Pinstripe, from one-man developer Atmos Games, is the latest in the never ending series of somber but introspective indie games. It checks all of the “right” boxes – darkly unique aesthetic, mysteriously tragic story, shortened playtime for maximum impact, etc., and it does its damnedest to reach the pinnacle of that critically acclaimed mini-genre. In that effort, however, it does too much borrowing and not enough innovating, leaving the player bored and unfulfilled.
The game has you play as Father Ted, a priest with a cutesy toddler and an unknown wife. Tragedy strikes in the form of a gothic doppelganger named Mr. Pinstripe kidnapping your daughter for his own evil adoption plans. The resulting journey to save her takes you through a handful of darkly whimsical environments populated by oddball characters more concerned with their feudal loyalty to Pinstripe than with helping your fatherly plight. It’s a simple story, one with just enough charm to pique your curiosity, but not necessarily hold your interest for the duration of the game.
Unfortunately, that same level of growing disinterest plagues the rest of the game as well. At its most basic, Pinstripe is a 2D puzzle platformer. The player has to find their way through different areas by completing puzzles and discovering secret pathways. Each screen can also have hidden interactive objects, new shops, or locked away items. Which all sounds rather interesting, until you realize that none of the puzzles or obstacles feel particularly inspired or challenging. At that point, when you realize you’re simply looking for the fastest way to progress, the wonder of exploration becomes the frustration of tedium. And even when the game is kicked into high gear, with all of its mechanics in play, there is still a distinct lack of depth or interplay in the systems.
Even the style of Pinstripe begins to grate. The Machinarium-esque visuals look too familiar from one area to the next and lose their creative impact due to over saturation. Items, enemies, and characters are largely static with little artistic change post-introduction. And the UI, though wonderfully minimal, is ironically too inclusive — half of the information it displays is an unnecessary intrusion on the somber experience it wants the player to have. What starts as a visually compelling game slowly becomes an indistinguishable blur.
The sound design suffers largely the same fate. The gravel-y, quirky dialogue slowly fades from amusing to annoying when you realize most of the characters have the same paper-thin persona. In-game sound effects are unremarkable, and the soundtrack has two basic modes: C418-inspired and unsettling circus that loop depending on the area. None of it has the sort of lasting impact that prevents it from being forgotten shortly after finishing the game.
This is, unfortunately, the major theme of the game. It feels as if Pinstripe was built off of a checklist of award-winning indie games. It has the grim-cute aesthetic that looks fantastic in promotional screenshots and trailers. The story is more emotional mystery than action movie, and the gameplay is nostalgic old meets high-def new. But when it comes to fleshing out all of those cookie-cutter details, Pinstripe falls short. None of the individual elements are as fully crafted as they should be and, when put together, the entire experience feels like a facade. A little bit of platforming, some Flappy Bird minigames, shallow metroidvania level design — the game is a prettily painted mess of borrowed ideas.
Pinstripe is the video game antithesis of the boiling frog parable. There is no defining fail point in the game; you can’t accuse a specific sequence or story twist or gameplay mechanic of single-handedly ruining the experience. But there are also too many moments of frustration or boredom. Too many gameplay elements implemented in the most shallow way possible. Too many story beats left deadened by the drudgery around them. A game is not better than any of its individual parts, especially when those parts are quaint homage at best. The experience of playing Pinstripe is ultimately an experiment in how many tiny flaws it takes to sum a failure.
PUBLISHER – Armor Games | DEVELOPER – Atmos Games | ESRB – N/A | PLATFORMS – PC
Avoid – Pinstripe models itself after the best games of the indie genre but fails to implement with the same aesthetic creativity, gameplay depth, and player respect. Mounting levels of frustration and tedium make this an experience best left unsuffered.