Quirky and endearing, Pinstripe has quickly become one of my favorite indie games. When I sat down to play it last weekend, I expected to take my usual stretch or snack breaks. Instead, I played the entire game two times in a row without leaving my chair. Pinstripe is a passion project made with all of the right intentions, and as a result, creator Thomas Brush made something quite extraordinary.
Pinstripe starts as the protagonist, Ted, is awakened by his daughter while they are riding on a train. Bo invites her father to hunt for clues in a game of Sherlock as the platforming mechanics are effortlessly introduced between train car puzzles. Something then happens to little Bo, and Ted is thrown into a snowy hellscape on his trek to rescue his daughter.
Thomas Brush’s Hell doesn’t look like one I’d imagine, but his impeccable art direction makes it feel as it should. The graphics are uncomplicated, allowing the story to be told through color and shadow. The Hell Ted explores feels like something Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman would think up: monsters sporting helicopter propellers, sludge-producing cave creatures, and even an old woman trapped in a giant birdcage. Hell is spooky, but not too frightening. Everything is just cartoony enough to feel lighthearted and fun.
The oddness of the characters Ted encounters in Hell shine through their individual voices. The voice casting is flawless and even includes a few surprise cameos throughout the game. Little Bo’s voice oozes with innocence and sweetness, while the antagonist, Mr. Pinstripe, sounds downright scary. There’s welcomed humor found in the dialogue of a very dark story, this combined with the quirky voice acting helps to keep the game whimsical rather than somber.
Not only did Brush write, design, and code Pinstripe, he also composed the music. The background music of the Edge Wood level creates a level of ambiance comparable to that of Donkey Kong Country’s underwater areas. A puzzle shop in Edge Wood sounds like something you might hear on the Ocarina of Time soundtrack. Despite these familiarities, the soundtrack is one-of-a-kind. These influences are transformed into something personal to the Pinstripe story and act as a tool to develop a nostalgic feeling within a brand new game.
All of these elements help to create cohesiveness and immersion within Pinstripe. Even the save points feel like a fluid part of the design. To save my game, I’d simply approach a portrait hanging on a wall, inspect it, and save. As a short, two-hour game, save points could have been entirely stripped from the design, but in this format, they are yet another element pulling the design together.
The short duration of the game may make some players wary, but it packs a lot of punch in a small amount of time. After the end credits of Pinstripe, a bonus item is immediately rewarded that unlocks three areas inaccessible before. This was a huge incentive for me to play through the game a second time, because I was curious to see what was behind those doors. What I found behind the doors unlocked even more content and achievements within the game. There’s even a Super Vintage Mode to reward players for playing multiple times. It would be difficult to walk away from the game only playing it once.
At its heart, Pinstripe is a story-driven adventure game, with some enjoyable puzzles to add some challenge. The puzzle mechanics are introduced gradually, and they are placed within the game in such a way that knowing what to do to solve the next puzzle feels intuitive. Pinstripe doesn’t feel as though it’s meant to be a puzzle game, because the puzzles are not difficult enough to consume much time while playing. Instead, they help to show the struggles Ted must overcome to save his daughter, without becoming discouraging. Brush keeps it short and sweet, focusing on the story and balancing the short game with rewards for multiple playthroughs.
The only part of Pinstripe that didn’t always feel intuitive was the keyboard controls. I’m used to the space bar being the standard Jump key while playing PC games, but in Pinstripe, jumping is done with the up arrow, or W. The space bar is instead used for interacting with objects. This makes sense in the design of the game, so this isn’t quite a criticism. It just doesn’t feel as natural as the rest of the game, and therefore stood out quite a bit during my playthroughs. I decided to stick to controller commands instead, which felt more instinctive.
With heartfelt storytelling, stunning art design, and atmospheric music, Pinstripe is sure to start hitting those Best Indie Games lists soon. It’s inspiring to see what one person can create when he believes strongly in his vision and ideas.
A PC review copy of Pinstripe was provided by Armor Games for the purpose of this review