From its opening moments right up until the last few seconds as the credits began to roll, Pinstripe had us emotionally hooked. The game, which was painstakingly developed almost entirely by just one man over a five-year period, tells the story of Ted, an ex-minister who gets thrown headfirst into a nightmare-inducing series of events. Luckily for us, as the player, these horrific events allow for a pretty stellar video game, and one that will no doubt leave an impression on us over the days to come.
Our tale kicks off with a seemingly innocent train journey, with Ted and his young daughter, Bo, merrily chatting away. You can respond to Bo’s comments in either a loving or disinterested manner, and the two of you soon set off through the train’s carriages completing small, easy puzzles. It doesn’t take long for you to grow attached to this relationship, but things soon take a turn for the worse as a creepy, mysterious stranger called Pinstripe appears before you. After some discussion, Pinstripe kidnaps your daughter, and we felt a genuine sense of anger and upset at his actions right from the off thanks to the great writing and story pacing leading up to the event.
From here, it becomes clear that Ted must make his way through several hellish areas to find Bo, and this is where the real heart of the gameplay kicks in. Most of your time will be spent exploring each of these areas, solving quick puzzles to progress or picking up any currency lying around. Puzzles often require you to take note of your surroundings, and you’ll pick up a few key items along the way which give you clues on where to head next or how to unlock something which could put you on the right track.
Not long into the adventure, Ted stumbles across Bo’s old slingshot and their family dog, George, both of which open up new - if only minimally used - gameplay ideas. The slingshot has unlimited ammo, usually being used to either hit certain objects for puzzle-solving, money-collecting or to fend off enemies, while George can be used in very particular areas to uncover secrets. While the slingshot combat does appear every now and then throughout the adventure, it definitely takes a backseat, letting the storytelling and exploration take centre stage.
And we’re glad that it does; the true beauty of Pinstripe is in its storytelling and the overlying, heart-destroying aesthetic that looms over every step. The game’s world feels like it could really exist, perhaps tucked away inside a fantastical Tim Burton movie, with its beautiful, gloomy art style screaming its melancholic thoughts into your mind as you play. The soundtrack works in tandem here perfectly, too – not just with the music itself, but more thanks to the haunting little extras thrown into the overall soundscape.
The key cog in the aesthetic machine, however, is the game’s cast of non-playable characters, and particularly the voice actors portraying them. Many of these characters are voiced by prominent online personalities and YouTube stars, such as NateWantsToBattle and even PewDiePie, and despite the fact that we can already imagine some of our older readers shuddering in mild disgust, the casting is absolutely perfect. Ross O’Donovan (or ‘RubberNinja’) is a particular highlight as Mr. Dicky – a pessimistic man who guides Ted through various parts of the game – and every aspect of each character’s design adds something worthwhile to the finished product.
It’s easy to assume that this artistic flair was a particular point of focus during development, with the physical gameplay content falling just below perfect as a result. Don’t get us wrong – the combat, exploration, and puzzles are brilliantly executed when they pop up, and the controls are elegantly tight and responsive, but the game left us wanting a little more. Our playthrough saw the story wrapped up in around three hours or so and, while we thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon, those three hours could have introduced just a handful more fast-paced slingshot sequences or platforming sections to top things off nicely.
To give credit where it’s due, though, a portion of the gameplay near the end of those few hours sees you backtracking through the entire collection of levels to collect resources for the final moments – something which could have been a real slog. Rather than being a grind-filled, painful nightmare, however, new types of puzzles are unlocked as you work your way backwards, and you can suddenly get your hands on the collectables that previously seemed impossible to snag. Going backwards in a game isn’t always fun, but Pinstripe made it worth our precious time.
On top of this, a new 'Adventure Plus' opens up after completing the story, throwing you right back to the beginning but with a new golden key in your inventory. This key can unlock more places you hadn’t accessed before, giving keen players another few things to see, although you won’t be missing out on too much if you’re content with a single run. It may be a relatively short adventure, slipping by almost as quickly as it arrives, but the impression left by its world and storytelling should last long enough to justify that nicely.
Pinstripe is a beautiful creation in every sense of the word, pulling on your heartstrings like only your favourite storybook can, while competently providing a good deal of fun along the way. It’s a little on the short side, both in terms of length and challenge (we only saw the 'game over' screen once thanks to reaching the final boss with very little health), but a game’s length really isn’t everything. It’s what a game does in the few hours it spends with you that really counts, and Pinstripe does some pretty great things, making it an easy title to recommend.