A game 5 years in the making from Thomas Brush, Pinstripe is a wonderfully put together experience that is well worth your time. It opens on a moving train, your character standing alone in the carriage next to a mirror. No tool-tips, or prompting, just the natural suggestion to move right, as has been ingrained on all of us from an early age. You soon find Bo, your daughter, who suggests you make pretend as Sherlock Holmes after inspecting a nearby item. The first of many dialogue choices appears and gives you the choice: OK, or Sure thing Watson. This beautifully sets up the tone for the rest of the game, as most choices have a standard option or something with a bit more character to which the responses from NPC’s are often witty and well crafted.
Shortly, you come across the titular Pinstripe lounging on a chair at the end of the train. He has a well-spoken British accent that bubbles with rage as his sentences roll on and gives off and uncomfortable vibe. After a brief interaction involving an ominous gas balloon, he kidnaps Bo for an ‘adoption’ and it’s this that propels you in to the game proper. While it would be easy to write here about how the story progressed and had me fully invested, to know too much beforehand would be to ruin a big part of what makes this game great. It does tip its hand a little early, but holds off until the last moment to tie it all up.
Almost everything in the game feeds into the story, from environmental scribbles and paintings, to the save game portraits. The story flows nicely and had me compelled to keep digging and following the trail right the way through. In fact, looking over my notes as I played, they turned into more of a running commentary on what I thought was happening and how each twist and turn would play out. The gameplay is part platformer, part point and click, with a touch of Telltale thrown in for good measure. Commands are basic; move, jump and fire, once you acquire a weapon (rather touchingly, you use Bo’s slingshot throughout). You’ll meet various characters, some to help, some just for clues and exposition, but all well written and acted.
Occasionally, you will be given a dialogue choice with a sun or moon symbol. These indicate a simple moral choice system, and though you will get the same results from the character whichever you choose, its results are yielded by the end of the game. Each of the 6 areas has several puzzles to solve to unlock progression, as well as hidden areas that yield little bonus items. My only major gripe with the game is that there can be a tad too much trekking from one area to another, just to head straight back with a new item in hand, but by and large it’s well-paced and the puzzles sit just right with the difficulty, so that you never feel truly stuck. A few trickier solutions require exploring the environment again, and usually a character will have the answer that you’d forgotten you’d spoken too.
There are also some hidden puzzles that involve spot the difference or an almost Flappy Bird-esque mechanic. Both are short and simple, but also feed into the narrative in various ways (that I won’t detail as it ties into the story). Your character movement is smooth and responsive throughout and while aiming the slingshot was clearly designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind, it works well enough here. Some light physic elements round of the last of the traversal, some moving platforms that require you build momentum which can be a touch fiddly at times, but due to the gentle pace, you are free to take your time to get these right.
Each area has a distinct look, and are never so big that you get lost, displayed as static screens that transition as you pass through them. The art style is excellent, lovingly crafted backdrops with story cues woven into them as well as wonderfully drawn characters and locations. Interactive elements are easy to spot while blending into the world with a little bit of Metroidvania to them, some interactions blocked off until later on. The ambient soundtrack is wonderful too, never overpowering the action but always making its presence known. Furthermore, upon completion, a new game plus option appears, enabling you to go through again to access areas and other secrets you were unable to the first time.
While it has a couple of minor issues found in the aiming and the physics platforming, these do not detract from an otherwise superbly paced game. Nearly every aspect within has clearly had a great deal of love and attention poured in, taking me back to the heyday of XBL Arcade, with the likes of Braid and Limbo. I feel this game deserves just as much praise as those classics, and hope it gains it.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.