Pinstripe is an atmospheric platformer that tries to tell a cryptic, disturbing story while laying on spookiness and tension in thick layers. Atmospheric platformers are in-style right now. In fact, some would argue that they’ve been in-style since Limbo was released in 2010. They’re not always dark and spooky but games in this genre tend to tell stories with minimal dialogue, heavy environmental storytelling, and they often tackle issues that makes us cringe or pause. In Limbo, you played a child looking for his sister while traversing an aggressive environment. Other games, like Papa & Yo, go even more fantastical with the setting as a way to tell real-life stories about abuse and alcoholism. Pinstripe takes ideas from both of those games, as well as others in the genre, but fails to execute on them as well as some games have in the past.
In Pinstripe, you play as an ex-minister looking for his daughter who has been kidnapped by the evil Mr. Pinstripe. The game doesn’t mystify what’s going on here. You’re in hell and your daughter is not in a good place. As the stubble-ridden minister it’s up to you to go find her. Finding your daughter will mean completing some basic platforming sections, some rudimentary puzzles, and some simplistic combat as well.
Before we get to the game’s flaws, let’s talk about what it does right, and that’s the art and atmosphere. If you spend two minutes in Pinstripe you will understand that this game knows what it’s going for and goes for it whole hog. Hell is quite literarily a frozen over land with twisted trees, damned souls, and awful creations traversing its landscape. Characters have a sort of gangly look about them as their long limbs make even the most human characters feel abnormal and odd. It’s a terrific look that I could stare at all day. When I entered new areas I took my time exploring all of the nooks and crannies because I didn’t want to miss out on any of the beautifully grotesque art that was hiding away there.
Even when the game is being played it looks great. Characters animate well and your minister makes great strides with his long legs that made me feel like I was watching a Burton-esque creation come to life. Similarly, Mr. Pinstripe floats around on occasion, taunting you with his endless cussing and banter, and looks appropriately haunting. There is a sense of dread and horror to every inch of Pinstripe and it is truly the game’s biggest accomplishment. Where the game stumbles, however, is in its execution and gameplay.
After winding up in Hell with your daughter after a particularly nasty train ride, you dust yourself off and set about to find your kin. After some simple platforming that just involves jumping from here to there, something that doesn’t feel all that great in Pinstripe, you find a useful slingshot. Despite having to go up against the hordes of Hell, these include evil balloons and crazed hound-looking creatures, this minister is up to the task as he jumps on the hounds’ heads and slingshots away at balloons. Combat and platforming in Pinstripe feel so simplistic that it takes away from the game’s best features, it’s art and atmosphere.
That’s because those features do so much to make the game feel alive and creepy that when you can defeat enemies so easily, the game loses its overarching sense of dread and worry. This is especially unfortunate when looking back at the game’s final boss fight that can be easily exploited to the point where it feels like the game’s buildup was nothing more than a joke. I spent all this time fearing Mr. Pinstripe and his hellish hordes, only to utilize what is essentially an easy-to-find exploit to win the game. That’s just disappointing.
Similar to the combat, the game’s story never really gets off the ground either. Papa & Yo, a game that deals with alcoholism and abuse, wasn’t necessarily a great game to play but its storytelling resonated with many gamers because of its subtlety and human qualities. In Pinstripe, however, I felt like there were strange bits of the minister’s past being thrown at me at random and none of those moments ever felt genuine.
Instead of feeling sorry for the man’s life that you eventually learn about, I felt as though it was cobbled together last minute and shoved in my face. That lack of gradual storytelling hurt the game because I lost interest in the main character’s motivation and backstory. Here is a man who has dealt with a lot and all he has left is his daughter, who has been kidnapped, and I just couldn’t care less because of the way the story was forced on me so arbitrarily.
Pinstripe is a game that has such promise at its start but fails to capitalize on what makes it special by its completion. The simplistic platforming and combat take away from the game’s excellent atmosphere and world building and instead give the game this odd mix of tension in cutscenes immediately followed by easy-to-beat levels. While the minister was in Hell, facing the fears of humanity, I never felt like I was there with him. While the art and atmosphere are worthy of all the praise in the world, the gameplay and storytelling hurt the game exponentially, leading to a short and forgettable experience.