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‘Beacon Pines’ Review: The Cutest Spooky Mystery Game You’ll Ever Play

Mike Diver

Published 
| Last updated 

‘Beacon Pines’ Review: The Cutest Spooky Mystery Game You’ll Ever Play

Featured Image Credit: Fellow Traveller

Find Beacon Pines on the Microsoft Store and the listing will suggest that this is a game suitable for ‘Family & Kids’. But remember, reader, that appearances can be deceptive - and they very much are in the case of this enthralling mystery from Texan studio Hiding Spot and celebrated publishers Fellow Traveller (Paradise Killer, No Longer Home, Genesis Noir). 

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While this creepy narrative adventure of branching paths and multiple endings has a distinctly cutesy aesthetic, its characters all gorgeously realised comic-book-like takes on Animal Crossing-style anthropomorphised critters - you play as a deer (I think?) called Luka, and your best mate Rolo is a cat (probably?) - there’s a sinister underbelly to proceedings which gets under your skin, and the game includes both events and dialogue which really isn’t suitable for younger players. And I don’t mean it’s like a show where certain jokes only land with watching parents - thematically, this is far darker in tone than its promotional art likely implies.

Watch the launch trailer for Beacon Pines below…

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The setting is the titular Beacon Pines, a tiny town of apparently unremarkable ordinariness. And yet there are stirrings that something isn’t quite right from the very moment we meet Luka. His father has passed away, which is one thing - but his mother has also been missing for some six months now, and his ‘gran’ who’s come to stay is someone he never actually met before she showed up to take care of him. Is she who she says she is? Is one of many questions that’ll be answered over this game’s roughly six-hour play time.

The town itself used to be the headquarters of a major fertiliser company, long since shuttered after what all the locals call the Foul Harvest, but Rolo tells us that he’s seen the lights on in the old factory, and there’s even a strange glow coming from it, maybe even a chill in the air. An unseasonal one, too. So begins a surprisingly compelling story of nighttime sneaking, new-friend making, conspiracy uncovering, and jam delivering (not that it’s really for eating, mind).

Beacon Pines / Credit: Fellow Traveller
Beacon Pines / Credit: Fellow Traveller
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Rather than following a linear path from start to finish, Beacon Pines features a series of splits in its narrative, laid out across an illustration of a tree and its branches, where a certain keyword must be inserted into the book that the game is a playable representation of. This book, its pages turning between chapters, is fully voiced, and the narrator is a warm presence throughout, always there to let the player know when they’ve made a less-than-favourable choice. The characters of the game don’t actually speak beyond very-video-game nonsensical babbling, but the writing is sharp and never gives away its plot twists (of which there are several, every one of which takes this game further from its wholesome initial appearance and closer to a furried-up season of Stranger Things, or an X-Files where Mulder and Scully are transformed into woodland animals). 

New words are unlocked as you play, and you can revisit these pivotal moments to try a new approach when the option’s available (i.e. when the narrator suggests that maybe you could approach that interaction from an alternative angle). It feels like a choose-your-own adventure book of old without the need to keep a few fingers on previously read paragraphs. It’s a good system, a clear one that immediately makes sense, and it means that a ‘game over’ never actually is - until the game’s really over, that is.

Beacon Pines / Credit: Fellow Traveller
Beacon Pines / Credit: Fellow Traveller
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How the game ends, before it does properly, can be pretty brutal. No spoilers, but the antagonists of Beacon Pines aren’t your average cartoon villains who always let the heroes go, especially when they’re kids. And the kids speak like teenagers too, with utterances of curse words and a general distrust of adults who aren’t immediate relatives - especially the adults who are in town for what appears to be wholly altruistic reasons. Too good to be true? Of course it is. 

There’s also humour here, sometimes laugh-aloud and sometimes deadpan in the face of absolutely awful situations, and an element of pathos that goes deeper than expected with a few characters. Sometimes it misses its mark - Luka has a few dreams that are only narrated where it’d have brought something more to his relationship with the town and his parents (and their associates, ssssh) to actually see these visions as he does, especially because there’s one sepia-hued flashback that we do get to play through (and multiple times, too) - but Beacon Pines is a consistently enthralling experience which you’ll really want to see through to its end. Things will get a little frosty for Luka and friends, and what was once familiar may seem alien at times, but there’s enough heartwarming moments and richly evocative artwork here to ensure you never lose your way. Just maybe play it before your kids do, to be on the safe side.

Pros: beautiful artwork, captivating story full of surprising twists, some genuinely touching moments

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Cons: no manual saving makes knowing exactly where to pause tricky, the branching narrative is a slight facade as ultimately this is linear, it’s not a ‘con’ as such but don’t come to this one expecting a cute and cosy time as things quickly get spooky

For fans of: Oxenfree, Thimbleweed Park, Night in the Woods

8/10: Excellent

Beacon Pines is out now for PC, Xbox consoles (it’s on Game Pass), and Nintendo Switch (version tested). Review code provided by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible’s review scores here.

Topics: Indie Games, Nintendo Switch

Mike Diver
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