It’s not very often that I come across a game that feels like it wasn’t designed for me. I mean, there are lots of games that are designed poorly, or are designed to do something I don’t want to do. But there’s something about Pinstripe that rubs me the wrong way, despite the incredible level of style and polish that’s gone into it. Call me a cynic, but it feels like a game designed more for prestige and marketing appeal than fun, if that makes sense. We’ll get into why but I’ll still admit it’s a decent little adventure game for a few hours, even if it rides hard on both powerful style and tired tropes.
You’re Father Ted, and you’re dead. You and your dead little girl Bo are on a rather spacious train, presumably en route to the great beyond, when a devilish♥♥♥♥♥♥of a fellow named Pinstripe snatches her away and derails your ride. Lost in a frozen vision of Hell, Ted has to find his daughter and confront Pinstripe, and that means confronting some hard truths about his life before the end. Hell is a crowded place though, and he’ll encounter quite a few of its chatty inhabitants and rely on their assistance to get through Pinstripe’s twisted realm.
Let’s start with the characters, because that might be where the game first started to lose me. The entire cast of the game, save for Ted himself, is voiced by a rather diverse bunch of talents. Some of them, like Pinstripe and Bo, are covered by solid performances that help draw you into the game. And others, like Felix and Jack, are voiced by YouTubers who were clearly brought on more for their marketing appeal than their acting chops. It’s a rough, conspicuous divide in talent that suggests marketing the game was more important than making it good, and once I noticed that it began to color the rest of the design for me.
As a platformer Pinstripe performs admirably, with tight controls, fluid animations, and a nice, high jump. It’s more of an adventure so you’ll never have to contend with tricky platforming or reactions, but rather use your mobility to solve puzzles and find ways up onto high ledges. A few of these puzzles are clever, like when you manage to light the torches around the valley and you realize how they interact with your slingshot. But others seem much more arbitrary or contrived, like spelling words on the walls in the Sack Chute or doing spot the difference puzzles. Near the halfway point of the game, you’ll also be forced to backtrack through the previous areas with new powers just to collect currency to buy a ticket to the final area. It reeks of padding out an otherwise thin game, supported by how small most of the areas themselves are.
It’s not just the pacing that’s off about Pinstripe, but the whole tone as well. Despite the grim setup the stylized art and quirky dialog makes it feel like a more lighthearted romp at times. But then it goes too far in that direction, with burping, farting characters that you knock off of trees and bizarre normal-or-♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ dialog options for responding to everyone, including your constant talking dog companion George. Pinstripe and his creations are horrific and eldritch at times, but he himself jeers at you with crude curses and crotch chops. There’s even an area called the Pissward Falls, named for Pissy the♥♥♥♥♥♥Snake apparently, which I don’t think ever appears in the game.
The whole things wraps up with an emotional coda that feels unearned and does nothing to address the darker bits of the story. It’s the capstone on a monument that I can’t see as anything but pandering to critics and YouTube followers, especially when compared to games with more robust gameplay and complete stories. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy playing Pinstripe, it’s certainly a very polished game with some neat visuals and ideas. But a big part of that polish feels more like a calculated marketing push than an earnest attempt at a quality game, and the weaknesses in the plot and pacing support that. If you like the look of this one, by all means give it a shot, but be prepared for some flaws and odd inclusions in what should be a straight-forward adventure.