Platforms: PC (reviewed)
While I appreciate the big, beautiful AAA games that major developers and publishers release every year as much as the next gamer, I am of the personal belief that it is within the indie gaming scene where one will find the biggest amount of innovation, heart, and desire to tell compelling stories that stick with a player long after they have put the controller down.
Case and point: Pinstripe, a relatively new platformer from indie developer Thomas Brush and his development studio, Atmos Games. While Pinstripe is somewhat hobbled by dated gameplay mechanics that tarnish the final experience, it is still very much a title which any fan of unique, engrossing, and truly heartfelt games should play.
The story hook that draws players into the world of Pinstripe doesn’t seem very complex at first, but as you might have already guessed, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. Players take on the role of Teddy, a former minister who wakes up on a train alongside his daughter Bo. When Bo is kidnapped by a malevolent spirit calling himself Pinstripe, Teddy must venture into a placid yet macabre world in order to track Pinstripe down and rescue his daughter before she is sacrificed to the forces of darkness.
Players navigate the world of Pinstripe via standard side-scrolling-based exploration and platforming, collecting ‘Frozen Oil Drops’ (a form of currency) and other items as they solve various puzzles in order to progress. Eventually, the player also finds a toy slingshot which they can use to both solve certain puzzles and defeat enemies, layering a basic combat system onto the game’s platforming elements.
Pinstripe isn’t a very long game (you’ll likely beat it in 4-5 hours if you’re a seasoned adventure games player), but then it’s not really meant to be. In many ways, the game feels like an interactive short story, one which parcels out new narrative beats and revelations at a pretty steady pace, thus making it more about appreciating the journey than reaching the end. Plus, there are actually incentives for multiple playthroughs, ensuring that completionists have plenty of additional hours to look forward to.
Sadly, there were some glaring parts of Pinstripe’s gameplay that, for me at least, severely derailed the game’s otherwise strong momentum. While the total number of different environments you end up visiting is quite small, there’s a fair amount of mandatory backtracking involved, and it seems that for every puzzle that can be solved with some logical thinking and good old fashioned exploration, there are also several that are too poorly explained, or not explained at all (like when you rescue Teddy’s faithful dog George and then have to roam around two entire areas in search of clues that George has to dig up). Also, if you want to unlock some of Pinstripe’s more interesting optional rewards, expect to do a fair amount of grinding across multiple playthroughs for Frozen Oil Drops.
Fortunately, none of the above detractors ever completely ruined my enjoyment while playing Pinstripe, and honestly, Thomas Brush did such a good job of creating a whimsical world that has equal overtones of both darkness and comedy that it was easy to forget about the few times I felt frustration.
There isn’t much in the way of spoken dialogue, but what little there is benefits from high-quality voice acting (you might even recognize the voice of the character Felix if you happen to be an avid YouTube user), and the characters meld together perfectly with the world of Pinstripe to create a truly unique-feeling experience that is never too challenging and yet never too easy either.
Pinstripe may not be the happiest game you ever play, but it certainly proves that an already powerful narrative can be given so much more meaning when it is also an interactive one. I know I have waxed poetic before about games like Gone Home and What Remains of Edith Finch, but that’s only because I feel it is important that gamers of today truly appreciate the times they live in, times when the power of good storytelling shines as brightly through the lens of video games as it ever did.
Despite its faults, Pinstripe is yet another example of excellent storytelling told through an interactive format, and hopefully there will come a time when games that have that same caliber of engrossing fiction won’t be relegated just to the indie scene.