Apico Hands-On (Xbox Series X/S)

When I first heard about Apico I was buzzing to play it. In Apico, you are an amateur beekeeper who must restore the bee population by breeding and releasing...
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When I first heard about Apico I was buzzing to play it. In Apico, you are an amateur beekeeper who must restore the bee population by breeding and releasing them into the wild. With a strong emphasis on genetics, Apico challenges you to discover new species of bee by crossbreeding the species you already have. I was excited to set out on my adventure, where the promise of Pokémon meets Little Alchemy lay before me. I was going to head out into the forest with my trusty net, catch my first bees, and have fun forcing them to mate in the hope that something weird might pop out the other end.

Alas, my expectations were too fantastical because little did I know that Apico is more of a career choice than an adventure. I already knew it was a beekeeping sim, so resource management was eagerly anticipated but Apico gives you so much stuff to manage from the get-go it’s extraordinarily overwhelming – and I don’t use that word lightly. In most games, you have to earn your stripes but here, practically everything (there are a few things locked behind paywalls and experience levels) is available to you.

Apico does an excellent job of mitigating the stress of it all by providing you with Grandpa’s diary, which is essentially a list of quests that walk you through all the things you can do. From catching bees, breeding bees, building houses, brewing drinks, and making candles (the list goes on), it’s all there in your papa’s notebook. The problem that soon arose though, was that once I got my bee farm/honey factory set up, I was trapped in a dizzying loop of labour. It felt like I was juggling balls and spinning plates at the same time, shackled to this job for eternity with no respite in sight. I found Apico much more tolerable when played in 1-hour chunks, where I chose to focus on one particular thing and let everything else fall to the wayside. It was less productive, sure, but it was so much less stressful to spend an hour attempting to restore the population of a single species instead of trying to harvest honey, repair apiaries, generate income, restore the butterfly population, and invent incense at the same time.

Besides the mentally draining activity of managing a massive bee farm and your inventory, the way you discover bees in Apico is severely disappointing too. The species of bees are fictitious and some incredible bees have been inspired by the elements but there are only a tiny handful of them to discover in the wild. Annoyingly, this was my favourite part and I craved more chances to find a weird bee in an imaginative locale but sadly Apico didn’t scratch this itch. Breeding bees didn’t trigger the same dopamine rush that discovering bees in the wild did either. There is a bee diary that shows you which bees can be bred to unlock new species and one of the expert beekeepers gives you loads of advice on how to unlock them too, but it means there’s no room for experimentation. For example, I imagined breeding a rain bee with an electric bee would produce a thunder bee or breeding a fire bee with a sand bee would produce a glass bee but Apico isn’t that type of game. Now, I’m not blaming Apico for choosing to be a different game – I’m simply implying that a more creative, imaginative game would have been a better one.

Ultimately, that’s the crux of the issue: Apico isn’t a bad game but it’s not a fun one either. Booting it up filled me with so much anxiety because I knew I had so much work to do. I think if you have OCD or ADHD, you’ll find Apico just as stressful as I did. I don’t have a medical degree, so please take that with a hyperbolic grain of salt. Still, the relief I felt when I decided to stop playing Apico can only be described as having a weight lifted from my shoulders, and now I feel like I can breathe again.

There is a beautiful incentive though: Brothers Ell and James, who designed Apico, donate a portion of the game’s earnings to wild bee preservation charities. It’s this kind of selfless behaviour that makes buying Apico worth it, even if you have no interest in a beekeeping sim. It’s not often that you come across a game with a noble cause so it’s nice to know you can do your bit for the bee population by doing practically nothing at all.

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