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Pine Hearts review: A warmhearted escapade into love, loss, and life

Pine Hearts review: A warmhearted escapade into love, loss, and life

This journey has a lot of heart

Processing grief is never linear. Yet, despite us knowing this, the stages of grief are always laid out as if our journey to acceptance is a straightforward one. Pine Hearts embraces this complexity via both a linear and non-linear exploration of grief.

However, the story we’re privileged to embark on isn’t one of heartache but of tenderness; we see the multifaceted nature of love, and the loss that ultimately comes as its byproduct. To be able to convey such a wide array of emotions, while also delivering one of the most cosy experiences I’ve played to date, is quite the feat.

Before attempting to scale the mountain of Pine Hearts, I was certain no title could knock Spiritfarer off its top spot. I was sorely mistaken.

Earlier in the year, when GAMINGbible previewed Pine Hearts, we suspected this “delightful dip into nostalgia” would become an indie darling. However, we didn’t fully comprehend how truly special this experience would be. I’m grateful I was able to continue where our very own Dan Lipscombe left off, though in truth, I’d have played this title without a review code being provided.

Watch the Pine Hearts trailer below to see what all the fuss is about

So, how does Tyke, our adorably rotund main character, take us from what seems to be a sleepy little caravan park into the depths of grief and coming out the other side? Quite simply: they go on an adventure. But not just any old adventure – one that they intended to have with their father before they passed on.

The painfully tragic familiarity of such hopes and dreams will resonate with players, even if, like myself, they’ve yet to lose a parent. We all know that death is inevitable, and within that inevitability comes a universal language we all speak.

That being said, while Tyke’s loss is intrinsic to the story we join them on, it’s by no means a sour undertone lurking under the surface of a peaceful pond; there is much joy and love in Pine Hearts. Arguably, those are the main components, with grief merely a small part of better understanding those connections we forge with loved ones.

For Tyke to get to the top of the mountain, they need to have the right equipment and be prepared; herein lies the problem. Although our loveable main character has determination, they’re not yet ready for the climb. Therefore, we help them become ready – we help others, we discover new tools, and, most importantly, we retrieve Tyke’s repressed memories.

Unlocking memories is a key part of this process. Memories eventually become available when you gather enough teardrops; these are rewarded for completing tasks, as well as being hidden across the map. To ensure you find every teardrop, interact with anything and everything when the prompt shows – I learned this the hard way.

I won’t go into specifics about what the memories involve, or what you get by completing each one. All I will say on the matter is that they’re a charming variation of what you play outside of the unlocked memories, and as such, they add a wonderful additional layer to gameplay. I genuinely felt transported back to childhood in those moments, such was their delightful array of childlike wonder, and as such, it further enhanced that connection between past and present; love and loss.

Little Nook

Unfortunately, I do feel all the grinding Tyke has to do to unlock said memories, e.g. help virtually every person in Pine Hearts, does become monotonous. Although each task is different, there’s that repetition of having to be someone’s errand boy that eventually wears thin.

Nonetheless, I can’t criticise the game too harshly for using such mechanics because the cosy genre is ladened with similar fetch-and-carry missions. One could argue it’s part of the very foundation of these games. I just wish there had been a way to break up that constant succession of trivial tasks. Even though the memory sections offer a bit of respite from this, it’s far too short lived.

Beyond its narrative, Pine Hearts excels too. There are few games on the market today that deliver such a range of accessibility options. Simplified controls to make interactivity easier; adjustable text size; dyslexic friendly font; colour blocking. All these details (and more) ensured that my experience was as smooth as possible. As someone living with vestibular migraines, being able to fine tune visuals so that they didn’t strain my eyes and thus trigger the vertigo side of my condition felt revolutionary. It shouldn’t have, but so few games take the time to fully consider all players’ needs.

The only downfall of its accessibility, at least in my experience of the game, is a certain sewing section. Again, I’d prefer to keep the details of how and when this happens limited, so as not to spoil the journey for others. That said, this section felt unforgiving when it comes to mistakes, which, when combined with a fiddly sewing pattern, made for a rather frustrating time. To say I nearly had a toddler-esque tantrum isn’t an exaggeration.

If, however, after playing this game my only issues are with one particular section, and the humdrum of repetition, I'd say that’s incredibly impressive. Much like generic conventions in books and films, we already know the steps to the dance we must follow, and thus, we often fall into familiar territory. Yet, we also find comfort in re-watching or re-playing beloved titles, which proves that while variation is the spice of life, repetition is the soothing blanket we can’t live without.

So far this year, I’ve played several cosy games, each of which brings their own nuances and unique traits. However, few have captured my attention like Pine Hearts. I didn’t just enjoy it, I felt it. I had tears in my eyes as Tyke’s emotions resonated with my own, the language of loss and grief palpable yet free of foreboding.

We joined Tyke on his quest for closure without feelings the pangs of pain we felt in Spiritfarer; it felt more human, more authentic because of that. Both games are exceptional, and explore their subject matter in thought provoking ways. However, for me, Pine Hearts has a rawness, and dare I say innocence, that I’ve not experienced anywhere else.

Pros: Exceptional accessibility, touching narrative, charming visuals, and childlike innocence

Cons: Too much repetition, and one tedious section (honestly, it’s a minor complaint)

For fans of: Spiritfarer, Gris, Last Day of June

9/10: Exceptional

Pine Hearts is available now on Nintendo Switch (version tested) and Steam. Review code was provided by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Little Nook

Topics: Steam, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, PC, Reviews