There’s something rather alluring about a cosy farming sim game with dinosaurs. C’mon: add dinosaurs to just about any genre and it suddenly becomes much more interesting. FPS? Sure. FPS with dinosaurs? Hell yeah! Puzzle game? Why not. Puzzle game with dinosaurs? Best thing ever! And so Paleo Pines, adding dinosaurs to the tried-and-tested farming sim genre, is instantly intriguing. It should be a sure bet… right?
Well… sort-of. There’s a lot to love about Paleo Pines, and there’s a lot it gets right. Its art style is pleasing to the eye, for one: bold and colourful, there’s a childlike charm here that’s impossible not to fall in love with. The environments are beautiful, but it’s the dinosaurs themselves that steal the show. They’re brilliantly designed, and each species is brimming with personality. There’s also plenty to learn about each species, and your success in Paleo Pines depends on getting to know them and understanding their quirks.
You see, key to your progression lies in befriending various dinosaurs and giving them a home on your newly-acquired ranch. Yes, it’s that same old story: you’ve inherited a run-down farm and lo and behold: it’s suddenly your job to drop whatever was going on in your life before and dedicate every waking minute going forward to restoring it to its former glory. The same schtick we’ve heard genuinely dozens of times before. You can’t just walk up to a dino and ask it to move in with you, though. There are friendship calls to learn, along with food preferences. You’re going to need to woo each species with a particular type of treat. Most of the time, you can only learn by trial and error, so you’re going to need a healthy stash of different types of food. Some species are much harder to befriend than others, but each time you win one over, it’s a genuine thrill.
However: there’s also a lot about Paleo Pines that we’re not huge fans of. While we can appreciate that the game wants us to learn by discovering, sometimes there’s just not enough guidance, particularly in the early stages of the game. Your journal provides some information about quests, but you’re expected to discover new missions yourself by stumbling upon them or talking to another character. A notification telling us so-and-so has a mission available would be very helpful at times. It’d also be helpful if main missions were separated out from side quests: there’s an awful lot of skivvy work too, with NPCs asking you to bring them this-or-that. It’s hard to know if it’s important or not.
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Paleo Pines’ stamina system is also a little restrictive, particularly early on. The player character and each dinosaur on your ranch all have their own stamina gauge. While a dinosaur’s stamina quickly levels up over time, your own doesn’t. And 50 stamina – especially when the mere act of running uses it up – doesn’t last very long. Planting seeds becomes an arduous task when digging one tile takes up one stamina point, then so does watering your seed. Planting just ten crops, then, eats up 20 stamina. If you’ve sprinted from one side of your ranch to the other, chances are you might not even have 20 stamina left. You can restore your stamina by consuming certain foods, but these are generally costly to get: it’s easier just to go to sleep to start with a full bar the next day.
The good news is that as you gather more dinos on your ranch, they can help you complete tasks. The bird-like Galimimus can gather water in its beak and spray your crops, while the chonky Styracosaurus can dig up the ground for you. Once you have dinosaurs to help you cover the basics of maintaining your farm, you won’t need to eat through your own stamina – although you’ll need to be mindful of theirs.
Your starting dinosaur, Lucky, can help you move rubble from your farm – something that covers the entirety of it at the start of the game. It was abandoned, remember? Annoyingly, once you’ve cleared the rubble it will inexplicably start reappearing after a couple of days unless you build anything else in its place. And building anything meaningful on your farm is going to take serious time: nothing comes quickly or easily in Paleo Pines. It’s a little frustrating – the joy of the cosy farming simulator game is making your space your own. And here, the barriers to doing so feel higher than ever. Heck, you can’t even enter your own house – all your customisation efforts are outside only.
There are some other niggles which get in the way of us enjoying Paleo Pines as much as we’d like to, too. While its maps aren’t huge, they are rather winding – particularly in the forest region. Making your way around without a minimap – or at the very least the ability to set a waypoint – can be frustrating, and having to constantly refer to a full-screen static map often feels like hard work. There’s also no fast travel, so you’ve always got a sizeable trek back to your farm at the end of a day of exploring. Better hope you or your dino has some stamina left, too, otherwise it’s going to be a slow journey.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Persevere through Paleo Pines’ first several hours as you learn the ropes and its restrictions, and you’ll find yourself engulfed in a relaxing and engaging little sim. Sure, it’s far from perfect, and we feel that numerous small changes could make the experience much more enjoyable, but once you’ve got to grips with everything there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Knowing what makes each of your dinosaurs happy feels like a genuine skill, and adding a new one to your flock will never not be delightful. Perhaps the real joy, though, is that you can approach Paleo Pines however you want. If you find the missions tedious, skip them. Sure, you’ll need to do some in order to unlock a certain amount of progress. But after a while, you can pretty much do what you want, those NPC’s wishes and demands be damned. Focus on decorating your farm if you want, or cultivate a real diverse dinosaur sanctuary. It’s entirely up to you.
We feel like there’s a lot standing between you and the potential enjoyment to be hand in Paleo Pines. Its initial lack of direction can be frustrating, and there are some really questionable design choices that only serve to hinder you. Get past those obstacles, though, and playing Paleo Pines can be an enjoyable experience, allowing players plenty of freedom to play however they want to. Is it the best farming simulator out there? Certainly not. But it does have dinosaurs – and absolutely adorable ones at that.