Beacon Pines Review: Spooky Cute Time Loop
Luka hasn’t had the easiest life.
First his father died when he was very young; then his mother mysteriously vanished. Seemingly orphaned and all alone, Luka’s grandmother, Juniper, swiftly moved in to take care of the young buck, but life simply wasn’t the same without his parents. Luckily, Luka always had his friend Rolo right by his side, the duo getting up to plenty of mischief and mayhem in their tiny little town. Down but not out, Luka’s summer was starting off as expected, until he and Rolo made a discovery that would change their lives forever…
So begins Beacon Pines, a Stranger Things meets Beatrix Potter branching narrative game with something sinister lurking underneath its saccharine sweet surface. Developed by Hiding Spot and published by Fellow Traveller (Paradise Killer, Genesis Noir), Beacon Pines asks players to “sneak out late, make new friends, uncover hidden truths, and collect words that will change the course of fate!” Available on PC, Switch, and XBox One for a launch price of $17.99 (regularly $19.99), Beacon Pines offers a spooky cute time loop story that will simultaneously tug on heartstrings while seriously creeping players out.
As previously mentioned, Beacon Pines follows the story of Luka as he digs deep into the mysteries surrounding his titular town. The story is told through the narrator, who has been waiting for someone like you to find out the true ending. As you play through the narrative, you’ll collect charms — i.e., verbs and nouns — that will allow you to dictate how the story branches off into new paths. Can you help Luka and his friends get to the bottom of his father’s death, his mother’s disappearance, and the other strange things happening around town?
Beacon Pines’ charms system is… well, charming! As you progress through the story, someone will do or say something that will unlock a specific charm. Resting on the cozy couch in front of the fireplace will unlock the “chill” charm, while running through some sneeze-inducing dandelions will yield the “tickle” charm. Keep those charms handy, because at certain points of the story, you’ll be able to choose which one to use, leading Luke away from danger — or straight into it!
Beacon Pines has many strengths, but I think my favorite has to be the town itself. Luka lives in a lovely little village where he’s free to roam without worry. Surrounded by friends and friendly adults, I was instantly reminded of the PBS show Arthur and his town, the animal children biking to their favorite ice cream shop, meeting with members of the ensemble cast, etc. Beacon Pines had that same feel, each child Luka encountered posessing a fully fleshed personality that really sold the setting as a whole. Under better circumstances, I daresay I’d really enjoy a farming or life sim game set in this quaint little town.
Unfortunately, circumstances being what they are, Beacon Pines’ twee façade hides something… emotionally evocative and deeply disturbing. I think because of the adorable art style and cute animals, it’s easy to brush past the haunting storyline that is woven through players’ careful choices, but by the time the credits roll you’ll find yourself simultaneously in a stunned silence while wiping away tears (or at least holding them back). Beacon Pines isn’t afraid to get real; it’s also unafraid to get real dark, either.
Although I have pretty much nothing but praise for Beacon Pines, I have a few things I wished for. One, I had hoped to see a little more by way of charm collection applying to mini-games. There’s a brilliant fishing mini-game that uses charms to unlock more exposé, and I wish there had been more of that. Two, I feel like there was just SO MUCH LORE with AMAZINGLY DEVELOPED CHARACTERS that I almost feel like Beacon Pines is bursting at the seams, begging to be made into something even bigger. It is my sincere hope that the team decides to turn Beacon Pines into a franchise or at least do more with the story (there’s definitely room for a prequel!).
Of course, these “complaints” are the mark of a good game; sure, I’d love more to the story, but it is a fully contained experience. And while a few moments left me scratching my head in terms of plot or… I guess world mechanics/physics, for the most part it was all easy enough to follow along while providing some intelligent food for thought. I’ve done my best to divulge as little as humanly possible because I want players to experience it all firsthand like I did — to enjoy the riveting twists and turns that left my mouth agape more than once. Beacon Pines may be on the short side, but it’s a small title that demands your attention.
Beacon Pines is easily one of the top ten games I’ve played this year and one of the first recommendations I’d give to players looking for something quick but layered. With a lovely art style, cozy setting, exceptional character development, and an edge-of-your-seat story, Beacon Pines is a unique blend of sweet and sinister that proves difficult to put down — in fact, I couldn’t stop myself from playing it from start to finish in one go! If you’re looking for something charmingly cute yet deceptively dark with a clever mechanic and rich world, Beacon Pines invites you to solve its many mysteries and find the true end to this troubled tale.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC, XBox One, Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Fellow Traveller; Developer: Hiding Spot; Players: 1; Released: September 22, 2022; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a digital copy of Beacon Pines provided by the publisher.