PINE by Twirlbound was Kickstarted in 2017 and has since made its way from PC to the Nintendo Switch. It aims to be an open world exploration game where the environment, as well as the beings that inhabit it, are responsive to your presence and actions. Set in a fantasy world where humans no longer live in the majority of areas, your hero, a boy named Hue who had been taught all his life that the world below the cliff he was raised on was fraught with danger, must find a new place for his village when said cliffs are no longer an option. Befriend other species through offerings, explore the mysterious Out, and watch your step because encountering a monster often means being bum-rushed by its friends.
After a rather long loading screen (and I mean over a minute long) I was greeted with a brief cut scene depicting Hue’s home village. The villagers are expected to stick to the confines of the village, but Hue’s brother thinks there’s more to life than treehouses and ceremonies. Neither young man has any way of knowing that they live on what other species call the Unstable Cliffs, but Hue will soon and it’s from the moment of that realization that the real story begins.
This opening arch during which you perform village chores and do a bit of light exploration acts as a tutorial for crafting, combat, and puzzle solving. It was an organic way of introducing a tutorial and I’m a big fan of that. You can sprint by holding b. This must be used sporadically or you’ll tire and slow down. You can jump with Y, though you can’t grab onto ledges and must be careful not to fall as you’ll incur fall damage. You can eat by tapping L, which replenishes health and energy. Holding L allows you to pin usable items to your quick use bar. Energy is drained gradually as you run and jump. Objects can be harvested and collected and are marked by a white diamond if they’re available and a red diamond if they’ve already been harvested, making for easy recognition of either state.
There are ranged and melee weapons and you can switch between the two with X. Ranged: ZL to draw, ZR to release.
Melee: Tap ZR to attack. Hold for a heavy attack. You can also tap R to kick and B to dodge, where a double tap results in a dodge roll. Once you get a shield, you can hold ZL to block and blocking has its own stamina that depletes rather quickly.
Hue’s journey to find a new home for his village is rife with your typical adventure tasks like rudimentary puzzles, ingredient stockpiling, and fetch quests. For the most part, the world is big… And empty. Tribes are stationed far apart, which makes sense considering their standing with one another, but there’s also very few enemies or native fauna roaming the map. Caves, for example, often have a switch puzzle to solve in order to get into and/out of them, but not much else. There’s just a lot of empty space.
A big part of what PINE seeks to do differently is diplomatic relations with other villages. Unfortunately, pleasing other tribes boils down to collecting resources and dumping them into an offering box, a fairly hands-off way to handle things. Sure, dumping items into boxes that belongs to a certain tribe decreases your standing with another tribe, but that’s just a minor inconvenience because you can just gather up more items and dump them into the opposing tribe’s offering box in order to win back their favour. There’s no sense of urgency or the need to remain loyal to any tribe as befriending then simply gives access to trading with them–one of two individuals within a village who actually has something to offer. Villages have buildings and creatures, but they feel empty as most NPCs have nothing of interest to say.
PINE does well as an exploration game, but the minute you add combat, things start to slide downhill quickly. The first Bleeker you face in the caves is not representative of how things will work henceforth in the slightest. Enemies have huge health bars or high defence or maybe Hue just doesn’t do very much damage–whatever the case may be, swinging around your puny sword doesn’t do much. Enemies also completely lack any sort of stagger when struck, meaning they’re still attacking you while you’re attacking them and chances are they’re doing a ton more damage. Single enemy engagements almost always end in having to run away because by some stroke of bad luck, one of their friends are waiting in the wings to rush in and kill Hue. And don’t even get me started on ranged enemies, which will launch barrages of projectiles with only a moment’s pause in-between. They’re able to attack endlessly and you’re only able to block a handful of attacks; the maths just doesn’t add up. Even if you manage to roll out of the way of attacks and get in a single strike during the enemy’s very brief recovery period, whittling down that health bar isn’t fun or satisfying. It just becomes a chore and more often than not, I found myself making a run for it.
PINE looks really good. The graphical fidelity isn’t anything awe-inspiring, hence I’m confused by the very long load screen every time I start the game, but it’s well-suited to an open world game that relies heavily on exploration. The ambient sounds like grass rustling and the gibberish uttered by speakers are nice bits of attention to detail that flesh out the world and the background music is unobtrusive.
PINE is an ambitious title, but it fails to deliver a living, breathing world or a combat experience that is enjoyable. With these two aspects missing, what you’re left with is a decent-looking single player exploration title with some gathering and crafting, and the annoyance of being utterly powerless in combat due to balance issues. I personally did not enjoy my time with Pine, but perhaps you will if you keep these things in mind going in.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Gameplay - 4/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 5/10
Replay Value - 5/10
User Review( votes)
A decent-looking single player exploration title with some gathering and crafting, and the annoyance of being utterly powerless in combat due to balance issues.
- Beautiful world to explore.
- A host of items to collect and craft.
- Interesting and varied species.
- Combat unbalanced.
- Their looks aside, most members of the different species have nothing interesting to offer, leaving the world feeling empty.
- Long load screen every time you start the game.