UPDATE: Since publishing this review, Wiggle-3D has been in contact with us for more details on the problems I had with their game. In a display of very refreshing professionalism, the company has truly taken those complaints to heart and updated Paper Bees to address the flaws I explored in this review. In particular, they’ve made the touch-screen flinging much more responsive, added the necessary targeting system, and made several other minor enhancements that make a big difference on gameplay. I have spent some time with the update, and can now give the game a recommendation. It is still not a terrific or revolutionary game, but for a fun on-the-go diversion, it works exactly as intended, and is worth playing. Major kudos to Wiggles-3D for taking steps to improve their game. It was absolutely worth the extra work.
ORIGINAL REVIEW: It’s interesting to consider how among the many uses we have these days for Apple’s iOS products, they are often considered handheld gaming platforms. The iPhone has undeniably taken a chunk out of recent handheld efforts by Nintendo and Sony, though I’ve personally never encountered an app that rivaled the deep gaming experience traditional handhelds offer. Or at least not one I wanted to play. The iOS games I find successful are the ones that deliver a casual experience, one you can intuitively pick up and play at any ‘down’ moment in the day and put away just as quickly if need be.
So in theory, Wiggles 3D’s Paper Bees is exactly the kind of game I like to have on the go. It’s simple, intuitive, visually engaging, and easy to pick up and put down. But while the game isn’t without its merits, it’s also crippled by some enormously flawed gameplay mechanics, and in all honesty, I can’t imagine myself ever returning to it after this review period.
Paper Bees is sort of a less intense version of Space Invaders, where the aliens are various insects and instead of firepower, you have one or two bees to fling at them. The goal is to defend the bees’ flowers and hive from the other insects; if the enemies make contact, they will whittle away at the hive or flower. If enough insects hit the flower, the bee attached to that flower dies, and if the hive is pummeled enough, it’s game over and you have to restart the level. To defeat the insects, you use the touch screen to fling the bees at enemies, most of which explode on contact. You can also string up multiple enemies in a single hit, creating a chain reaction of bug explosions (which is not, sadly, as gruesome as it sounds).
In its current build, the game consists of thirty levels split across three worlds (it is expected additional levels will be added with updates). Each world has one static background for all levels, the only difference being the location of hives and flowers and the number of enemy combatants. Otherwise, the game looks pretty repetitive, and I wish the developers had gone down the Angry Birds route and given us unique locales for each level. Even you reach the second or third world, the scenery change isn’t significant; just different background art, and no major gameplay refinements.
But the graphics are quite nice for iOS, and look very impressive in HD when played on the iPad (this is a universal app). The game has a creative visual style, where everything looks like a paper cut-out, and the entire game is fun to look at. Paper Bees also has very good music; it’s fast, energetic, fits the scenery and gameplay at every turn, and is downright fun to listen to. When playing Angry Birds or Doodle Jump or other popular iOS games, I typically keep the sound off, but Paper Bees is the rare iPhone game I enjoy playing with the volume up.
Then again, I may only do that because the music is the game’s lone salvation when gameplay gets frustrating. And trust me, Paper Bees is largely frustrating from beginning to end. Though the core gameplay mechanics are simple and solid, the controls are absolutely broken. The touch screen interface is inconsistent and unresponsive, so unresponsive, in fact, that it almost always took me multiple swipes to get the bees moving, at least on the iPhone. The game relies on precise timing to take down enemies, but it typically takes a good five seconds from when you consciously choose to fling a bee to when you can actually get the bee flying. The delay time is crippling, and results in many lost levels even in the early stages.
Once you’re given two bees to work with, the game becomes nigh unplayable. The iPhone’s multitouch display should allow you to work on different parts of the screen at the same time, and while that does occur some of the time, I found that in general the controls just become increasingly unresponsive the more you have to do. This issue is somewhat lessened if you play on the iPad, as there’s more room to maneuver one’s fingers and a greater chance the bees will actually move. Still, playing on the iPad sort of defeats the purpose; it’s not the device I take with me everywhere I go, and it’s not the device I need these sorts of games for.
Even if the controls were entirely responsive, there’s still a massive aiming issue. Again returning to Angry Birds, that game works because you’re given a clear idea of where the bird will land when you fling it thanks to the aim tracker. Paper Bees doesn’t have anything like this, so it’s hard to gauge – especially on the small iPhone screen – exactly where the bee will go. Given that you have to take the movement of enemies into account while flinging, some sort of aiming reticle wouldn’t just be helpful, but essential. Without one, you’re basically flinging blindly hoping the bee will wind up in the right place; combined with unresponsive touch controls, though, I almost always missed enemies by a fairly wide margin. Even when I’d played a fair amount, feeling confident about enemy movements and bee speed, and tried taking it all into account with my swipes, the bee often went in directions I simply couldn’t anticipate.
Again, it’s a bit more manageable on the iPad because there’s greater space to play with, and I am glad Wiggles 3D made this a universal app. But Paper Bees is so dramatically flawed, all the way to its very core, that there’s no way I can give this one a recommendation. When it’s not entirely unplayable, it’s simply frustrating, and outside of nice audio and visuals, I got very little enjoyment out of my time with the game. No matter what the platform, games are meant to be fun, and when they start feeling like work, the possibility for entertainment goes out the window.
This review is based on a copy of the app that was provided to us for review purposes.