I identify with Hank, the ursine protagonist of Bear and Breakfast. Not only because I’m also big and hairy and love long naps, but also because on my tortuous journey through life I had to renovate and run a small B&B in the backcountry for a few years. It’s hard work, but it’s satisfying when a guest has nothing but praise. However, I admit that having Hank’s charming friends and neighbors would have greatly improved things.
Bear and Breakfast is the first game from Romanian indie outfit Gummy Cat, and a strong first showing if my first 10 hours of play is anything to pass up. It does what it says on the tin and it’s a game about a cute, vaguely Yogi-esque bear who runs a burgeoning bed and breakfast business and breathes new life into an abandoned tourist town.
The bear supplies
On a purely mechanical level, Bear and Breakfast is a relatively simple construction and management game. Controlling Hank directly (except when you’re in the build interface), you roam the town, reclaiming a variety of abandoned properties – starting with a simple guest cabin, which later escalates into an elaborate heated ski resort. Then you clean them up and renovate them. Once primed, the buildings are good for dividing into rooms, which you decorate and get ready to take in the money from your hopefully lucky house guests.
It’s not particularly complicated or complicated, with each room having stats for usability and aesthetics that you can improve upon by just adding more stuff to it. While this means it’s fairly easy to hit target numbers to please guests, there’s plenty of wiggle room in how you arrange and decorate, leaving room for expressive design. Still, this isn’t The Sims, which is especially evident by the lack of interaction with guests. You never interact with them directly, and the only feedback is little thought bubbles over their heads when something isn’t satisfying.
The disappointing guests are somewhat compensated by the rest of the cast. A weird and endearing bunch of talking animals and a few local people, most are aloof and snarky at first, but through the wonders of capitalist success and gift-giving, they open up and reveal more of the game’s surprisingly intricate story. Impress them enough and they will offer to work for you, automate some of the busy work, for a price.
A bear of a job
And there will be busy work. Other than the first few days of waiting for guests to bring in money for essentials, there always seems to be too much to do. Showing Hank around with the keyboard, collecting craft materials from piles of trash, cooking food, stocking buffets, fueling the heating in the colder buildings, and assigning potential guests to rooms – it’s a lot and can be overwhelming at times. Hiring additional staff is practically mandatory if you want to make progress.
However, making progress always feels worthwhile. Bear and Breakfast is a relatively simple yet captivating game backed by huge amounts of charm. The environments are lush, hand-drawn spaces, with each region of the (surprisingly expansive) map dwarfing the small islands of the corporate space you control. It feels like building something in the wilderness, instead of doing the usual video game thing to bulldoze nature flat.
Progress is also rewarded with dialogue, and a lot of it. Bear and Breakfast starts with Hank hanging out with his mom and two best friends, Anni the bear dog (opens in new tab) and Will the bird. Before long, you’ll be hanging out with a garbage connoisseur raccoon, an alligator swamp witch, the local Rat Mafia, and a hell-raising possum who takes compliments as personal insults. You can also chat with people, but most only hear unintelligible bear noises from Hank. Fortunately, Sabine, the local park ranger, manages to speak to Ursine.
While I wish there was more interaction with Hank’s friends in the beginning, the dialogue is almost always a hit. Hank is a good kind, well-meaning and mildly self-deprecating. Many of the people you’ll meet will be sassy at first before softening and following Hank’s pace, but there’s still plenty of jokes and jokes sprinkled in.
The one character I have a problem with is entirely meant to be abrasive: Fin, an inflatable shark mascot that the nefarious Pawn Voyage corporation (almost certainly riffing on the increasingly infamous Airbnb) assigns you new building missions, between which Fin belittles Hank’s lack of capitalist grindset.
I’ve been on Bear and Breakfast for just over 10 hours so far, which friends say is about a third of the way through the game. Most of my playing time has been collecting, expanding into new properties, and building rooms, leaving out only hints of a bigger, more involved story. I’m curious to see how dramatic Hank’s adventure in the hospitality industry gets, but whether I see the end depends on how much more it will let me automate over the remaining 20 hours or so.