Dark and sinister games have proven to be quite popular over the last few years, with titles such as Little Nightmares and INSIDE finding success among both critics and gamers alike. It seems that Pinstripe, the 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, Pinstripe can feel a little bit like a case of style over substance – whilst it’s certainly a stunning release visually, it does nothing particularly exciting to invigorate gamers thanks to its uninspired 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 harrowing 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 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 to add a little bit of variety to proceedings.
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 a bit. Admittedly, I never felt stumped by anything the game threw at me puzzle-wise, but it’s certainly in the puzzles that the game really shows off its creative side. They’re all satisfying to solve, even if they won’t leave you scratching your head for too long.
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 it to throw something special your way. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll certainly never be bored during the short time with the game and it does some neat things, it’s just that the gameplay itself never lives up to how beautiful it looks.
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.
It’s hard not to be impressed with just how remarkable Pinstripe’s visual style and undoubtedly eerie atmosphere is, but the gameplay left me desiring more. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never bad by any stretch of the imagination, but outside of the clever puzzles it does very little that’s particularly exciting with both the combat and the platforming feeling a little uninspired.
It doesn’t make it a bad game nor does it make it one that you’ll want to skip – I’d certainly say there’s more good than bad in the game, with it offering more memorable moments than it did ones that left me frustrated. It just feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, with Pinstripe ticking so many innovative boxes with its visual style, but simply faltering a bit in offering an adventure that truly felt unique and fun to play through.
Developer: Atmos Games
Publisher: Serenity Forge
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux