If I had a nickel for every time I played an emotional game about climbing a mountain, I'd have three nickels. Which isn't a lot, but it's really interesting that it happened other two times before I discovered Pine Hearts, the last game by Scottish team Hyper Luminal Games. That said, the only thing that those three games have in common is a big cliff, like my feelings with it: in this adventure game, the simple but touching story made me cry at the same time that playing it made me really bored.

We start the game following Tyke, a little boy that is traveling to the Pine Hearts Caravan Park, a beautiful place at the foot of a large mountain — and his goal is to finally reach the peak, a thing he never could do when visited the park as a child with his dad. In fact, your travel companion is Tyke's old diary from childhood and also our main vessel to understand the backstory of what happened in that fateful summer when the boy and their dad visited the park for the last time. Getting there, you learn that climbing requires equipment and you don't have any, so you start helping everyone in the place to get what you need to be ready for the challenge.

Pine Hearts

Tyke's story is what really hooked me up during my playthrough of Pine Hearts. The main collectable of the game are some blue droplets, that you can get by solving quests for others or just exploring the place. They are the key of unlocking the boy's memories, shown to us players as beautiful little interactive scenes, where the low-poly colorful map of the park gets populated with cardboard monsters and creatures representing little Tyke's imagination.

I love when games use the fact that we are controlling the character to put us on actions that help the storytelling process, and the good way the devs did this here was the probably the fact of why I was crying at the end. Telling a story of loss is always difficulty to do with respect, but Pine Hearts do this with the kindness that it needs to also transforming it in a touching narrative.

Pine Hearts

But as I said, there was something missing in Pine Hearts and I felt that way during all the time I wasn't in a flashback, because there isn't a lot to do when you are actually playing the game. The store page promises a mix of ""Souls-like level design", "the item-based progression of Zelda" and "a focus on puzzles". At least I can give them the first one: the main thing you do in the game is walk in a huge and mazelike map, collecting items and completing fetch quests. As you progress, new shortcuts are open and you start to grasp the interconnection between all the areas in the park.

But the other gameplay promises are just... not there? Instead of inventive items that can works like a toolbox like in Zelda, Pine Hearts use new equipments and abilities just as simple key-and-lock systems. It's nice that I have a hammer, but the only action I can do with it is break a specific type of rock that appears a dozen of times blocking my way — it reminded me more of a metroidvania, but without the fun of give new meanings to places in the map. About puzzles, I truly only counted TWO during my whole playthrough, and all other different "minigames" are just about pressing the buttons on screen.

Pine Hearts

This approach made the experience of playing Pine Hearts really repetitive and even boring sometimes. I was happy that the game only lasted about 3 hours, because I don't know if I would play even one more area full of the same fetch quests. Like, the characters are cute, the themes around my goals were a bit funny, but it was just solving an easy labyrinth every time. If the devs have gone to a more narrative approach since the beginning, focusing more on Tyke's story instead of the dull exploration mechanics, I would have had a better experience, even if it was shorter.

Even if the game isn't complex at all, I need to finish praising the team at Hyper Luminal for the huge focus on accessibility in Pine Hearts. Besides the more common features, like control remapping and simplified actions, I really liked the "color blocking mode", where all the interactive objects in the map are painted in specific shades and the background goes on black and white to help with contrast. Accessibility is something really important for games and players, and I'm happy to see more of it even on smaller titles like this.

Playing Pine Hearts is like eating a tasteless cookie with an impressive and amazing filling inside. I really liked how they developed Tyke's story about loss in such a brilliant and sincere way, and even using the video game medium as a way to support the storytelling. But the boring mechanics that surrounded it made me play on automatic just waiting for the next flashback. It's hard to recommend the whole thing just because of the little good inside, but maybe you can enjoy your journey through this park as well as I enjoyed my destination at the mountain's peak.

The team behind this game sent me a press key so I could play it and write my review. Thanks for the trust!