Pinstripe is a game about descending into Hell to atone for unjustly taking a life. As you explore an underworld fit for a stop-motion Tim Burton film, thoughts of revenge, anguish, and disgust begin to creep in. Though the presentation of these themes is tantalizingly sinister at times, the ultimate impact of confronting them is dulled by pervasive storytelling issues and tedious mechanics, making this less an examination of heartbreak and more a tale of monotony.
Pinstripe’s doomed protagonist is a gaunt priest named Ted, who, along with his daughter Bo, are introduced onboard a moving train. In her juvenile naivete, Bo suggests the pair play detective and investigate nearby traces of smoke, with Ted in the role of Sherlock and her the part of Watson. Some time after exploring the various carts, they stumble upon an ominous man with piercing yellow eyes and a lit cigarette named Mr. Pinstripe, who asks whether Bo likes balloons and if she wants a shiny black one. Moments of grotesque leering later, Mr. Pinstripe kidnaps Bo, exclaiming that she’ll soon call him “father.” With his young daughter in the hands of the titular evil, Ted must go above and beyond to recover his child and punish her abductor.
Pinstripe falls in line with most tales involving kidnapping and revenge: A weak character is rendered vulnerable by a dark presence, and a hero rises to set things right and serve justice. There’s nothing wrong with the revenge trope, but Pinstripe implements it in such a way that makes the narrative feel pedestrian. Bo’s cries for help and Ted’s supposed resilience and determination come across as contrived and shallow, failing to inspire emotional attachment to either character, let alone inspire sympathy. However muted its retribution plot is, Pinstripe’s dialogue exudes childlike wonder, exemplified in the villain’s use of sanitized insults like “screw pod” or “hump face,” which sounds reminiscent of a children’s storybook and elicits a chuckle.
When its childlike voice takes a break, Pinstripe’s haunting aesthetic–driven by gothic and Edwardian-era influence–takes center stage. Its melancholy world is paired with a dreamy soundtrack that feeds off of Hell’s spooky atmosphere. The Sack Chute level, for example, is engulfed in a thick darkness that makes navigation difficult, playing to a fear of the unknown; only Ted’s headlight peering through the dark allows for a cone of vision. This limited view imbues tension, as you can only see what’s in front of you–things grotesque and covered in slime. It’s here in the ambiance, atmosphere, and sound that Pinstripe’s dread takes hold.
When its childlike voice takes a break, Pinstripe’s haunting aesthetic–driven by gothic and Edwardian-era influence–takes center stage.
Pinstripe is a platformer first and a puzzle game second, and though none of its challenges are difficult by design, Ted’s floaty leaps complicate even basic platforming tasks in practice. Getting him onto platforms when necessary is often irritating, especially during timed puzzles.
Awkward platforming aside, Pinstripe’s many puzzles are typically on the easy side. The only time-consuming riddles are those that require you to piece together seemingly benign artifacts in the environment, but these moments are easily resolved through trial-and-error by poking and prodding at anything that looks suspicious until you hear a chime. These puzzles bring diversity to the adventure, but they ultimately feel like unnecessary speed bumps.
You eventually encounter enemies, armed with nothing but a slingshot to defend yourself. These battles seem easy at first glance, however, the slightest flick of the analog stick will fling the reticle, making it unusually difficult to precisely aim at and hit your target. The game doesn’t include many battles, thankfully, and few of Hell’s enemies pose much of a threat despite the ineffective aiming system–the same can even be said of the final boss. Underwhelming and easily exploited, the ultimate bad guy can be defeated by ducking in a corner and button mashing, in very little time.
Regrettably, Pinstripe’s rich atmosphere is overpowered by these types of issues. Enemies need only a few shots to defeat, puzzles need only a couple of tries to solve, and the final boss can be exploited to oblivion. And because the story lacks emotional weight or resonance, once the credits roll, you’ll quickly forget Ted and Bo’s struggle, the puzzles you solved, the conclusion to what could have been a memorably haunting trip through Hell.