As a storytelling medium, video games have revolutionized the craft. Video games allow consumers to engross themselves in stories like never before, and Beacon Pines is no different. This indie game will grip you from the start and refuses to let go, taking full advantage of the tools it has at its disposal.
Beacon Pines, brought to us by Hiding Spot Games, is a mystery adventure game about a young boy, Luka, uncovering the dark secrets hovering over his quaint hometown. You are joined by the narrator to uncover the mysteries alongside Luka, influencing the story’s direction with your choices to drastically different results.
Without further ado, let’s turn to page one and get started with our Beacon Pines review.
The Mystery Awaits
The reason you will come to Beacon Pines is to experience its mystery. The framing device of this game is that you, as the player, are reading through a storybook, helping the narrator fill in the gaps and find a satisfying ending.
Once inside the pages, you play as Luka: a recently orphaned boy living with his grandmother. The story starts as Luka, and his friend Rolo set out to explore an abandoned fertilizer factory.
I come to a wall trying to explain this story’s narrative to you as I am reluctant to spoil any of its plotlines. However, as the proud owner of a literature degree, I can assure you that it is fantastic.
Beacon Pines is not just a compelling mystery with twists and turns galore. It is a story about dealing with loss and making sacrifices for the people you care about and what you believe in.
The characters are fleshed out with deep struggles and interconnected personal lives, and the town is a well-constructed setting that teems with life.
The most impressive thing about this game’s narrative is how it allows you to interact with it. The story is made up of many moving parts, of which you are only one.
Depending on your choices, you will witness some things and miss others. Your decisions feel like they matter, even if it’s an illusion as the story is actually linear and has only one true ending.
I could probably go on for hours about the story of Beacon Pines, but there’s more to discuss yet, so I’ll leave you with the assurance that it’s something I recommend experiencing for yourself.
But this is a Game, Not a Book
I’ve gone on about this game’s story, but how does it play? While story-heavy, this game is not accurately described as a visual novel. You have more control over the game than just the plot.
As Luka, you get to explore the town of Beacon Pines, interacting with the world and messing around on your journey. There’s plenty to see in Beacon Pines, and most notably, you will find items called charms.
Charms are collectibles spread throughout the game and collected by interacting with objects and people. They are words with attached images that you can use at the turning points in the story to influence how the characters act and their decisions.
Many achievements were rewards for having fun and doing silly things, like slapping a watermelon. The game encourages exploration and is sure to reward your curiosity at every turn. Whether it’s a charm, an achievement, or just fun dialogue, this game incentivizes you to engage with its mechanics beyond the story.
The gameplay may be limited, but I felt that the interaction level was enough to suck me in and make me feel like a part of the game as I played it.
Stepping into the Pages of a Picture Book
While you may come to Beacon Pines for the story, the first thing you will notice is the art. This game is gorgeous, with a digitally painted style and portraits that pop with life and color. The characters are cute, and the world is bright and detailed.
The game’s design sets out to evoke the feeling of an illustrated storybook and sticks the landing.
The Beautiful Sounds of a Beautiful Place
I can’t say I often get excited over the music in games; most of the time, I don’t even notice it. And while you won’t hear me humming any of the songs from this game, I did frequently have my attention drawn to the music.
The soundtrack to Beacon Pines functions more as a movie score. As you wander through the idyllic town, you’re graced with soothing orchestral tracks. During a thunderstorm, the music shifts to electric guitar. And in the tense moments, threatening brass managed to send chills down my spine.
Maybe I’m just easily impressed, but I continually marveled at how the music enhanced my experience.
The music isn’t the only noteworthy part of this game’s audio. This game has voice acting. Kirsten Mize voices the narrator of Beacon Pines, and I felt she did an excellent job. She always sounds invested and adds to the camaraderie you build with the game as it acknowledges you as the player.
Mize only voices the narration, with the character dialogue almost exclusively delivered as musical tones like in Animal Crossing. These sounds suggest the kind of voice the character has and fit well with the whimsical tone of the game.
Bookmarks and Pages
As this game is trying to evoke the feeling of reading a book, it makes sense that the user interface is kept to a minimum. The game has three menus: one for your charms, the story tree, and the main menu.
This is all well and good, but I found myself wishing for a fourth. Perhaps my only major complaint with this game is its lack of a dialogue transcript.
I’ve played many visual novels in my time. Without fail, I have accidentally skipped dialogue or zoned out and needed to backpedal. It would seem the most obvious thing in the world that a game centered around reading would have a way to go back and read what came before, but a surprising number of them don’t.
Unfortunately, Beacon Pines is among them.
Thankfully, this isn’t a big issue, and maybe we’ll see the developers come back and add one in at some point down the line. Many people have problems with reading comprehension or focus, and a transcript would allow the game to facilitate people like yours truly who need these tools. It’s just a matter of accessibility.
However, this is far from a deal breaker, and I managed to get through and enjoy the game despite it.
My other issue was confusion over saving. I ducked out of the game several times, but there was no way to save manually, and I had to rely on autosaves to maintain my progress. The problem was that I wasn’t always sure where the autosave kicked in.
Unlike the transcript, however, this is more of a nit-pick than a genuine issue.
A Story to Pick up Again and Again
It’s a little difficult to pin down the replayability of a game like Beacon Pines. While the element of choice in the game allows for a little flexibility in how you experience the game, it’s ultimately an illusion of a linear story. You won’t be playing a completely different game on repeat playthroughs.
However, I think it’s a bad idea to look at this issue through the lens of gameplay. We should look at it like you might reread a book or rewatch a film. You go back to your favorite novels or movies, not because the experience will be different, but because you want to enjoy the story again.
I believe Beacon Pines is like that. I won’t be looking to join Luka and company on their adventure again just yet. But I can tell you for certain that I will return to it at some point to re-experience this delightful story.
Hungry for more?
Video games have changed how we tell stories in the modern era, and many people turn to games exclusively for that kind of experience. If you’re looking at and enjoying Beacon Pines, I can only assume you’re the same.
If you loved Beacon Pines, I can happily recommend the following games to sate your need for more charming tales.
- Jenny LeClue: Detectivú — I will recommend this game in particular. If you loved Beacon Pines, I guarantee that Jenny LeClue will delight you too.
- Frog Detective series
- Broken Age
- What Remains of Edith Finch
Turning the Final Page
- Captivating story and compelling mystery
- Gorgeous and expressive art style
- Beautiful musical score
- Voice acting
- Confusing save functionality
- No story transcript
I know that this game will not be everyone’s piece of cake. I am also probably very biased by my love of literature and my admiration for storytelling. However, I can confidently say that Beacon Pines will be one of the best games I play all year.
Everything about this game tickled me pink, from the fantastic characters and enthralling story to the beautiful music and art design. I just couldn’t get enough, and it was over too soon.
The only real criticism I could think to give this game would be the lack of a transcript. But that’s something easily patched in later if the developers choose to.
I will keep my eyes peeled for what this game studio brings out next because this was just a treat, and I can’t recommend it enough. Go play it! If you’re a fan of narrative-rich mystery games, this will be everything you’ve been looking for.
Beacon Pines Review: FAQs
Question: What Platforms is Beacon Pines on?
Answer: As of the writing of this review, you can buy Beacon Pines on Xbox, Nintendo Switch, Steam, and itch.io.
Question: Who Voices the Narrator in Beacon Pines?
Answer: Kirsten Mize voices the narrator in Beacon Pines.
Question: How Long is Beacon Pines?
Answer: Beacon Pines is about 5-10 hours long. How long it takes you to play will depend on how much you explore the game’s world and your reading speed.
Question: Is Beacon Pines Appropriate for Children?
Answer: The game developers rate this game a PG-13. The game has mild swearing, dark themes, and an on-screen death. However, it’s nothing explicit. If you are uncomfortable exposing your children to this, then maybe hold off a few years.
My Beacon Pines Credentials
For my review, I played the PC version of Beacon Pines through Steam and used a PS4 controller instead of the keyboard. I played the game from beginning to end and earned every achievement. This took me just under 7 hours.