Dark and sinister games have proven to be quite popular as of late, with titles such as ‘Little Nightmares’ and ‘INSIDE’ finding success among both critics and gamers alike. It seems that Pinstripe, a 2D adventure title from solo developer Thomas Brush, has launched at the perfect time then, with its Tim Burton-esque style sitting well within the current climate of eerie releases. Unfortunately though, Pinstripe is a prime example of style over substance; whilst it’s certainly a stunning release visually, it does nothing particularly exciting to invigorate gamers thanks to its bland gameplay mechanics.
Pinstripe puts you into the shoes of an ex-minister named Ted, who finds his daughter has been kidnapped by a creepy Slenderman-like character named Mr. Pinstripe during a journey aboard a train. In order to find her, Ted will have to travel through six levels of a frozen Hell, all whilst facing the demons of his past and hopefully finding a way to overcome them.
The whole process of the kidnapping and the beginning of Ted’s subsequent journey is unsettlingly spine-chilling. I haven’t seen anything quite like it in a video game before, with the whole thing feeling dark and frightening whilst also having an overarching fairy tale vibe to it all. It’s certainly got the style of a Tim Burton creation in its looks, but that carries over to the grim tale that’s being told too.
The first thing that’ll be obvious to anyone who plays it is that Pinstripe is an absolutely gorgeous game. It’s simply oozing with this dark, gothic style that manages to look even gloomier thanks to the game’s 2D design. It helps set up a haunting atmosphere, in turn making you feel a stronger sense of empathy towards Ted. With every new environment you explore, the game evokes the same sense of dread that Ted must be feeling upon the player – in a beautiful way, of course.
Despite this feeling of dread, you won’t be able to help but be in awe of everything you see. Thomas Brush has done a great job of crafting something that looks unique yet familiar, with Pinstripe’s stunning surroundings maintaining a consistent high quality from start to end. The character design is on point too – the creepy look of each character fits in perfectly with the dreary world, with Ted himself having a distinctly chilling look to him. The characters he meets during his journey though… let’s just say they up the bar as far as creepiness is concerned.
Whilst the unsettling story and impressive visuals hook you in, unfortunately the gameplay left a lot to be desired. Pinstripe plays like a traditional 2D adventure, with the game mixing up moments of platforming with puzzling segments. This platforming never feels all that satisfying though, with Ted having an almost sluggish feel to him. There’s a sense of imprecision, which makes jumping around levels feel almost laboursome at times. Whilst this is something you can live with for the most part, it can frustrate during the moments of the game where precise movements are a necessity.
At least it’s a lot easier to control the game during combat scenarios, with Ted armed with nothing but a slingshot to defend himself from the enemies of Hell. It’s an effective means to take down your opponents, though that’s partially owed to the fact that they barely offer any form of opposition. They feel like they’re simply there to be beat, with a few flicks of the analogue stick all it takes to wipe them out. It’s as if combat was simply tacked on to the game with zero purpose rather than being intended as something that offers a bit of depth.
At least the game’s puzzles offer a sense of innovation, with each one demanding either a bit of thought or at least spicing up the gameplay mechanics. Much like the combat scenarios though, there’s no sense of challenge felt whilst completing them. I never felt stumped by anything the game threw at me, but rather like I was following a simple procedure that just about anyone could figure out within the first few seconds of looking at it. It’s a shame; outside of Pinstripe’s aesthetic, it’s in the puzzles that the game really shows off its creative side. These puzzles just never really impose a challenge upon the player though.
You’re not going to spend a long time with Pinstripe, with the whole game easily finished in under two hours. I’d like to say this means the game adopts an ‘all killer, no filler’ approach, but instead the short length just leaves you wanting more – not because you’re craving more of the same, but rather that you keep expecting the game to throw something special your way. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll certainly never be bored during the short time with the game, it’s just that the gameplay itself never lives up to how beautiful Pinstripe looks.
It also didn’t help that I didn’t really feel all that satisfied with how the game ended. Pinstripe places a big emphasis on the narrative, yet I never felt like it really went into enough depth. Things like character’s intentions, the relationships they share with Ted, and the history of the world you’re exploring – I was left with far too many questions by the time the game reached its conclusion, which is pretty disappointing given the mystery and intrigue that the game managed to evoke upon me during my time with it.
At least there’s some replayability found with the game’s ‘New Game Plus’ mode that unlocks upon completion. It adds a few extra secrets that’re only accessible on your second run through the game, offering a bit of incentive to give Pinstripe another playthrough. It’s a nice touch, with the genre typically not the kind that offers something extra for you to see the second time around.
Pinstripe undoubtedly has its flaws that I’ve pointed out in this review, but it’s worth emphasising that the game was created by just one person. It’s an incredibly impressive feat, especially since some areas of the game’s design are absolutely phenomenal. I can’t help but to feel that a few extra hands on board would’ve really benefitted the game though, especially from a gameplay perspective. Still, Thomas Brush deserves a lot of credit for crafting such a unique experience with just his own hands.
Whilst Pinstripe absolutely shines in some areas of its design, disappointingly it’s underwhelming in so many others. I was blown away by the game’s visual style and it’s undoubtedly eerie atmosphere, yet the gameplay itself felt a little clunky and uninspired.
Platforming felt imprecise, puzzles were too easy to solve, whilst combat just felt a little tacked on and unnecessary. Given that that your adventure will be over so quickly too, you won’t be able to help but feel like Pinstripe missed the mark in providing an adventure that’ll really grip you in. It’s not a bad game, but unfortunately it’s another case of style over substance.
Developer: Thomas Brush
Publisher: Armor Games
Release Date: 25/04/2017
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux