Among the features in Apple’s update of the App Store each Thursday is an app of the week — something no iDevice owner ought to be without. Apple has picked a good one this week in Bee Leader, a quick and clever arcade-style game from Flightless that does two very important things right: first of all, it’s a fun game. Clever design, elegant presentation, challenging in a fair and satisfying way. Secondly, Bee Leader is a helpful lesson in mobile interface design for aspiring app developers, giving players more control options than anybody could possibly need, and doing all of them well.
The gameplay in Bee Leader is simple to pick up: you’re a bee, and you’ve got from sunup to sundown to get all the nectar you can, while scoring bee followers and honey along the way and dodging bee-hating hazards. Beneath its simplistic, colorful graphics, though, hides a tricky risk/reward system that keeps the gameplay frantic. The game runs on a timer, so any time you’re not spending collecting nectar is time wasted — but how will you best spend your time? Do you fly around hoping to collect bee followers first, so your future nectar collection will get bonuses? Do you fly through the floating dandelions, which grant instant but small rewards, or hang around the flowers, which keep you from moving or exploring but have the biggest nectar deposits? Do you try for the honey jars and time bonuses, which may be hiding behind spiders or birds, whose hits cause you to drop your precious nectar? Bee Leader is a game of thinking fast and acting faster, requiring precision and care to hit one’s targets, but speed to get enough of the targets in time.
It’s a good thing, then, that Bee Leader provides the player with four different control options across a dozen configurations. Want to play by touching where the bee should go? Done. Tilt controls? Which angle do you typically hold your iPhone at, because Bee Leader comes with options for straight up, laying in bed, held at a natural angle, etc. Prefer an on-screen joypad? Pick which corner of the screen you prefer the joypad to appear in. This, my friends, is control options done right, perfect for left-handers, commuters, phone-on-the-desk players, and more. Bee Leader even pairs an iPhone to an iPad so you can use the phone as a standalone controller which playing the game on the tablet. It’s an insanely over-thorough inclusion, yet it makes the game approachable for literally every iDevice player.
To wrap the whole thing up, Bee Leader is just fun to look at and listen to. The different levels in the game commit to their various themes wholeheartedly; dodge rattlesnakes and roadrunners on the desert stage, collect nectar from rooftop gardens in the city while avoiding spiders at the construction site. The persistent buzzing of your bee rises and falls as you speed around, like the motor of an insect-powered engine. Bee Leader is a game that invites all manner of buzz/honey/drone puns, but making those would distract me from telling you how good it is.