A wonderful idea that falls remarkably short.
Pine is an open-world adventure game with RPG and crafting elements. It is built around forging alliances with or engaging in conflicts with a variety of species in a persistent, ever-evolving world. Towns are built and flourish, populations gather food, and traders journey to friendly towns to buy and sell goods. All of this is constantly unfolding around you as you unravel the history of your people on this strange island. If you think this sounds cool, I completely agree. Pine is a game I went into hoping to love, but I was ultimately let down by a very rough port that doesn’t do that fantastic concept justice.
Upon starting up Pine, you’ll notice just how different it looks from trailers and the screenshots available on the eShop, all of which were clearly taken from the PC version. Much has been cut back on Switch to get the game running, but evidently the problems lie deeper. The opening loading screen lasts for a little over three minutes, which is so long enough that I wondered if perhaps the game had crashed. This load is repeated anytime you die, so play carefully. Once it finally does load, you’re taken through a short introductory segment where you’ll be taught the basics of crafting, exploration, and combat. Afterwards you’re tossed directly into the wide open world. One of the first quests you have is to visit a friendly town; however, when I got there I found that the town had failed to load. I exited the game and loaded back in to no avail. I eventually decided to try restarting my entire Switch which mostly solved the problem.
What prevailed, though, is Pine’s consistent problem with pop in. Not only does geometry pop in directly around you, sometimes once you’ve already passed it, but things will randomly pop out of existence as you get closer. At one point I approached an object and began interacting with it, and while I was standing there it disappeared. This caused a glitch in which I was stuck interacting with an object that didn’t exist and wound up having to do a hard reset on my Switch. Other times I’d approach a crafting component only to have it spawn out when I got close, and then reappear as I walked away. I found myself literally sneaking up on a rock at one point hoping it would stay in existence long enough for me to pick it up.
Beneath all this is a perfectly decent game. It has problems certainly, like a world that is too large for its population, and a combat system that is clunky and unresponsive. However, the enemy and alliance system is legitimately wonderful. You’re free to build friendships with any species you want, regardless of how much an alliance with one may hurt another’s opinion of you. Naturally I teamed up with a species of awesome foxes, but that immediately put me at odds with some very aggressive turkeys. I also purposely positioned myself against a race of alligator-like lizards because I found them the easiest to deal with in combat. Every NPC has a role in their respective village which they carry out whether you’re there or not. Gatherers will travel into the fields to gather resources which actually affect the growth of the village. Traders will travel to towns of friendly species to bring back items needed by the town. Warriors will not only guard the town but may decide to attack enemy towns. Items gained through gathering, trade, and conquest can be used to craft gear and items to strengthen both your character and friendly towns.
Pine is a brilliant idea backed by some truly wonderful systems. Other elements of its gameplay fall short but would ultimately be forgivable if it would just run reliably. No matter how much I wanted to enjoy Pine, I always found myself ending my play session in frustration as a stared down another loading screen, found a key character glitched into an inactive state, or an entire village simply blipping out of existence. Pine feels like a very promising alpha, not a game that should be sold as finished. The presence of Pine on the eShop is baffling. While I earnestly hope it improves, I simply can’t recommend it in its current form.