Bear And Breakfast is a hotel management sim that plays like Animal Crossing. You gather resources every day, complete delivery errands, and build your Airbnb empire–all while playing as an adorable bear. The problem is that Bear and Breakfast lacks the relentless optimism of business sims while not delivering on any coherent critique about landlords either. As a result, Bear and Breakfast feels needlessly bleak about running a hospitality business despite the cheerful 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 chance to become a small business owner. All he has to do is renovate some abandoned homes into bedrooms, bathrooms, and fun amenities. The robot tells him that he won’t be rich, but the process is a way of revitalizing the forest economy. And so Hank turns his fixer-upper projects into proper Airbnbs, hoping to fill the community with more humans than ever before.
Most of the game involves gathering raw materials such as lumber, nails, and sheets of copper. You use them to build rooms, create furniture, and restore local points of interest to their original state. Just like Animal Crossing, the bold and cartoonish art style is what makes doing chores everyday feel more satisfying than they have any right to be. But unlike Animal Crossing, you have to share a neighbourhood with some truly frustrating neighbours.
Hank is just some kid who, until recently, was living in the woods with his doting mother. And yet half the residents of the forest are unnecessarily mean to him. Granted, part of the issue was that it took me a while to realise I wasn’t wearing pants, and some of the residents reacted negatively to that. And I would understand if it was just the weird possum or the alligator witch who were acting up against him, but even his friends love to make quips at Hank’s expense. So when every human guest who showed up would make terrified faces and run away from him, I had to assume the worst. No matter how much I did for my guests, they would never be able to accept this grizzly for who he was.
Part of the problem is that Bear and Breakfast’s writing feels immature. There’s not much emotional substance to most of the script. Instead, I’m reminded of a quippy blockbuster movie script where characters spend a lot of words saying a whole lot of nothing (I was able to make this connection more easily when I noticed that some of the quests were named after film titles). The character descriptions are sympathetic, but most of them can’t express an emotion without insulting someone or hedging their thoughts. Over time, I started to become mistrustful of the residents of the woods. It’s little wonder that I ended up thinking that the silent humans also hated the bear who managed the properties they stayed in. (This perception was not helped by my past experiences with doing customer service work for Airbnbs in real life.)
The humans’ emotional responses changed considerably once I realised that the pants were equippable clothes, rather than a quest item that I picked up too early. I made Hank put on some human clothes, and they started smiling at him. But my initial feelings towards the guests heavily influenced how I built my hotels. Each guest has personal preferences for how many “decoration” points their room had, but they didn’t care for how ugly or functional the layout was. Because they didn’t show any kindness towards Hank, I started seeing these drifters as nothing more than a source of income. I would give them the bare minimum amount of amenities necessary to earn their money, which meant that my cramped bedrooms had layouts that didn’t make any sense. Although you can move your windows and doors around whenever you want, you can’t actually change anything about the walls.
So the gorgeous large bedroom that I built in my first hotel actually ended up costing me money. That room could have been three different money-generating hotel rooms if I was smart about it. For my next hotel, none of my bedrooms were as large as that one. I started raking in tons of cash, and I only felt slightly bad about it when I saw the humans sleeping in beds that took up the entirety of their tiny room. Hank doesn’t have any relationship with the customers. It’s just a bed and breakfast.
My negative feelings about owning a hotel chain compounded whenever I would talk to the robot who helped me set up the business. He would taunt me about giving the humans shoddy accommodations for a tiny fraction of the cost. Bear And Breakfast tries to sell players on a cosy vibe. So it feels jarring when the game constantly reminds players that capitalism is in fact a horrible hellscape while positioning Hank as the entrepreneurial hero of his community. A character would comment about the recent influx of humans, and the bear would puff his chest out with pride, or claim that he simply wanted to help. But who is he helping?
Is he really a hero for becoming a small-time landlord in a community that doesn’t really need hotels to survive? I don’t need a hotel sim to deliver some grand message about the nature of renting Airbnb rooms. Bear and Breakfast tries to make me feel like Hank’s endeavour is part of a positive turning point for the community, but there’s nothing that really suggests that in the game systems or dialogue. Nothing negative really happens either. The corporate robot’s dialogue starts to feel like empty taunting after a while. Especially once I read the same generic five star reviews on my business’ social media page.
The problem with Bear And Breakfast actually reminds me of another line of discourse that occurs relatively frequently in narrative design circles: Should a game reprimand a player for behaving murderously while not providing a pacifist route? My stance is “no.” If the game doesn’t provide Hank an ethical and emotionally satisfying way to run a hotel, then it needs to stop berating him all the time. It was incredibly annoying to rock up to the shark manager to turn in a quest, only to be treated to a lecture about how exploitative my business was. Yes, I’m a scumbag landlord. Now are you going to increase the amount of money that the guests will pay or not?
And there’s not really a real incentive to bring more humans to the woods. They deposit their money and trash, but the community is not really shown as that much better off for it. At best, they’re indulging in your weird social experiment. Hank ends up transforming the forest, but he’s the only person who interacts with humans or reaps the rewards of housing them in the forest. The local raccoon appreciates the trash that they deposit everyday, but I had to wonder: Is it worth it?