Beacon Pines is an interactive visual novel for the Nintendo Switch. It plays like a choose-your-own-adventure book, using branching pathways and a compelling story to keep the player intrigued. Let’s find out if this is a tale worth telling.
From the outset, it’s easy to tell that Beacon Pines is a polished game. It begins with a well-voiced narrator. Her voice is full of enthusiasm and opens the path to what will become an engaging tale. The story itself unfolds via a literal book, which zooms in and out during moments of importance. The on-screen characters pause at these points, becoming like actors in a play. We’re warned from the outset that the ending is unknown; it’s the player who must help write it.
You play the role of Luka, a 12-year-old boy (actually, some kind of deer) at the beginning of his summer vacation. He joins his best friend Rolo (a fox, I think) on a seemingly innocent investigation into their hometown. But something sinister is brewing in Beacon Pines, and the two pre-adolescents become embroiled in a dangerous plot of greed and deception.
As you might have guessed by our deer and fox duo, the town is composed of animal villagers. This gives a lighter tone that belies the progressively dark events. Along the way, we meet many townsfolk, from a clever young cat named Beck to a wolf-like mayor who lacks confidence.
The plot involves the disappearance of the town’s founder years ago. This coincided with an event known as the “foul harvest”, during which all the town’s crops perished. A creepy new business has popped up in the town, ready to sell a new type of fertilizer. At times it seems obvious who the bad guys are, but many villagers act suspiciously, keeping you guessing. There are plenty of goosebump-worthy moments when danger presents itself.
Gameplay involves exploring the town and its surroundings. This is a mostly linear experience as you complete your current objective. You have the option to interact with people and objects along the way, and it’s highly recommended that you do so. These interactions occasionally lead to the discovery of special cards known as charms. Charms highlight a single word, like “tickle”, “chill”, “weep”, or “pungent”. At certain intervals, you can choose the next word in the tale, branching the narrative in one of several directions. Therefore, the more charms you possess, the more options you have.
These branching pathways mostly lead to Luka’s doom. However, the game doesn’t end there; like any good choose-your-own-adventure, you can flick back to one of the previous pathways. Trying a different charmed word branches the story in a completely new direction. It’s a thrilling way to progress, leading to your ultimate goal; can you find the best ending?
A standout feature of Beacon Pines is the music. A fantastic score accompanies the narrative, with each scene accompanied by twinkly pianos. These crescendo during more intense scenes to create an immersive experience – cue those goosebumps! In fact, the overall style is outstanding. The colorful characters and well-constructed world are a delight to interact with.
Overall, Beacon Pines is an engaging choose-your-own-adventure story with multiple branching pathways. The variety of characters, excellent graphics and score, and overall narrative about a town in peril combine to create a wonderfully addictive game.