Creatively, the concept of hell in a video game is a fart joke in that it’s been done so damn much. Despite that, a designer with the full, obvious passion such as the maker of Pinstripe has always has a chance to make it feel fresh again. All it takes is another angle to see the light bounce just right off of the same idea to create something that feels special.
And make no mistake, Pinstripe is a special, compact trounce of hell and heaven.
A train crash has brought the Father into the first layer of hell, which takes the scenery of a winterized forest. Your daughter, Bo, has been taken by the titular Mr. Pinstripe and you have to push your frail, scared body ahead to save her from the darkness. As you can imagine, there is sadness to come and suffering of those around you but the turn is the way in which this pain permeates. Just about everyone you meet is clearly drowning in sorrow but hardly anyone feels like they’re even close to dealing with said sorrow. That is… a subtly twisted take on the most powerful prison in the cosmos.
You’ll be able to talk to some of them as you platform around and gain some context of the land around you. There is a fair sense of personality in the world but the main focus never strays from your relationship with Bo and interactions with Pinstripe.
He is a floating, conniving devil dressed to the nines. His voice can hover precariously between intensely seductive and punishingly loud. The personality of pain and rage always feels centralized as he pushes ahead to torture Father and take Bo for his own. This leads to some haunting imagery that doesn’t try to fly over-the-top, staying at the level you’d expect of this particular hell. Scratch the word “Daddy” into a cave wall and those that are truly tortured will draw their own pain. Whoa, I think I just stumbled across the opening line of my own bible…
The Father attacks mainly with a slingshot left behind by Bo with some other weapons available for some steep prices. He’s able to run fairly quickly while aiming, so dodging never feels like an issue. Combat is sparse and meaningful so you’ll often times want to scope out the environment before bringing down an enemy. This makes encounters feel less dangerous without losing the tension of the situation itself. It’s purposefully not really your life on the line but your daughter’s potential damnation that pushes you forward.
Puzzles can range from simple to something multi-step. Adventure mode exploration rules apply to where you will want to see every screen, shoot everything from every angle, and never pass up anything that drops or hovers. I strangely enjoyed the Flappy Bird-style safe unlocking mini game as well as the Spot the Difference puzzles as joyous little spokes of levity inside of this heavy environment. Playing even more with the scenery can unlock further secrets that give multiple playthroughs a very tantalizing appeal in part because this game retains its simple, concise message.
Pinstripe only has one flaw that shook me from the allure of hell itself inside of the collectibles. Along your way, you’ll run across many (but not enough) crystals filled with dark essence that a certain purveyor of goods can’t get enough of. While this at first seems like a nice goal for super-late-game-grinders to achieve, a final gate actually demands that you stump up a hefty sum to move on. And I’m talking about a sum that takes you to every screen, nearly every crystal drop opportunity, and is still just barely enough.
Traversal inside this relatively small landscape isn’t so much the problem is that this is the one and only time that Pinstripe every seems actively worried about your “progress”. Sure, things happen as you go as any other game but everything feels in-world and actively challenging to the player to move through the obstacle. This, by contrast, is a gate that has no other option. You have to go back and grind through every screen for details large and small, which just feels misplaced in this kind of experience.
Above all of that, Pinstripe is a mark of excellence when it comes to a fresh approach to an old trope. There’s no shortage of ghosts come to life in the shivering Father as he speaks to the forlorn hellions, all of it looking darkly beautiful in motion. Pinstripe himself spreads his cackle against a hopelessly sublime soundtrack in a way that seems to nearly break winter itself. Yes, you have likely been to hell many times before, but I can all but guarantee you’re never journeyed into those circles with this kind of experience under your belt.