A short and haunting tale about one’s personal Hell.
Thomas Brush’s Pinstripe is a puzzle platformer about an ex-minister named Ted who journeys through Hell in search of his three-year-old daughter, Bo. In most religious and mythological stories, Hell is commonly portrayed as a physical place where sinners are punished with fire and brimstone. But Pinstripe envisions Hell as a cold, barren place with snowy landscapes and quirky characters. This isn’t just any generic depiction of Hell that we’ve seen a million times before – we’re entering Teddy’s personal hell. And what greater hell is there for a parent than to lose a child?
Inspired by classic Henry Selick films such as Coraline and The Nightmare before Christmas, Pinstripe’s atmosphere strikes a pitch perfect balance between charming and disturbing. The art direction is beyond gorgeous with its hand-painted environments and beautiful scenery. It’s a world that looks like it came straight out of an illustrated children’s book. Equally impressive is the soundtrack that syncs perfectly with the visuals.
Our story begins on a train during a snowy winter night. Bo wakes her father to play detective and investigate a strange smell on the train. “You can be Sherlock,” says Bo. “You got it, Watson!” responds Ted. These light-hearted daughter-father exchanges between Bo and Ted are utterly delightful. However, the tone quickly turns grim once a shadowy figure named Mr. Pinstripe is introduced. When Pinstripe kidnaps sweet, innocent little Bo, Ted must trek across a frozen afterlife to rescue her.
While a kidnapping plot might seem cliché, it provides a launching pad to learn more about Ted as a person. Why would an ex-minister – a man of the church – wind up in Hell of all places? When you really break down the story, this is essentially about a father confronting his personal demons, facing his deepest regrets and asking for forgiveness. That even includes asking for forgiveness from his daughter. At one point, Ted becomes reunited with George, the family dog. George sniffs around for clues, digging up buried personal items from your past. And since this is Hell, it should come as no surprise that your loyal canine companion is now able to talk.
During development, Brush believed that simplistic, casual gameplay could help make players focus more on the atmosphere. “Simple gameplay is the cornerstone of Pinstripe, and was the goal from the start,” he explained in his Kickstarter campaign. “The goal of Pinstripe is to make you feel like a kid again without being bogged down with stuff that is confusing and unnecessarily.”
Early on, Ted climbs up a large tree where he finds Bo’s toy box hanging from a branch. Inside the toy box contains a slingshot that can be used for killing enemies and solving environmental puzzles. The majority of the puzzles can be solved in five minutes or less. Enemies are also rather easy to defeat and don’t pose much of a threat at all. Most skilled players should be able to finish the game in two hours or less.
Unfortunately, not everything about Pinstripe works. Backtracking can be a momentum killer during the second half. The worst pacing issues tend to occur around the middle portion. The controls are very easy to learn, but if I had one nit-pick, the platforming tends to feel floaty and imprecise. This isn’t a huge problem considering how Pinstripe doesn’t rely much on precision platforming like similar games.
After I had finished the game, I was surprised to learn how many famous YouTube Let’s Players were involved with the voice acting: PewDiePie, Jacksepticeye, and Ross O’Donovan and Danny Avidan from Game Grumps. Normally, a voice cast full of YouTubers would have instantly pulled me out of the game’s world, but I was genuinely impressed with some of their performances. I would have never guessed that they were the voices.
When Pinstripe focuses on emotional storytelling and rich atmosphere, it presents a haunting-yet-beautiful adventure game that’s worth playing. But when it tries to artificially pad its length with backtracking, that’s when the game begins to drag itself down. With a unique setting and memorable characters, Pinstripe is an extremely short but unforgettable experience that will continue to linger in your mind long after it’s over.