Developed By: Hiding Spot Games
Published By: Fellow Traveler
Category: Adventure, Puzzle
Release Date: 9.22.22
Some games nail their concept so hard it doesn’t even matter if there are any other deficiencies. Such is the case with Kickstarter success story Beacon Pines. Per the KS page, “Beacon Pines is a cute and creepy adventure game within a magical storybook.” It’s genuinely impossible to more concisely or accurately describe this game (which is why I didn’t try and just pulled a quote). It’s almost as impossible to describe just how well Beacon Pines executes its concept, but this is a review so I’m going to have to try. Bear with me (despite this being a game about anthropomorphic animals, that wasn’t an animal pun – none of the major characters are bears. I’ll see if I can work one in later, though).
A Summer of Sweater Weather
Beacon Pines tells the story of the titular small town and its mysterious past. The tale is told by a magical storybook narrator who needs you, the player, to help find a happy ending for the town and its many inhabitants – especially for Luka Vanhorn, a young deer boy whose parents are gone. His mother has been missing for some time, and his father died six years prior. The game opens with a somber speech by Luka, who observes that after his recently passed twelfth birthday, his father has been out of his life more than he had been in it. It sets up the game’s melancholy themes rather well, especially when juxtaposed by the introduction of Luka’s best friend, Rolo – a scene which swings the tone in the totally opposite direction. Their interaction is lighthearted and warm, despite the unseasonably cold start to the summer.
The boys set off together to get into just a little bit of trouble, but wind up in the middle of a bigger calamity than they had planned for. Over the course of the game’s branching storylines, players meet the lovable (and unlovable) residents of Beacon Pines and discover the joy and strength of their tight-knit community. Despite having to hit many depressing or terrifying bad endings before finally discovering that elusive happy one, the journey is worth every step due to the game’s natural, engaging dialogue and perfectly executed pacing.
A Charmed Tale
Beacon Pines takes an interesting approach to its adventure mechanics. In most point and click adventures, players gather random items and must use a variety of techniques to discover their use. Being a storybook, Beacon Pines makes use of a system of collectible charms. Charms are unlocked via advancing the story or examining Luka’s surroundings. At certain pivotal moments in the story, players must choose one of their charms to determine how the story will branch. The name of each charm can be inserted into certain blank words in the pages of the story, which influences what actions Luka will take. For instance, and to pick the blandest and least-spoiler-y example possible, one choice allows players to decide between “fight” or “flight.”
Less Charming Puzzles
The system fits the game’s storybook motif quite well, but as a puzzle element it does leave a little something to be desired. Only certain charms can be used at each turning point, meaning there really isn’t any puzzle solving element to the charms – the necessary story-related charms are pretty much all unlocked via advancing the story. Hidden charms are used more for the game’s fishing and cooking mini games, and aren’t necessary to complete the story. They do, however, offer nice character moments as sufficient reward. Nevertheless, the charm system does make for a great way to gate the game’s branching storylines. Players can access the story tree from the menu at any time, allowing them to use newly-acquired charms at turning points that had previously led to (quite literal) dead ends. The tree allows the game’s story to unfold at a natural, compelling, and consistent pace across multiple timelines – a difficult and impressive feat.
In keeping with the storybook theme, Beacon Pines features absolutely gorgeous character and background art in a detailed, painted illustration style. It’s hard to understate how difficult it is to make static character portraits seem animated and expressive, but Beacon Pines passes that benchmark with ease. The soundtrack is perfectly engaging and atmospheric, making the game sound rich and alive despite no one but the narrator being voiced. Other characters get Animal Crossing-style nonsense chatter, which is fine, but in a very minor way the silly chittering noises can undercut some of the game’s most dramatic moments. Or perhaps I’m being overly sensitive – but the good news is, that’s how far you have to dig to find an issue with the game.
Bringin’ Home the Beacon (Pines)
Beacon Pines is the definition of all killer, no filler. From Luka’s enDEERing (I promised you an animal pun, didn’t I?) TAIL (that’s two) and its well-paced branching storylines, to the stunning storybook art and music, it’s hard to find any shortcomings, so long as you approach the game as more visual novel, less point and click adventure. If you’re hoping for deep puzzle elements to go along with a captivating story, you’re going to be disappointed there. I did encounter a bug during the game’s end credits, however. The first like, three names of the credits rolled and then the screen went black as the music kept playing. No more names rolled. As far as bugs go, it’s not the worst, but where there’s one there may be others. But please, for your own sake, don’t let such a minor possibility keep you from enjoying the story Beacon Pines has to tell. Luka deserves that happy ending – help him find it.
Buy Beacon Pines
Digital – $19.99
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The Switch Effect was supplied a game code for review purposes.