Bees. We fear them. Ever since our teachers warned us against tampering with beehives, we've imagined horrid droning swarms armed with venomous harpoons and a zeal for stinging manflesh. But perhaps we should see the world through their tiny eyes, a world of hostile arthropods, artillery-grade raindrops, and really, really spiky plants. Honey Hunter, an outwardly cute mouse-controlled side-scrolling game by Denys Moysin (SBTeam), gives us a dark glimpse at the fragile lives of these misunderstood creatures.
You are a lone soldier drone, tasked by your queen with various missions to further the glory of your hive. Control is with the mouse, the clicking of which will make with the stinging of hostile insects, spiders, and larger foes. Each mission involves a group of levels, and you can only complete a level by collecting all the hexagonal drops of golden honey to be found, some of which are guarded or dangerously positioned. Missions also end with boss fights, in which your combat skills are put to the test. Hopefully before boss battles you have taken the time to upgrading your speed, attack and health at the hive, spending experience points gained from gathering honey and killing mean animals. Collect honey, avoid obstacles, and serve your hive.
Honey Hunter is very cute. Graphics are bright and colorful, the soundtrack is usually bouncy and sunny, and the animation slick and cartoon-like. The cuteness is deceptive, because it's not a light or easy game. Attacking takes some finesse and timing, and you are often better off avoiding larger foes instead of taking them on directly. Careful avoidance is a big part of the game, because apart from the baddies, everything from water to spiderwebs to unusually thorny flora can consume your meager (though expandable) health reserves. Some drops of honey are also positioned so that only a careful, surgeon-like hand can collect them without touching a hazard. The game is surprisingly tricky.
It's also surprisingly dark. I mean, it's kid-friendly enough. This isn't Edward Gorey we're talking about. But the extreme fragility of the protagonist is enhanced by certain elements of the story, such as it is. Even though it stays colorful and cheerful, I am very much left with the impression that a bee's world is a dangerous one.
The juxtaposition between cute and dangerous is strange, but it shouldn't detract from a solid, if tricky, arcade side-scroller. It's not the most original title, but it's well-designed, and it's take on apian life is intriguing. Remember the advice of your teachers: the bees are as scared as you are.