Recently, the wholesome and cosy game movement has grown exponentially, and Bear and Breakfast definitely falls into this category with its cute story, innocent characters, and natural setting.
Bear and Breakfast is labelled as a ‘laid-back management adventure’, which couldn’t be more correct. The game has a bit of everything that chill gamers will like. Gardening? Of course. Management? Naturally. Decoration and furniture building? Definitely.
The game keeps you busy, but in such a stress-free way that you forget you’re running a business empire while nestled in the woods. All of this is bundled into a cute, hand-drawn package with a delightful and unintrusive soundtrack to keep your ears occupied.
If You Go Down To The Woods Today…
You’re a bear named Hank, found in The Thicket with his mother and two friends Will and Anni. Will is a small grumpy bird and Anni is an eager dog, who set out on your next errand with you.
From the Thicket, you head to Sawdust, and to Timber Crossing, the location of the first prospective lodging. How do Hank and co come to find out about this entrepreneurial opportunity? You speak to a talking shark statue, of course.
These ‘Pawn Sharks’ are positioned at each hotel, and are representatives of the Pawn Network. They guide you on your quest to bring humans (with their tourism and trade) back to the forest and surrounding areas. The first shark you interact with will indoctrinate you into the Pawn Voyage scheme and promises that unaware individuals like you can forge a successful accommodation franchising career. They promise you a fulfilling life of hard work for a small reward, with lots of stress in between. Who wouldn’t want that?
Despite some reservations, Will talks Hank into agreeing to the harebrained scheme. Or, should we say, bear-brained. Congratulations - you run a bed and breakfast! Now you’ve got to build a room, decorate it, and book in some guests to make some cold hard cash.
Initial progress can feel a little slow as you wait for whichever trusting guests decide to stay at the still-dilapidated shed you call a hotel to check out, in order to afford some more decor and a new room. Still, there are plenty of jobs to pay attention to, and you will quickly find yourself pleasantly busy, with a jingling pocket full of change.
The Bear Necessities
Personally, I wanted as much cash rolling into my cub-sized business as possible, so I stuffed as many rooms in those locations as I could. Were they cramped? Yes. Did they work? Also yes. There’s only a minimum size requirement, and if you don’t mind the odd half a star missing on a review for the lack of space, I recommend doing the same.
Of course, it isn’t just the size of the rooms that matters - furniture type and quality have a big impact too. Better beds will drastically improve your guests’ stay, and putting decor items in each room can make all the difference between an average 3-star and a glowing 5-star review. These decoration items are bought with ‘valuables’ off a skittish raccoon named Took, whose storefront is a dumpster. That’s the thing with this world, the animals treasure what humans don’t: the Valuables currency is literally garbage that you find on the floor. One man’s trash is another bear’s treasure, hey?
As you open new areas, new amenities and needs will be added for the guests in that area. The Motel on the highway receives guests that require a bathroom, and the Farmhouse needs a functioning kitchen and dining room to feed hungry patrons. You needn’t worry about running out of potatoes, as the Farmhouse has a garden that regrows produce automatically each day, and there’s a general store that is fully stocked, too.
The cooking system is a mini-game in itself and requires players to use corresponding cards for each recipe, equipped with the right ingredient or material. Each kitchen item comes with different card types too, so you’ll need all of them for a functioning kitchen that can make more than just a bowl of raw fruit. My food options, sadly, did not appeal to the apparent gourmet tastes of my clientele. But what can I say, I’m a bear - I don’t have a refined palate for taste tests.
Speaking of being a bear, to begin with, my guests were scared of me - that was until I put on pants. Apparently, a bear wearing trousers isn’t scary, and my guests didn’t mind me running into them when I was clothed.
This Bear Cares
Bear and Breakfast does a fantastic job of pacing all the information so that you don’t get overloaded. Each new area introduces a couple of new mechanics, and even the first area walks you through setting up a business at a leisurely pace. There’s no convoluted stat-based gameplay here, you’re just a bear running some hotels.
You learn these new additions and techniques through the Pawn Sharks positioned at each location, who will give you quests related to fixing up the hotel space and getting it ready for guests. Despite their corporate obsession and lack of empathy, they help players out by giving reasonable and simple quests to ensure the hotels are in tip-top condition. After the locations are fixed up, the sharks disappear, and you can get new quests from a sign by the hotel for further rewards.
The sharks aren’t the only social contact that Hank has, though - each area has a few NPCs sprinkled around that welcome you and add more quests to your already brimming to-do list. There’s a park ranger, a crocodile witch, a bus driver, and a shy goat to name a few, all with individual and interesting personalities that add to the story and help to breathe life into the world around you.
Nothing To Pooh-Pooh At
There are some very helpful gameplay features in Bear and Breakfast. The best of these is being able to sleep anywhere at night, without the need for an item or having to return to a specific place. There’s also constant autosave, too, so you don’t need to worry about finding a save point.
You’ll always be in need of materials as you upgrade your lodgings and fix up new areas, but the good news is that any materials found around the map respawn quickly, so you’ll never be short of crafting components and you won’t need to spend hours grinding to harvest wood or stone. You also don’t need any tools - gathering in Bear and Breakfast is all done with your own two paws.
There’s fast travel in the game as well so you can get to areas without having to plod there on foot, with each new area having a fixable bus stop acting as the waypoint.
These facets of the game, along with the overall delightful style and story, create an addictive gameplay loop that is a cycle of errands, tasks, and collecting, while expanding your business and growing your reputation. Even by day 17, I was well on my way to being a motel mogul while also lazily bumbling around as a bear in a forest.
Something I did notice and kicked myself for not realizing sooner is that you can book guests to come in immediately after the previous lodger leaves. This means you’re continuously running at capacity and aren’t wasting an entire day of profits. Don’t wait until people check out to receive new guests. Keep that capitalist train rolling!
In terms of the game’s performance, there are no complaints to be had. My laptop is average at best, and there were no hang-ups or framerate issues. I did have a couple of odd issues where my keyboard input stopped working after the menu opened during a cutscene, and an NPC in the snowy region kept floating across the screen, but restarting the game solved this. The menus and UI are easy to read, designed nicely, and don’t obscure the gameplay - even when there are tutorial boxes open.
Of course, there are aspects to Bear and Breakfast I wish were slightly different. I like games that go on and on, and Bear and Breakfast gets to a point where everything is done. It isn’t an Animal Crossing-like title where life continues for years.
There were a few frustrations in the gameplay, too. I’d really like to see craftable storage options that can be placed near kitchen items or work benches, to allow easier crafting when you forget an ingredient instead of having to go all the way over to the storage box at the Pawn Voyage truck. Somewhere to sell extra materials or old furniture would also be helpful, or a recycling option to get back some money.
Also, Hank’s friends and his dear old mum also don’t seem to feature much outside of the beginning of the game. This could be due to the game mostly being a management simulator, but having them pop in for a visit or even be guests now and again would be nice.
Something To Sink Your Teeth Into
If I was to liken Bear and Breakfast to any other games, it would nestle in nicely with the likes of Apico, Wytchwood, and Stardew Valley - though you can’t marry anyone in Bear and Breakfast.
The game’s release is perfectly timed for autumn rolling in, so we can snuggle down and hibernate while running a successful hotel chain in the sprawling woods.
Overall, this game provides a relaxing and joyful experience, filled with a multitude of engaging tasks, and a lovely cast of friendly characters. My time in Timber Falls and its surrounding areas was well spent, and I will gladly hop back in to refine my lodgings. As Hank would say, [happy bear noises].