We've jumped into a storybook filled with mysteries and cute animals and explored the town of Beacon Pines in Hiding Spot's adventure game.
Some games are trumpeted with such pomp and circumstance that you can only miss them if you are blind or deaf. Then there are the games that sneak past you unnoticed and suddenly just sit there on the shelf, and for me Beacon Pines is such a game. I had no idea what kind of game I was setting out to review, but I like grandiose role-playing adventures and story-based action experiences that take a long time to work through, so I was keen to crack on.
Behind the game is the small American indie developer Hiding Spot Games, who through Kickstarter managed to raise the revenue to create the game in less than a week with public crowd-funding. Hiding Spot Games previously made the mobile title Flipping Legend, which came out in 2017, but after that it's been pretty quiet from them. But now they've released their latest creation, and it comes in the form of a narrative adventure game with adorable animal characters and beautifully painted environments.
It all starts with the opening of a storybook. You play as the protagonist Luka Vanhorn, a 12-year-old kid whose appearance brings to mind Gus from the Sweet Tooth series because of his pretty little reindeer horns and that young face that really just makes you want to pull his cheeks like an old lady. Luka, despite his young age, already has an uncomfortably heavy backpack to carry, because not only did his father die under mysterious circumstances six years earlier, his mother has disappeared and he lives with his somewhat eccentric grandmother in the town of Beacon Pines. Beacon Pines was once a thriving idyllic farming community that thrived due to the town's major industry titan, the fertiliser company Valentine Fertilizer, leading the way.
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But like Luke, the town also has an uncomfortably heavy backpack, and when owner Sharper Valentine passes away and the town suddenly faces a devastating year of crop failure and pollinating insects disappearing, disaster becomes the norm. The industry they feed on goes under and the town is not far behind when suddenly the semi-scruffy Perennial Harvest Corporation appears like a rescuing angel with promises that they will save the town from the brink of ruin. It is in this small town that it all unfolds.
So what does it take to make a storybook interesting and exciting? Well, it needs a mystery and a lovely gang to unearth the truth! And that's exactly what happens when our deer boy Luka and his best friend Rollo the cat set out to investigate mysterious lights and sounds seen in an old abandoned and derelict factory on the outskirts of Beacon Pines. It's time to solve the mystery of what secrets the town holds. Where is Luke's missing mother? Why are there gross puddles of slime in the woods? And so on...
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The questions are many but you won't find any answers here because, as this is a narrative game, I won't go into the plot at the risk of spoiling it for you. Not today anyway. What I can reveal, however, is all the more about the set-up itself and what you can expect. The art design is nothing revolutionary, it's beautifully painted and looks exactly like the storybook it's supposed to represent. The characters are cute and the setting just what I would expect they would look like in the town of Beacon Pines. The game developer once said in an interview that it's a bit like a mix of Winnie the Pooh meets Twin Peaks and I can't agree more. The game is all about discovery and exploration and I'm glad I'm a bit of a bloodhound who likes to sniff around for hidden things.
Because around the game you can find something called "Charms", and it comes from an action you do or by talking to certain other characters. Charms are essentially words that you can then use to change the course of the story. The whole concept is really to end your story, but after a while you notice that it's not the easiest thing to do as the story takes new paths that conclude with THE END in a completely wrong way. Someone has to put their life on the line or your decisions just become the worst possible ones. But thankfully, you can then replay your decisions whenever you want and reverse the outcome. You get to something called "Turning Points" where you have to choose the right Charm for the story. But at the same time, sometimes you need to choose the wrong one to access a Charm you need later in the game. Keeping up?
For example, in one chapter of the game, you are faced with a choice where you have to save Rollo from his sister Roxy. You have two Charms to choose from and both of them give different outcomes. Which one is the right one you will have to find out yourself. Because you can always go into "The Chronicle", as the book itself is called, and then go back and try a different choice if the first one didn't lead you down the right path. It becomes a tree that later branches out depending on the choices you make. If I counted correctly, the game is divided into eleven chapters and the whole game doesn't take very long to play out. I completed it in a little less than five hours and by then I had cleared everything and unlocked all the Achievements that are available to pick up, which is 10 in total.
So what do I think of the game then? I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised. Once I got over the fact that the characters don't speak with words that is, as they rather beep out sounds, which are then texted into words. Because despite hating the infernal noises more than anything, there was something more spellbinding about this game and that's the story. You want to help him solve the mystery that rests over the city, you want to comfort the little deer boy as he cries at his father's gravestone in his ridiculously large jumper no matter how silly it sounds. I suspect this game probably won't appeal to everyone and it probably won't reach the masses, but those who play it probably won't be able to help but like it.
I can warn you that it's not a game with pace. It moves slowly and when you think you've finally reached the end, you've made a wrong choice and have to start over a few chapters back to choose a different path. The strength of this game lies in the characters, and the story, and the fact that it's easy on the eyes. Will I play it again? No, probably not as I followed all the paths that were in front of me. I have solved the mystery and feel satisfied with it. So I'll leave the Beacon Pines farmhouse behind this time, and simply be glad that I visited the idyllic town in the first place.
7 / 10
Interesting story. Great characters. Brilliant artistic graphics.