I identify with Hank, the ursine protagonist of Bear and Breakfast. Not just because I am also large, hairy, and fond of long naps, but because my winding journey through life had me renovating and running a small B&B out in the hinterlands for a few years. It's hard work, but it's satisfying when a guest has nothing but praise. I admit though, having Hank's charming friends and neighbors would have improved things greatly.
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 are anything to go by. Doing what it says on the tin, it's a game about a cute, vaguely Yogi-esque bear managing a rapidly expanding bed and breakfast business, revitalizing an abandoned tourist town in the process.
The bear essentials
On a purely mechanical level, Bear and Breakfast is a relatively simple construction and management game. Controlling Hank directly (except when in the building interface), you wander around town, reclaiming a variety of abandoned properties—starting with a simple guest shack, escalating to an elaborately heated ski resort later on. Then you clean them up and renovate them. Once prepped, the buildings are good to portion into rooms, which you decorate and get ready to rake in the money from your hopefully happy houseguests.
It's not especially complex or involved, with each room having stats for utility and aesthetics that you can improve by just adding more stuff to it. While this means it's pretty easy to hit target numbers to please guests, there's plenty of wiggle-room in how you arrange and decorate, leaving space for expressive design. Still, The Sims this ain't—which is especially clear in the lack of interaction with guests. You never directly engage with them, and the only feedback is little thought bubbles over their heads when something is less than satisfactory.
The underwhelming guests are compensated for somewhat by the rest of the cast. A weird and endearing bunch of talking animals and a few local humans, most are standoffish and snarky at first, but through the wonders of capitalist success and gift-giving they open up, revealing more of the game's surprisingly convoluted story. Impress them enough and they'll offer to work for you, automating some of the busywork, for a price.
A bear of a job
And there will be busywork. Aside from the first couple days where you're left waiting on guests to bring in money for essentials, there always seems like there's too much to be done. Steering Hank around with the keyboard, gathering crafting materials from piles of garbage, cooking food, restocking buffets, fueling the heaters in the colder buildings, and assigning potential guests to rooms—it's a lot, and can feel overwhelming at times. Hiring extra staff is practically mandatory if you want to make progress.
Making progress always feels worthwhile, though. Bear and Breakfast is a relatively simple but engaging game buoyed by vast amounts of charm. The environments are lush hand-drawn spaces, each region of the (surprisingly expansive) map dwarfing the little islands of business space you're managing. It feels like you're building something within the wilderness, rather than doing the usual videogame thing of bulldozing nature flat.
Progress is also rewarded by dialogue, and plenty of it. Bear and Breakfast opens with Hank hanging out with his mum and two best friends, Anni the bear-dog (opens in new tab) and Will the bird. Before long you'll be palling around with a garbage connoisseur raccoon, an alligator swamp-witch, the local Rat Mafia, and a hell-raising possum who takes compliments like personal insults. You'll also get to chat with humans, but most of them only hear unintelligible bear noises from Hank. Thankfully Sabine, the local park ranger, knows how to speak Ursine.
While I wish there was more interaction with Hank's pals early on, the dialogue almost always hits the mark. Hank's a good sort, well-meaning and gently self-deprecating. Many of the folks you'll meet will be sassy at first before softening and meeting Hank's pace, but there's still plenty of gags and goofs sprinkled in there.
The only character I have an issue with is fully intended to be abrasive: Fin, an inflatable shark mascot through which the nefarious Pawn Voyage corporation (almost certainly riffing on the increasingly notorious Airbnb) assigns you new construction missions, in-between which Fin belittles Hank's lack of capitalist grindset.
I'm a little over 10 hours into Bear and Breakfast so far, which friends have told me is around a third of the way into the game. Most of my time playing has involved gathering, expanding into new properties and building rooms, with only hints at a larger, more involved story being dropped. I'm curious to see how dramatic Hank's adventure in the hospitality business becomes, but whether I see the end hinges on just how much more it'll let me automate over the remaining 20 or so hours.