'Bear and Breakfast' screens courtesy of Armor Games
Bear and Breakfast is very cute, and that cuteness conceals for a time that there is not a lot going on in the game’s interminable opening hours. You play a naive little bear named Hank who stumbles on a multi-level marketing scheme that turns him into a short-term rental landlord for human tourists who are, after a long absence, returning to the forest where he lives with his woodland friends. As the animatronic shark that serves as the voice for this sylvan AirBnB endlessly reminds Hank that he is being scammed and exploited, Hank goes from renting out a decrepit cabin to running a small hospitality empire with bigger and better facilities and attractions.
Now why, you might ask, is a bear doing this job? The game does not really appear to have an answer, which makes more urgent the question of why you are doing this job. It is, after all, not an interesting one. Building and operating your little hotel rooms is certainly not interesting: every furnishing and decoration you add increases the comfort and decor ratings of the rental, and if you meet a customer’s target comfort and decor numbers then they will leave satisfied. Spending time in Hank’s little woodland is not interesting either: the human tourists wander aimlessly around their hotels, doing nothing except sleeping in their beds or making approving or disapproving faces in response to their surroundings. Hank’s little forest buddies are certainly cute as they run around, but they don’t do anything or give the sense of interacting with and inhabiting the world in any meaningful sense, while talking to them just produces the same repeated dialogue until you advance the story. Crafting materials lie plentiful on the ground, waiting for Hank to come by and pick it up. Which he will because Bear and Breakfast is mostly a game of waiting around for your guests to cycle through and the story to advance.All this clock-watching puts an unsupportable weight on the story beats that comprise Hank’s journey. Hank and his friends aren’t really dynamic in any sense, they don’t have much in the way of conflicts or goals. They are working together to restore their local tourist economy seemingly for lack of anything better to do. They comment on the strangeness of the business they run, they wonder what the humans’ return will mean, and they set Hank further goals to pursue in the area but at no point does the ensemble knit together to portray a compelling animal analogue of a community. Even the game’s clumsy satire of platform capitalism and gig work falls flat, repeating obvious and stale points while somehow also making vacation rental landlording seem like a pretty great deal for everyone involved.
Ironically Bear and Breakfast would feel more relaxing and unhurried if it had a time skip feature. Ultimately it has the makings of a decent if unremarkable visual novel. The characters are cute caricatures, and the story unfolds across a series of repeated cycles. There’s no interest in creating management systems for players to learn and solve because running this whole business is just something that turns Hank into an agent of change in the story of his own little world. The question is not whether Hank can do it but what the act of doing it will mean. Given what’s on offer in the early hours of Bear and Breakfast, the answer will probably be pretty obvious, but it might still be something worth seeing. It’s just not worth the waiting that the game repeatedly demands.