Beacon Pines: part visual novel, part choose your own adventure, Hiding Spot Games’ story lives up to the hype of Twin Peaks meets Winnie the Pooh. As a fan of both, more so the latter (yes, I have no shame in that statement), it’s a suitable pitch and will give you an idea of the tone.
Even hinting at the premise is tricky, as it’ll likely spoil it for you. What I can tell you is you play 12-year-old Luka, a 12-year-old who’s dealt a poor hand early in life: his father died when he was young, and his mother has mysteriously disappeared, so gran is left to raise him.
Since his mother’s disappearance, his best friend Rolo has kept him busy with numerous adventures and perfecting the ultimate treehouse, Mission Control. Their home, Beacon Pines, is a picturesque location built on farming, with the typical characters you’d expect; the bumbling mayor, eccentric loner, school bullies and more. Using that Winnie the Pooh example, the scenes look like they’ve been lifted straight out of a classic storybook, only animated as you can move Luka around town.
Beacon Pines Review
Early in the game, Rolo suggests investigating an abandoned building, leading to a few forks in the story on what happens next. And that’s the charm of this game: you get to choose each narrative path by using actual charms, or action cards to fill in a blank in the story, otherwise known as a turning point. There are multiple, sometimes frequent, endings, but as far as I can tell, one true ending with an epilogue.
Beacon Pines can be freely explored, where Luka will hunt for charms. When it comes to interacting with NPCs, a familiar visual novel dialogue screen will appear, though you can’t choose from any dialogue trees, and these scenes feature some stunning illustrated characters. The artwork embodies some of the best illustrations in a game.
While there are no puzzles or inventory options in the game, the challenge, if anything, comes from choosing the correct path. Upon reaching an ending, you will have access to the chronicle (or you can jump to it on command), allowing you to drop into any turning point uncovered to try a different charm/route. To make things easy, if you’ve used a charm to full effect, it will have a tick on it, meaning you won’t repeat the same arcs.
A Compelling Story
What’s so fascinating about Beacon Pines’ storytelling is the differences between each charm. Without using actual examples, you could opt for jump over skip, and while similar, the way the narrative develops is unique. These charms don’t feature, by the way. Though the characters may not have the same foresight as the player, secrets and motivations are revealed, offering some closure. When you jump back to the chronicle and try a new path, what you’ve just discovered won’t be clear to Luka or the others, but you’ll have a greater understanding of the why.
One key part of the story was a little absurd, and I’m not entirely satisfied with that element. To contradict myself, as I often do, I don’t want everything explained and love ambiguity, but the explanations here were a bit unusual. Only one part of the story, mind, and as you can appreciate, it’s difficult to discuss without ruining the plot. That said, it’s a stellar story full of twists and turns and interesting character development.
The art in Beacon Pines is a standout, as is the lovely score. Still, for a narrative-driven fan, the story on its own is just brilliant, and it’s no surprise that Fellow Traveller (Paradise Killer, Neo Cab) are the publisher. It’s well-written, and while there are numerous paths to follow, it doesn’t miss a beat, and the pacing is excellent. While choices do matter, they don’t have dire consequences (to some degree!), so it’s more of a casual experience in terms of ability but engrossing through its tales. As hinted throughout the game, sometimes we have to make the wrong choices until we get it right, and that’s what it’s all about, right?
Memorable And Highly Recommended
Beacon Pines is the epitome of a decent Netflix show you binge in one go, or for those who still read books, one that you can’t put down and think about obsessively in between. I was so pleased with the overall experience that during the end credits dropped an email to the devs to say how wonderful the game was/is. If you’ve ever read anything I put on here, you’ll know I’m not the greatest fan of visual novels, and though this isn’t touted as one exclusive to the genre, it has all the core features. But it also has the qualities of a great story: characters, setting, artwork (in terms of a storybook), and, I hasten to add, beautifully narrated by Kirsten Mize.
I played Beacon Pines entirely on my new Steam Deck, which was flawless. Granted, it’s not technically demanding, but it meant I could carry on the story in every room without interruption.
Surely this is a no-brainer? Highly recommended.