APICO review

A few years ago, BigBen Interactive (now Nacon) quietly released Bee Simulator on all formats. Despite the name, it wasn’t a simulator in the literal sense – it focused more on story and mini-games, with the pollen-loving protagonist tasked with exploring Central Park to find the ideal place for a new hive. Once the story was concluded, there wasn’t much of a reason to stick around.

APICO stands a much better chance of remaining installed on your console, taking the form of a crafting/resource management game with beekeeping at its core. The crafting element allows for creativity, making for an open-ended experience as you build houses, workshops, and storage areas using wood, stone, and other resources gathered from the wild. All the while, the focus remains on breeding and discovering bees, gathering honeycombs, and creating sellable produce via machinery.

It begins like many resource gathering crafting sims – chopping trees to gather wood. Then comes a workbench, a bed to respawn from, simple tools, a sawmill for woodworking, and the chance to craft walls and floors to create buildings. A hot bar of items can be cycled between using LB/RB, while our customsable character can carry a reasonable amount of resources.

The beekeeping elements are where things divert, putting a few twists on a tried-and-tested formula. The action is set across a chain of small islands, peppered with beehives, discarded buildings, and a handful of townsfolk to talk and trade with. Everyone in the town has a passion for beekeeping, eager to help you become a budding apiarist. This initially involves gathering honeycomb from hives already on the island and crossbreeding existing bees to create queens and new variants.

After making headway with the tutorial – via a hand-me-down book known as Grandpa’s Guide – you’re eventually granted the ability to establish new hives, apiaries, bee boxes, and more – taking bees from one habit (woodland, forest, coastal, etc) and placing them in new environments, and then turning comb into produce via intuitive analouge-stick flicking and spinning.

Grandpa’s Guide isn’t just the step-by-step interactive tutorial, teaching how each piece of equipment works and what purpose it serves – it’s also APICO’s backbone. This guide has a resounding 45 steps – each with a reward – and while some objectives can be completed in a matter of minutes, others can take upwards of an hour. You may have to produce five candles, for instance, which requires an assortment of equipment just to accumulate blocks of wax. It isn’t necessary to complete steps in order, as the guide is split into chapters. A few steps can even be completed on the fly through experimentation and such.

So exhaustive is Grandpa’s Guide, that I do wonder if the majority of players will actually complete every step. It isn’t the only guide with a to-do list either, as Belia’s Alamac records discovered bee types and traits. This belated Xbox version also launches with the butterfly update, adding a new set of achievements. Turns out one of the island’s locales is obsessed with butterflies rather than bees and will educate you on butterfly hotels and nurseries, where you can catch critters with a net and breed new types.

Indeed, there is a lot to get stuck into here. You can play in an unfocused fashion, merely spending your days resource gathering and slowly expanding. Or you can get pretty industrial about your business, creating ‘production lines’ with apiaries, candle makers, and fermenters to create honey drinks – which you can then add extra ingredients to. Only bee-related produce earns money, so if you want to progress and make a fortune, you’ll need to invest in production rather than scavenging in the wilderness. Peculiarly, sawdust – produced when woodworking – holds surprising monetary value. At one point I was sitting on a small fortune.

But while there is a lot to focus on, a few pointers would have been apricated regarding progression, such as an active quest log. I also constantly felt that I was lagging with bee variety discoveries and creating hybrids, lacking uncommon bees to cross breed. The problem here is that a certain number of discoveries must be made before tackling quests from the town noticeboard. My interest did wane at times too, wishing access to other islands was granted sooner. That said, the prospect of setting up camp and exploring a new location is a pretty good motivator to keep playing.  

The presentation is a little simplistic too – this was clearly put together by a small, albeit dedicated, team. There isn’t much in the way of detail due to a penchant for tiny sprites, and the menus are as basic as can be. Music only plays for a short period of time during daybreak, with birdsong appropriately filling the silence. The woods feature wildlife, so there are other attempts of making the world feel alive.

A menu full of accessibility options also proves the team wanted everyone to be able to enjoy what they have created. You may also be surprised to learn that there’s online play, complete with optional cross play.

While a little underwhelming visually, a deep experience has been built on top of that somewhat crude foundation. You may have played crafting sims more addictive with than this, and perhaps ones with more personality too – but chances are none were anywhere near as focused as APICO. It’s an insightful look into the world of beekeeping and everything, truly everything, it entails.

Developed by TNgineers, and published by Whitehorn Games, APICO is out now on Xbox One. It first launched on PC, Switch, and PS4 in 2022.