When hell freezes over.
Developer: Atmos Games
Publisher: Armor Games
Format: PC (Reviewed)
Released: April 25, 2017
Pinstripe is a testament to what one-person indie developers can accomplish when given enough time and a decent budget. That’s not to say it’s a perfect experience, mind you. In fact, I have quite a few problems with its pacing and overall gameplay. But even with these issues, I still look back on my time with it fondly. I found myself enamoured by the clear love and effort that designer/composer/writer/artist/programmer Thomas Brush put into Pinstripe over the last five years, telling the tale of a man venturing through a hell of a different sort.
You play as Teddy, an ex-minister who wakes up on mysterious train with his daughter, Bo. While exploring the curious locomotive, the two come across a creature that calls itself Mr. Pinstripe, sleazy suited figure who promptly kidnaps Bo and crashes the train. Miraculously surviving the crash, Teddy must now chase Mr. Pinstripe through the frozen, fungi-littered afterlife and save Bo from his demonic clutches.
Like many dark 2D platformers before it, Pinstripe keeps most of its cards close to its chest when it comes to its storytelling. While I didn’t find myself all that interested in its main story, especially since it uses the significantly worn cliché of “parent rescuing kidnapped child from an evil entity”, I was rather intrigued by the unanswered mysteries it presented in the background. Why do you keep seeing images of a house on fire? Is that how Teddy and Bo died? And who or what is Mr. Pinstripe? The game does provide clues to these questions, in such a way that gives you only just enough information to keep you interested, letting your imagination run wild. It’s safe to say that I quickly found myself eager to look in every nook and cranny of the game’s supernatural surroundings for any story morsels.
Speaking of which, I love the design of Pinstripe’s world. Environments range from the beautifully bleak to the downright disturbing, all resonating with a lonely coldness thanks to the game’s wonderfully sombre soundtrack. While there aren’t many enemies, the ones you do encounter can make you feel uneasy, looking like floating globs of Lovecraftian black ooze with sharp, hanging teeth. Character designs have a sharp Burtonesque appearance that makes them walk a fine line between childishly simplistic and slightly disgusting — especially in the case of the shadowy Mr. Pinstripe. The game also sports some impressive voice acting, starring the voice talents of renowned gaming YouTubers like The Game Grump’s Dan Avdan and Ross O’Donovan. I also feel like I should give special mention going to Dirk Tarhune’s haunting portrayal of Mr. Pinstripe.
It’s just a shame that I never found myself enjoying Pinstripe’s gameplay nearly as much as its presentation. Don’t get me wrong, as a 2D puzzle platformer it’s perfectly serviceable. You can run, you can jump, and you can shoot at enemies and targets using a slingshot you find during the game’s early moments. The problem is that it doesn’t really do anything interesting. There’s no challenge to the platforming, enemies pose so little threat that combat feels more like an afterthought, and the game’s puzzles essentially boil down finding and pushing buttons, shooting at a target, or playing spot the difference. Even the game’s final (and only) boss battle is a bit of a letdown in terms of challenge, especially considering the lead up he’s given in the story.
The game also has some frustrating pacing issues. For example, the majority of the game rolls along quite smoothly as you make your way closer to Mr. Pinstripe’s lair, solving puzzles and exploring new areas along the way. But just as you’re about to start the final act, the game gives you a small power up and barricades you from going any further, telling you that you need to find three hundred collectibles before you’re allowed to progress. Thus begins the long and annoying trek all the way back to the game’s starting area as you search every area the new power up can unlock while you break everything in sight. It just felt like the game was lazily implementing Metroidvania mechanics as a means of adding unnecessary padding to an already short experience.
But even with a short playtime (around two hours) and dull gameplay, I still highly recommend Pinstripe just for the opportunity to check out the end result of one man’s five-year love and efforts. It’s a beautifully macabre story that both looks and sounds spectacular, to the point of almost literally oozing with a dark sense of charm. Even if the $15USD asking price feels too much for its length and gameplay, you might want to keep Pinstripe on your wishlist for when the next Steam sale comes around.
A fantastic example of what small indie teams can accomplish, even with its gameplay shortcomings.