We're living in happy times for fans of the good-old adventure game. Night in the Woods was one of the highlights of an unprecedentedly full winter. Ron Gilbert's Thimbleweek Park arrived in March and impressed old-school adventure fans with its true-to-the-classics design. Full Throttle is arguably one of the finest the genre ever produced, and its remaster wowed me last week. I've even been enjoying an extremely strange little game about religion and… being a carnivorous animal lover by the name of Agatha Knife, which arrived today.
But none has surprised me more than Pinstripe, a dark, surreal, and impressively designed adventure from Thomas Brush. The game stars Ted, an ex-clergyman who journeys through increasingly strange (and tortured, since this whole world is supposed to represent different levels of hell) landscapes in order to save his adorable daughter Bo from an evil guy in a pinstripe suit named… Pinstripe.
It's an adventure more in the style of The Cave or NITW (or even Inside), with more running and jumping and less traditional inventory-juggling. You have "clues" that you pick up and examine at any time, but, at least in the first 90 minutes, you aren't combining objects or hunting for hot spots.
The puzzles are pleasantly breezy thus far. Experimenting with your various abilities and jumping on anything that looks solid for a few minutes typically yields results, and the game moves at a pleasant jaunt.
It's all set in a surreal, creepy-cute world full of evocative landscapes, doll-like characters, talking dogs, and fucked up hallucinogens. And fart noises. There are definitely fart noises.
It's the sort of aesthetic that looks dark at first, then winks at you with a little touch of humor, then gets really, really dark if you look too closely. Some of it is a little on-the-nose. I mean, Mr. Pinstripe looks like a creepy asshole even before the adventure proper sets off, when he tries to pass off his evil balloons on to Bo—but there's a sort of knowing quality to the writing, and enough fully off-kilter elements to keep it from feeling like 90s Tim Burton-lite.
You save at weird portraits with unsettling descriptions like "aggressive male." Cockney-accented chaps with raging er, juice addictions implore you to keep Pinstripe in business so their next shipment of the good stuff will arrive. It's a fascinating, gross, kind of scary place to poke around in. It's hell, after all.
Brush designed, composed and created all the art for the game. That sort of vision often comes with some compromises: games made by tiny or one-person teams may understandably lack polish or stay extremely limited in scope. Pinstripe doesn't fall prey to any of this, it feels as full and cohesive as a project with a much bigger staff and budget, with all the weirdness and sharp edges as a piece from the heart.
Don't sleep on this weird, dark little game. It's a very spooky, very worthwhile trip.