At the turn of the late 90s and the advent of the new millennium, user consoles from around the world were literally flooded with adventure titles in three dimensions. Especially on PlayStation 2 the genre found fertile ground, ringing an endless series of titles with a setting very similar to each other: a hero (or heroine), a starting village, which in most cases was destined to suffer a fate not all rosy, and an entirely polygonal world invaded by the bad guys in shifts. Everything was characterized by a graphic style typical of the genre (come on, if you close your eyes I'm sure you could imagine it too) and flashes of dungeon or platform sessions scattered throughout the game. The first impact that Pine offers is certainly that of being catapulted back twenty years, ready to embark on a new adventure just like the ones just described.
The title in question was presented by a group of students, who today make up a real independent software house, through the most famous crowdfounding portal in the world: Kickstarter. There funding campaign, launched exactly three years ago, achieved good results, reaching over $ 120 in donations. Among the various objectives achieved there was also the Nintendo Switch version, which is also the subject of this review.
How much nostalgia of the 90s
In Pine the player impersonates Hue, a young human born and raised in a village completely isolated from the surrounding world, as located on the peaks of a plateau, and in which, according to the rules dictated by the elderly fellow citizens, there is an absolute ban on slopes to avoid a terrible fate. Little to surprise, after a short game session in which to assimilate the rudiments of the gameplay offered by the title, the terrible fate falls to our native village. This event, obviously necessary for narrative purposes, leads our protagonist to have to explore the Island of Albamare and the creatures that populate it.
The very concept behind Pine's idea is to give users a world capable of changing over time and through the choices made by the player. The NPC system is in fact based on a precise "ecological hierarchy" on the top of which are placed the tribes of sentient beings scattered in the villages of the whole island. Hue can therefore decide whether or not to enter the graces of a given species, breaking the delicate balance that seems to have been established before his arrival. The developers promised an intricate social relationship system, as well as artificial intelligence that could offer satisfaction in performing certain actions and even change according to our style of play. After these fantastic premises, it is good to say it right away, all this is absolutely not present in the title we played.
First of all, in order to progress in the game and reach its end, it is necessary to complete a series of quests, absolutely repetitive, for each tribe present in the game. This means that any effort employed in social progress, due to the player's sympathy or antipathy towards a certain race, is absolutely futile: at the end of the story, relationships will have to be maintained with everyone. It is not necessary to explain why make friends with a people who are ruthlessly attacked during the previous mission, break the magic and the fiction that Pine gives during the first game sessions.
The tribes are also scattered in settlements all equal to one another in conformation. Every single village is in fact equipped with at least one altar for donations, a merchant, a bulletin board in which the geopolitical situation of the moment is indicated (eh that big word: there are the symbols of the races equipped with an indicator to understand if they are nice or not to indigenous people of the place), a totem indicating the level of the settlement and, of course, the head of the village.
The design of the breeds has been successful, but for each ethnic group there are hardly a handful of models used for the NPCs. The reports are also based solely on donating resources or performing missions. In fact, there is no real social system: do you like crocodiles? Donate food until the friendship bar indicates the green light to run around their territories without fear of being attacked. So don't expect who knows what dialogue or requisite to enter the graces of any tribe. Sociability in Pine is far more simplistic than hinted at by the creators of the game.
Fortunately Albamare also offers different locations, such as caves and crypts (about which I do not go into too much detail to avoid spoilers) which essentially act as dungeons within which to solve puzzles that are never too demanding and clearly derived from the legacy of those typical games of a other era mentioned in the opening.
The worst is yet to come
Incredibly, we have not even come close to the most serious production problems. Let's start from a point that you can easily see for yourself from some images in this review: the Switch version of Pine is ugly. But don't get me wrong, it's not bad because the resolution is low, due to a dancer frame rate or because of washed out and poorly defined textures; no, it's worse. The field of vision is very limited: a few meters away from our character we begin to glimpse a thick blanket of fog. This fog is able to hide the scenario, but not the objects with which it is possible to interact. This means that, for example, if there is a cave 200 meters in front of us, the player literally sees a black spot in the middle of a completely white landscape. The uploads are also long enough to take up to five minutes to start a game. This slowness in loading EVERYTHING is also reflected in the game menus, afflicted by input lag and pop-ups (yes, this game has pop-up phenomena in the menu) and in dialogues with NPCs. In fact, it often happens to position yourself in front of a character, press "A" to start the conversation and be able to move quietly waiting for the game to decide to start that blessed head line. In conclusion, something has gone terribly wrong in the process of optimizing the aforementioned Switch version. I don't want the developers, who have certainly had to fight against the inexperience and the reduced budget, but it is still a title sold for more than 20 Euros and as such must be evaluated.
Another sore point of production is the combat systemslippery and imprecise. Whatever the equipment made available to Hue, when the player is called into question by unleashing a sword or a bow, everything is frustrating to the limit of ridicule. This is not a layered combat systems, in fact there are just a couple of feasible combos. The problem lies in the precision with which the shots are dealt and by the relative management of the camera. If by pure chance it were possible to chain a parade and a pair of blows, the camera would still not be able to follow the player's movement, forcing him to intervene manually in the middle of the action. It is therefore much more convenient to avoid any unnecessary collisions and, where possible, to use the traps that can be created through the crafting system, one of the few things vaguely successful.
On Albamare Island it is possible to collect resources to be reused in a classic scheme-based object creation system. Each craftabile object has its own recipe. In Pine almost everything is obtainable through this system, which offers nothing new compared to what seen in other productions, but at least has a good number of variables in the equipment with which to equip Hue. In fact, our alter ego can use a sufficient number of armor and weapons, which are distinguished by different statistics and abilities: nothing shocking, of course, but able to give some small satisfaction. The rarest equipment schemes are found in special cases scattered around the map and can only be opened through a special type of key which can also be cracked, giving the player a good excuse to explore every ravine from the island. The game world looks like an open world, but it is almost always bare and animated only by the presence of more or less hostile creatures. There are clearly points of interest in addition to villages and crypts, but almost all of the explorable surface is basically an empty landscape immersed in the aforementioned fog that distinguishes the version in question title. Other than branded Nintendo quality.
Pine stands for broken promises
Pine is yet another example of a title with good premises but poorly developed. Probably wanting to step into the open world formula has further disadvantaged a team of developers still too immature to be able to think of launching in such an ambitious project, which claims to want to look like the foundations of that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild who knew how to raise the bar of the genre in that 2017, the year the title was presented. The game has a series of technical and game design problems (i.e. absolutely disregarded premises) on which it is really difficult to postpone, especially in light of the cost at which it is sold.