about doing pilates, prompting my son to ask what the heck a pilate is (“why, it’s an adult beverage, son…). The wafer-thin plot that threads through the whole thing just kind of meanders about until Barry decides he’s going to sue humanity for stealing all of the Bee’s honey and selling it, but by that time the buzzing has turned into snoring. Besides, let’s face it- Jerry Seinfeld playing a character that you are actually supposed to sympathize with may be too much of a stretch.
Joining this wafer-thin plot are gameplay mechanics made up of duct tape and toothpicks; the minigames come off as pale imitations of games my kids and I would rather play than this one. In fact, during the racing minigame, the powerups that appeared on the track that once run over appear in the corner of the screen after a slot machine-style animation inspired my son and I to turn of the console and start up a rousing game of Mario Kart on our DSs. Bee Movie’s version felt like playing with cutout paper cars glued to popsicle sticks in comparison…
By far the most irritating and repetitive gameplay mechanic of the game revolves around Barry and his efforts to redistribute pollen amongst groups of flowers as a ‘Pollen Jockey’. This is the part of the game where my daughter finally just fell asleep, and after about ten minutes of extracting pollen from flowers with glowy yellow sparkles and inserting pollen into flowers with glowy black sparkles with a big macho pollen gun, I nearly joined her. The addition of enemy wasps halfway through the first of these missions perked me up a bit until I encountered the serious flaw in the lock-on system- I would try to lock on to the wasps and lock onto flowers instead, forcing me into the overly long reorientation animation that precedes the pollen extraction/injection segments while the wasps cheerfully pummel away at me with little cause to expect any serious trouble from an ineffectual bee who can’t seem to do much more than make a spectacularly animated landing on a flower.
But, hey, it wasn’t ALL bad. The levels that utilized the Bee Vision/bullet-time effect were actually pretty engaging; You see, bees can’t fly in the rain, but by switching to Bee Vision, the rain stops in mid air and Barry simply has to fly around the droplets from shelter area to shelter area, and can do this faster by navigating through a series of wind tunnels. Mind you, this bright little oasis of the game doesn’t last long and then its back to the standard generic collection quests with unfulfilling payoffs.
Playing through Bee Movie felt like such a chore upon initially playing that I can’t even imagine taking the completist route or playing through it a second time. Nearly every gameplay element is so shallow you wonder why you’re even bothering to play with it. Multiplayer mode is simply the minigames opened up to multiple players. These did not yield any more favorable response than the single player versions and felt like a novelty tacked on just because the mechanics were already there for the main game already.
Unless your goal is replacing your expired Ambien prescription with something that may arguably be more effective, or you think casting Jerry Seinfield as a honey producing bug might actually be the bee’s knees (sorry), then I highly recommend you rush out and buy this game immediately. If you have kids that like anthropomorphic insects and stayed awake when you took them to see the movie- again, this wouldn’t be a bad purchase. If you like your games to have more originality and compelling gameplay, Bee Movie is probably not for you.