bear and breakfast is a hotel management sim that plays as Animal Crossing. You’ll be collecting resources every day, grocery shopping for delivery, and building your Airbnb empire, all while playing as a cute bear. The problem is that bear and breakfast lacks the relentless optimism of corporate sims, nor does it deliver a coherent critique of landlords. As result, bear and breakfast feels needlessly gloomy about running a hospitality business despite the upbeat art direction.
In bear and breakfast, you play as a grizzly bear named Hank, who lives with his mother. One day, he discovers a shark robot that offers him the opportunity to become a small business owner. All he has to do is renovate some abandoned houses into bedrooms, bathrooms and nice amenities. The robot tells him he won’t get rich, but the process is a way to revive the forest economy. And so Hank turns his refurbishment projects into actual Airbnbs, hoping to fill the community with more people than ever before.
Most of the game consists of collecting resources such as wood, nails and copper plates. You use them to build rooms, make furniture, and restore local landmarks to their original state. Like Animal Crossing, the bold and cartoonish art style is what makes doing chores every day more satisfying than they deserve. But not like Animal Crossingyou have to share a neighborhood with some really frustrating neighbors.
Hank is just a boy who until recently lived in the woods with his loving mother. And yet half of the forest dwellers are unnecessarily mean to him. Admittedly, part of the problem was that it took me a while to realize I wasn’t wearing pants, and some residents reacted negatively to that. And I’d understand if it was just the weird possum or the alligator witch that taunted him, but even his friends like to joke at Hank’s expense. So when every human dude that showed up made terrified faces and walked away from him, I had to assume the worst. No matter how much I did for my guests, they could never accept this grizzly for who he was.
Part of the problem is that bear and breakfast‘s writing feels immature. Most of the script doesn’t contain much emotional content. Instead, I’m reminded of a funny blockbuster movie script where characters use a lot of words to say a lot of nothing (I was able to make this connection easier when I noticed that some quests were named after movie titles). The character descriptions are sympathetic, but most of them cannot express emotion without offending someone or shielding their minds. Over time, I began to become suspicious of the inhabitants of the forest. It’s no wonder I ended up thinking that the quiet folks also hated the bear who managed the properties they stayed in. (This perception was not helped by my previous experiences doing customer service work for Airbnbs in real life.)
People’s emotional reactions changed significantly when I realized that the pants were outfits to rest, rather than a quest item I picked up too early. I had Hank put on some human clothes and they started smiling at him. But my initial feelings for the guests greatly influenced the way I built my hotels. Each guest has personal preferences for how many “decoration” points their room had, but they didn’t care how ugly or functional the layout was. Because they showed no kindness towards Hank, I began to see these bums as nothing more than a source of income. I would give them the bare minimum of amenities needed to make a living, which meant my cramped bedrooms had layouts that didn’t make sense. While you can move your windows and doors whenever you want, you can’t really change the walls.
So the beautiful master bedroom I built in my first hotel ended up costing me money. That room could have been three different money-generating hotel rooms if I had been smart. For my next hotel, none of my bedrooms were as big as that one. I started taking in tons of money, and I only felt a little bad about it when I saw people sleeping in beds that took up their very small room. Hank has no relationship whatsoever with the customers. It’s just a bed and breakfast.
My negative feelings about owning a hotel chain got worse when I talked to the robot that helped me set up the business. He would laugh at me about giving sloppy accommodation to the people for a small fraction of the cost. bear and breakfast tries to sell players in a cozy atmosphere. So it feels shocking as the game constantly reminds players that capitalism is, in fact, a horrific hellscape, while positioning Hank as the entrepreneurial hero of his community. A character would comment on the recent influx of people, and the bear would proudly inflate his chest, or claim he just wanted to help. But who does he help?
Is he really a hero for becoming a petty landlord in a community that doesn’t really need hotels to survive? I don’t need a hotel SIM card to get a big message about the nature of renting Airbnb rooms. bear and breakfast tries to make me feel like Hank’s pursuit is part of a positive community turning point, but there’s nothing really suggesting that in the game systems or dialogue. Nothing negative happens either. The corporate robot’s dialogue starts to feel like empty taunting after a while. Especially when I read the same generic five-star reviews on my company’s social media page.
The problem with bear and breakfast actually reminds me of another line of reasoning relatively common in narrative design circles: should a game reprimand a player for behaving murderously without providing a pacifist route? My position is “no”. If the game doesn’t provide Hank with an ethical and emotionally satisfying way to run a hotel, then it needs to stop constantly berating him. It was incredibly annoying to go to the shark manager to turn in a quest, only to be treated to a lecture about how exploitative my company was. Yes, I’m a dirty landlord. Are you going to increase the amount that the guests pay or not?
And there’s not really an incentive to bring more people to the forest. They deposit their money and waste, but it doesn’t really benefit the community. At best, they indulge in your weird social experiment. Hank eventually transforms the forest, but he is the only person who interacts with humans or reaps the benefits by housing them in the forest. The local raccoon appreciates the garbage they deposit every day, but I wondered: is it worth it?