Originally, I wanted to cover this for the upcoming Spooktober, but something happened.
Pinstripe is a small, and I do mean small, horror title that comes to us from Atmos Games, a fairly small studio headed by one Thomas Brush. Brush himself has been making various small titles for about a decade, and Pinstripe was the result of a 4-year journey that was massively successful on Kickstarter. Cut to 2018, and the Xbox One port is here! Hooray, I guess?
You play as Teddy, an ex-minister who has a better 5 o’clock shadow than me, the ponce. He’s on board a train with his daughter Bo, and all’s well and dandy until Bo smells smoke coming from the front of the train. Cut to a man smoking on one of the carriages, and boom! Your daughter’s been kidnapped, and now it’s down to you to enter Hell to save her– Wait a minute, Hell?
Wait, why are we in Hell? I thought we were on a train, but the train crashed in a snowy crevice. I thought we were in a hallucinatory stupor at least, but not Hell! Way to take the wind out of our sails, I mean, you can’t even pretend you’re going to shock people. Except no, it still tries to shock you. For a while, the games attitude towards the player seems to see-saw between being blunt with its narrative, to throwing its toys out of the pram and going “NO! This isn’t it! Or is it?!”.
It’s a really confusing framing device that is mind-bogglingly difficult to figure out. On the one hand, you’ve got this cutesy horror, Burton-esque adventure ready to charm you, but cut to two minutes later, and you’ve got some skinny figure looking to scare the ever-loving shit out of you. It’s a bizarre tonal shift that doesn’t feel right, no matter how well you adjust to the game’s atmosphere.
This isn’t like Twin Peaks, where David Lynch can switch between two country girls having pie and coffee with a saccharine soundtrack, then all of a sudden have the TV screaming at you. No, there’s no form of grace or nuance to the way Atmos Games have attempted to execute it, and it makes you confused and dazed, as opposed to amazed and uncomfortable.
Also, the omission of a voice actor for Teddy only hurts the narrative. This isn’t a Gordon Freeman situation either, as Gordon’s personality was built by the world and his actions between 2 games. Here, we don’t know what Teddy’s doing, or why he’s here, and the narrative twist doesn’t provide his character any stable ground. If all of Teddy’s dialogue choices are going to be text as opposed to speech, especially when everyone else has a voice actor, including the random drug addicts in the caves, why should I care about Teddy?
Back to the game, and it’s your typical arty platformer gameplay, what with your floaty jumps, the slight variations items will bring to gameplay, and every indie dev’s favourite puzzle: gravity-based platforming! You’ve got a sling-shot for the most part of the game that’s only going to be used for something that’s so unbelievably stupid, but in due time.
A bunch of YouTubers appear in the game, mostly to detach you from the immersion you’re attempting to submerge yourself in. PewDiePie, JackSepticEye, and I believe RubberRoss are all small-part NPCs in the game, but given that we’re dealing with a game that’s 2 1/2 hours long, small parts go a long way with ruining the experience.
It’s not that they’re bad, or at least JackSepticEye and RubberRoss aren’t, they actually try to change their voices for the role, but PewDiePie’s role is just miserable. He plays a drunkard named Felix (SUBTLETY: YOU CAN’T TEACH IT.), and there’s no attempt to sound like he’s trying to convince you. S’pose it could be worse though, he could be shouting at the barrels that you have to shoot.
Ho-yes, thus we reach the main point of what this slingshot needs to be used for, and that’s shooting at pots and various other objects that may contain health and Black Droplets, the currency of this game. With this currency, you can purchase a Tommy Gun, a Sweater for your pet dog George, a suit owned by one Mr. Pinstripe, and a Ticket. What’s the Ticket for, you ask? Oh, y’know, just the rest of the game, and not in the way you’d expect.
You see, after you’ve gotten to the halfway point in the game, you come across the guy selling the gear mentioned above. He tells you that the only way to get to where Mr. Pinstripe resides with your daughter is by buying one of his tour tickets, at a price of 300 Black Drops, but you’ll only have about 30 to 50 when you ask! Well, damn, how do I–
Oh. Right after that is where Teddy turns on the gas line. That means that now you have to backtrack through the entire map you’ve been through already, just to get these hidden Black Drops that can only be obtained by shooting my slingshot ammo through fire. Okay, bit annoying but… whatever, fine, let me do that real quick. Cut to about 20 minutes later, and boom, all of the hidden Black Drops have been obtained, but I’m still at 251 Black Drops.
Hmm, I suppose I could grind out an area where an enemy spawns, and if they die, they might drop a single Black Drop. Well, I guess I have to do that for a minimum of 49 times, and then backtrack to– Wait just one minute. Why the F*CK am I doing this in the first place? Why on Earth am I grinding for a currency this much, just to progress forward into the game?
I’m not missing something either, this isn’t me forgetting about the “Developer’s Super Secret Droplet Stash” or whatever, this is exactly how Brush & Co. designed their game. The proof is in the pudding, and by pudding, I mean the official walkthrough posted on Atmos Games’ website. “If you don’t have enough, make sure you’ve broken all the destructible items and shattered all the targets in every area”? Are you out of your mind?
Just to double check and make sure my sanity was still intact, I played through the game twice up to this point, one doing my own stuff, and another following that walkthrough exactly step for step. The results were actually quite different, with my blind playthrough reaching 251 without grinding immediately afterwards, and the walkthrough way? 220.
If you want to know what the definition, the definitive example of what “artificial padding” is, then look no further than Pinstripe. This is absurd, this is such an unbelievably cheap way to lengthen your game, but a question you should be asking yourself, is why this mechanic was put into place to begin with? I mean, the game’s still short, clocking in at just over 2 hours, and– Hey look, what’s this Steam Refund system?
This is just a theory, mind you, and this is something that also doesn’t affect me personally, due to my preference of using the Xbox One, but put a few pieces together and it makes some sort of sense. That being said, even if Microsoft aren’t going to give me my money back, Pinstripe isn’t amazing me in any definition of the word.
Pinstripe may be a pretty face, but that’s all it seems to be. I’m done wasting my time for a twist that your press release already spoiled. If you’re a fan of arty platformers that are more interested in making your eyes water with beautiful visuals, instead of a concise gameplay experience, then pick this up, but I’m not even bothering to insult myself with this. Goodnight.
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