Argonaut's Buck Bumble has the look and feel of a first generation Nintendo 64 game that missed its boat. Simply put, the game is a mission-based, character-driven adventure/shooter that attempts to ape the Super Mario 64 world, but ends up making a bit of a monkey of itself instead.
Buck Bumble is a big game, no doubt about it. There are 20 missions of varying size and depth (some longer and more complicated, some shorter and time-reliant), but all of them are rather frustrating, with the exception of the boss levels, which can actually be quite challenging and fun. The gameplay is linear, so you work your way through each level by utilizing teleporters and destroying generators to open Herd Gates that lead to the next area you need to visit. The problem with the way the missions are set up is that your progress means little unless you finish the mission with just one life. You can save the game once a mission is completed and you do have three bees to beat the game with, however, if you die, you start at the beginning of the mission, and all of your progress is lost.
The actual mission objectives find you destroying enemy satellite uplinks, planting explosives under targets, transporting nuclear devices to safe detonation zones, and so on. But besides reaching your goal, you have to gather items for points (ten thousand points earns an extra bee), fight off enemy spiders, weevils, wasps, bees, water worms, exploding mines and pods, and even wall sconces and gargoyles that shoot things at you as you work your way through. Encountering these creatures, especially the flying ones, is somewhat annoying at first, largely because when they attack you, you're unable to fight back or flee for a fragment of a second - a fragment that frequently means the difference between life and death and you going back to the beginning of the level. The developers have emphasized the fact that when the going gets tough in the game, players will always have a way out, in any given situation - a trait the company considered unique among games. Well this feature is surely the bee's sting and honey. Yes, you can gather nectar from readily available flowers to increase your life, hide on a leaf to try to snipe at wasps with your limited freedom of movement, or crawl on the ground where some of the enemies won't attack you, but this type of gameplay promotes Darwin's antithesis: survival of the weakest. If you run, hide, cower, and take advantage of those outs, you'll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to complete your missions, and you can forget about doing so in the allotted bonus time for extra points. And you won't want to avoid the enemy insects, because by killing them, you often get extra ammunition for your pretty decent assortment of weapons. On a positive note, this collection of guns, each with a limited ammo supply, is diverse and works quite well. If you plan your attacks by carefully situating yourself on a rock, ledge, plant leaf or any other prop in a high traffic zone, you can take out your enemies, which are fairly predictable, and clear a path to complete your task at hand.
General gameplay aside, the bee's handling is not very commendable either. You can get a pretty decent speed going, if you're flying, and after several hours you'll be zipping through tunnels and around plants, but on the ground, forget it. You hobble along extremely slowly, so you'd better learn to stay in the air and like it. When dealing with the controls in battle, you'll exercise a lot of duck and cover. Fortunately, you can use the shoulder buttons to do a 360 degree loop up, over, and around to the back of the insect pursuing you, because the horizontal turning radius is a joke. For instance, working your way through a somewhat narrow section of a level with explosives in tow while trying not to hit the walls and other structures, amounts to an exercise in futility, until you die several times from bumping a gate opening or doorway, start the mission over, and eventually end up getting the hang of it. The key to everything seems to be going at a snail's pace, but what fun is that? This isn't a challenge at all, it's a curse - it's not a matter of learning to use a well-functioning, complex feature, it's a matter of making lousy game mechanics work just well enough so you can get by. Yet even though when standing on a ledge, in the air, or on the ground you don't have a lot of freedom of movement to place your sight onto targets around you, the cameras work moderately well over your bee's shoulder, allowing you to at least move your line of sight from side to side if not up and down. You can also focus in tighter on your subject, into a perspective that is fairly comfortable. Graphically, Buck Bumble doesn't really fly. The levels are loaded with fog, so if you try to soar up high enough to take a look at your environment, perhaps to find a portal or gathering of enemies to attack or avoid, you'll see nothing but a world through the eyes of a bee with what seems to be a cataract problem. And N64 fans are not naïve enough, at this point, to mistake this type of fog as a graphical treatment that's ambiance inducing, rather than a cover up. Then there's the music. The inclusion of upbeat pop music and sound effects such as the wasp you've just killed soaring to the ground like a plunging aircraft are charming, but don't bring enough to the gameplay to make it more enjoyable.
One device that can improve a lukewarm single player game is a multiplayer mode. And the developers threw one in Buck Bumble, seemingly quite literally. But these battles offer little more than gameplay conventions from the standard one player game, transposed onto chunks of the environments you've already seen, altered a bit, and called arenas, for what amounts to a really dull experience that brings nothing original or entertaining to the multiplayer table.
In spite of all the obvious flaws, Buck Bumble is not a terrible game. It's just not a good game, and the rewards do not make up for the dull, tugging experience it quickly becomes. Add to that the use of dense fog as a graphical crutch, controls that make you turn more like a Greyhound bus than a bee, and a seemingly spacious world until you bump into the sky and get sent back down - Truman Show style - and you're bound to be disappointed. And much like in The Truman Show, once you've made your way out of this game, you'll be glad to risk the uncertainty of the outside world, and likely not want to go back in.