Beacon Pines (Switch) Review
Usually, when you read a story, you expect a beginning, middle and end. Beacon Pines is the kind of story to subvert those expectations, presenting what happens if you can alter the story by changing a single word and the impact it can have as it branches out.
As the game begins, the narrator informs you that this story isn’t any ordinary tale. It’s a tale with cute anthropomorphic animal kids, Luka, Rolo and Beck. Luka is mourning the loss of his father, and his mother’s disappearance is still unsolved. As the Harvest Festival approaches, Luka and Rolo are about to unravel some dark and dangerous secrets about the town. The story might not end the way you want it, but who said you can’t change it?
At first glance, Beacon Pines is a game with cute animal characters, two friends with their cubby house, and a town preparing for a big event. Innocent childhood hijinks take the story down a creepy and sinister path involving hazmat suits and a mysterious corporation. It juggles the two aspects well, with some surprisingly dark moments that work effectively to raise the stakes. Over the course of the story, you’ll get to know the town’s inhabitants and the history of the town. A highlight is Luka and Rolo’s friendship and the introduction of Beck, the new kid.
Beacon Pines is probably best categorised as a narrative adventure game. The story will play out as you control Luka through the different areas of the town and surrounding areas. You can talk to the other townsfolk and poke around at anything that looks interactive, with the narrator doing their job. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t an ordinary tale. During some scenes, you’ll reach a Turning point. These points in the story are where you’ll have to choose what word to fill in the blank to decide which direction the story will take. These words take the form of an item called a Charm.
Charms represent singular words collected through the story, presented as a collectible. Charms are found through moments in the story or through being inquisitive and interacting with everything. For example, choosing between ‘Struggle ‘and ‘Change ‘will set the story down separate paths.
You won’t always have all the charm options the first time you encounter a Turning point. Fortunately, you can return to these points at any time once you have more usable charms. You can revisit Turning points via a page called the Chronicle. Here you’ll find the story represented as a tree with different branches. You can go back to Turning points to explore the other branches at any time and see where the story takes you.
It’s not so much a choose-your-own-adventure story; the game wants you to explore every branch. If you want to unlock the charms needed to unlock more of the story, it’s about exploring every available branch. As the game continues, you’ll find that you’ll get the charms in a way to make sure you get to see all of the different endings when the tale is cut short. When you get a bad ending, it is never presented as something you’ve done wrong, and every story path reveals more of the complete picture.
I enjoyed how Beacon Pines presented its story. The branches can deviate in some significant ways, yet it always feels like you’re moving forward. No matter which branch of the story I returned to, it was easy to settle right back into what was happening. Developers Hiding Spot Games did a great job managing all the different threads to see them start paying off around the same time. There is one particular event that is sudden and effective in its impact. To say any more about it would potentially spoil its effectiveness on you. Even to say it exists is risky enough when the story is the main focus of the game. When you see the same event multiple times, the game still manages to have the same impact when you know what to expect.
If there was something I could have changed, it would have been an option to speed up travelling between locations after you’ve done it a few times. As the game nears the true ending, having to walk through several screens to get somewhere slows everything down.
As Beacon Pines releases, it is amongst other adventure games Wayward Strand and Return to Monkey Island. Adventure game fans have been spoiled for games, and with Beacon Pines, we have another enjoyable story to play through. As every story branch unlocked, I looked forward to where it led next. If you want a narrative adventure game with an exciting mechanic, then you should make the trip to Beacon Pines.
+ A branching narrative where every branch matters
+ An enjoyable story
- Backtracking slows down the late game