Beacon Pines is a cute, suspenseful, visual novel with interesting storytelling devices, developed by Hiding Spot and published by Fellow Traveller. It runs great on Linux with Proton.
Beacon Pines presents itself as a book, then an excellent narration starts that introduces you to the character you will be controlling for the rest of the game, Luka.
There is something strange going on in the city of Beacon Pines, weird bureaucrats, mysterious lights and noises coming from the old warehouse and people disappearing, but only Luka and other kids seems to take notice. So it is up to you, with a little help from your friends, to investigate.
The colourful art style of Beacon Pines sets a nice, cozy mood, and the anthropomorphic animals look cute even when doing evil, bringing some lightness to the most dire situations.
Controlling Luka, you can explore the city, interact with some objects and talk to people. Those will reward you with new words, here called charms. During the game, you will reach forks in your path where the narrator will present you with a sentence missing a word, and a set of your charms will be available for selection to complete that sentence and changing the direction of the story. The storyline is represented with a tree, that grows as you unlock its branches, and you can always come back to change a fork and explore different branches given you have the right charm.
As gameplay goes, that is most of it: you walk around unlocking charms and progressing the story. There is an optional fishing mini-game to unlock memories, and there was a nice puzzle mechanic where you throw things. I wish they explored these more, or tried different things along the way. As interactions go it was quite boring and lacked challenges. It felt like flipping pages and I think I could have flipped a lot faster if there was a run button.
|Element||Description (spoiler free)|
|Objectives||Investigate the strange things happening in Beacon Pines|
Once I finished the game I tried to do a “wrong” run, to see if I would miss anything important, but no, the game points you to where you need to go to progress.
What kept me going was the compelling story. First I was hit with a strong sense of nostalgia, one of the first books that got me into reading during my childhood was The Obedience Drug by Pedro Bandeira, a mystery novel where a group of kids go against a sinister opponent. Books and games like these don’t infantilize kids, they deal with feelings, like the loss of loved ones, how people are different from each other, and you can always find common ground. But what really freaked me out in this game was this kid talking like the Dungeon Master from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon.
Second, the interesting devices they used for storytelling.
The story is linear, and the branches are mandatory to unlock new words, so you have to play those branches to progress. For example, you will reach a fork and use one charm to explore that branch, you will play it until there is no more progress to be made, usually you are hit with the narrator telling you that this end is disappointing. But by following that path, you unlocked a new word, that will allow you to come back to a fork and explore a different branch of the story.
You don’t know which one is the main branch until the end of the book. But it is not like the other branches are a waste of time. Think about them as “what ifs” where you will develop empathy towards other characters or learn more about Beacon Pines, your past and possible futures.
On the technical side, the game lacks some accessibility features, like control or keyboard mapping. However you can adjust that on Steam or using external tools.
|+ Positives||- Negatives|
|Runs great on Linux, tried on:
||Could have had more accessibility features like colourblind mode and controller remapping|
While it didn’t feel much like a game, it was a lovely story to enjoy.
If you like cute visual novels, elevated art, good narration and well-written story, you’ll enjoy Beacon Pines, released on Steam on September 22.
Thank you for reading and be excellent to each other.
Review copy provided by the publisher/developer.