The Summer I Wish Would Never End
HIGH An engaging, adorable, hilarious, moving, brilliantly-told story.
LOW It’s difficult to remember the many characters’ names.
WTF Poor Iggy.
It’s easy to get swept up in the youthful jubilation of a summer vacation — so many possible adventures, so many ways the summer could unfold. Beacon Pines captures this delight, and so much more. With expert storytelling, it weaves an incredibly engaging mystery while also offering an absorbing, emotionally charged tale of growing up.
Beacon Pines stars Luka, a twelve-year-old deer on his first day of summer vacation six years after the death of his father. Along with his lifelong friend Rolo and new buddy Beck, the three commence their summer the same way any gleeful child would — by hiding in their secret tree house, causing a little mischief, and looking for a great mystery to solve. However, the mystery the boys come upon ends up being much bigger than they ever imagined, leading them to uncover the dark and earth-shattering truth about their beloved town, Beacon Pines.
Luka, though loved by mostly everyone in town, often feels alone due to the death of his father and his mother’s recent disappearance. These themes are integrally woven into the nightmares Luka commonly has, and into the fabric of conversations with his friends while not surrendering Beacon Pines’s childlike innocence.
The characters apart from Luka are also fantastically written. The back-and-forth of our three heroes is thoroughly engaging, and their relationships feel incredibly deep — it truly seems as though Luka and Rolo have been best friends since birth. The other residents of Beacon Pines are just as alive. From Luka’s kind and firmly loving Grandmother to the town’s smarmy (yet ultimately lovable) bully, there wasn’t a single character that didn’t seem real or uninteresting.
Through 2D exploration of this town, the player will uncover badges with various action words like “chill,” “sly,” or “struggle.” At specific moments in the story, the player will need to decide from a selection of accumulated badges on what action Luka should take when faced with a difficult decision. For example, Luka must decide whether to comply or resist when Rolo’s older sister demands he return home instead of exploring a spooky factory at the edge of town.
Every action Luka takes has an immediate and drastic impact on the story. For example, one of the options mentioned above will allow Luka to continue on with his journey, while the other will lead to a “bad” ending. A nameless narrator reveals early on that there are many sad and shocking endings to Luka’s tale if the correct action is not picked. This leads to a bevy of branching storylines and countless options on how to progress.
I often find titles with branching storylines convoluted and difficult to navigate, but Beacon Pines solves this issue with simple, yet highly-effective story tree. A menu can be opened up at any time during exploration, and it shows every decisive moment in the story, what badges are available to the player, and which choices have already been used. Badges that have been utilized to reach a “bad” ending will have a checkmark next to them, while others that can progress the story towards the “true” ending will remain untouched. This system allowed me to stay engaged with the story and its potential timelines, while not worrying I was missing something important.
Though I can’t say much for fear of spoilers, Beacon Pines made me think critically about the decisions I would make, laugh at the witty banter between the kids, and brought many a tear to my eyes at its emotional climaxes.
In terms of production values, every aspect is as good as the narrative.
Beacon Pines beautifully emulates a hand-drawn, water-colored storybook with bright colors and beautiful imagery that pops off the screen. The close-up character models that appear when characters are having a conversation are absolutely incredible. Everyone is lively, detailed, varied, and the visuals perfectly capture the range of emotions they experience, and the soundtrack ranges from beautiful tracks that capture adolescent nativity, to powerful and potent ballads that cathartically accompany unexpectedly gut-wrenching moments.
it’s tough to fault Beacon Pines for anything, but if I had to choose something, I’d say that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of creatures that inhabit the game’s world. Luka will encounter tons of characters along his adventure, many which are deemed suspicious in regards to the mystery he is trying to unearth, and it’s common to get get confused with so many potential pieces to the puzzle.
The opening scene of Beacon Pines features Luka visiting his father’s grave, noting that he has been gone for longer than Luka has been alive. He ponders, “It feels like that should mean something.”
Around every corner, Beacon Pines encapsulates poignant yet sincere moments like these, forcing the player to grapple with what is right and wrong, and how sometimes doing the right thing might not actually be the right thing. While it might be listed as a cute and creepy summer adventure in a PR blast, that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what it truly offers. Rather, it’s wonderful coming-of-age story about a young boy still grieving, creating powerful friendships, and finding his “true” happy ending.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Hiding Spot and published by Hiding Spot and Fellow Traveller. It is currently available on Switch, XBO, and PC. This review copy was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the story, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Language. The official description was not available at the time of review, but the word “shit” is said multiple times, and there is some light peril and slightly upsetting moments. If parents aren’t opposed to the word “shit” I would recommend this game for pre-teens as well.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles, but they are not resizable. No audio cues are required for progression, making this game fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Controls are not remappable. The game does not provide a control diagram, but only a control stick and three buttons are required for play – an interaction button, a menu button, and a button that brings up the story tree.