One little word can change everything.
What if you were reading a book and had the option to change one word of a sentence? What if that one word changed the entire trajectory of the story, setting the whole thing on a different path to a completely different ending? This is the core concept behind Beacon Pines, a narrative storybook game about trying to find the real ending by switching out words here and there. I first encountered Beacon Pines as a demo during one of the recent Steam Festivals, and it caught my interest very quickly. With the entire thing narrated by a very enthusiastic author, it was hard to see the hijinks of these children in their rural farming town as anything but incredibly charming. Add on to that a rather intriguing conspiracy to unravel and Beacon Pines heavily delivers on what it sets out to do.
In Beacon Pines, the player takes control of Luka, a young boy living in the titular town. At the start of summer break, Luka and his best friend Rolo are thirsty for an adventure to kick things off with a bang, and Rolo mentions that he’s noticed lights at an old fertilizer factory that is supposed to be abandoned. The two boys head straight there to investigate, but doing so ends up drawing them into a wide conspiracy that blankets the entire town, and could eventually also spell its doom. With the help of his fellow citizens, including the new girl Beck, Luka must solve the mystery of Beacon Pines and do so in a way that brings about the best conclusion for everybody. The entire story is presented in the fashion of having a book read to you, and the main mechanic this is all built around is the collecting of charms.
Charms can be collected either through the course of the story or by exploring the area around you, with each charm representing a single word. At certain points in the story you will be given a sentence with a blank space in it, and you must fill this space with one of your collected charms. The word you pick could drastically alter the story, changing either what a character does or how they perceive something, with the most simple example being the difference between fighting or running away. Most of these options will lead you to a bad end, but every decision point that can cause a major branch can then be instantly traveled back to and done again. Sometimes you won’t have the exact charm you need to get a particular branch, but typically you’ll get the charm you need for one branch in a different branch. In this way Beacon Pines successfully guides the player in the order it wants them to play without making them feel like they’re being railroaded; it also makes sure they have the information needed to make scenes in the other branch make sense.
Beacon Pines generally performs well on Switch with one notable, and honestly very weird exception: for certain bad endings, once I got them the game began to run incredibly slowly. Text would take longer than usual to fully appear, animations would play at a drastically lower framerate, and once it brought me back to the branching event selection, navigating that menu would have noticeable input lag. This didn’t happen for every single bad ending in the game, and overall it didn’t mess with gameplay too much, but it happened just often enough and just hard enough that it was very noticeable. Luckily, the issue always cleared up once the game proper had started back up at the branching point. My other qualm with Beacon Pines is that the event menu felt a bit clunky and awkward to navigate, with directional inputs feeling inconsistent and the only way to close the menu being to navigate to a back button. Other than these, I find it hard to name any other major complaints about the game.
Overall, Beacon Pines is an incredibly neat narrative adventure game that feels unique in terms of its mechanics. The story and mystery presented in the game’s world feel fun to discover, and the drastic differences noticed while going back and forth between different branches will likely be enough to keep your attention for the game’s 6 to 7-hour runtime. I especially enjoyed the game’s narrator, as she gives a delightfully enthusiastic (if not cheesy) performance throughout. If you want a complicated story with a simple delivery method, and a fun way of branching around, Beacon Pines is definitely a game to give a try.