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Pine Hearts screenshot

Pine Hearts review

Imagine The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but with no combat. That’s sort of what Pine Hearts feels like, in a way. This top-down adventure game is all about exploration, discovery and making your way around a quaint world. Playing as young Tyke, your journey is an emotional one: grieving after the loss of your father, you’re determined to continue a journey you started together.

And so, tugging at your heart strings is something that Pine Hearts wants to do. Through a series of memories, doled out through the game as you progress and collect memory droplets, you’ll learn of Tyke’s relationship with their father, and the loss that followed. It’s a wordless story, one delivered only through imagery — we suppose so it can resonate with as many people as possible.

Did it resonate with us? Not really: this isn’t an experience that will live on as one of the most emotional games we’ve played, or even come close. It is still a cute, quaint indie adventure, though. It might not have made us weep, but we had a good enough time playing through its series of low-stakes quests — even if we do have a few frustrations with the experience as a whole.

Pine Hearts isn’t the longest game: you’ll be done in around six hours or less, and in that time you’ll visit several different, equally wonderful environments. That’s one thing Pine Hearts gets spot-on: its world is an absolute joy. From a spooky ruined castle to a thriving caravan park with a strong sense of a community, we’ve loved exploring the world. It’s bold, it’s colourful, and it’s packed with personality. Getting around it, however, is quite another story.

Pine Hearts screenshot
Screenshot: GameSpew

There is a very rudimentary map tucked away in your Journal in Pine Hearts, and it’ll give you a rough idea of where each main area is. Making your way from one to another is still rather tricky, however. And finding areas and items within each of those larger parts of the map is trickier still. There are no waypoints or compasses here, and so you’ll likely find yourself wandering around aimlessly more often than not.

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We imagine it’s meant to be part of the experience, but it adds a level of frustration that’s not really necessary. We don’t think adding a more granular map, or a waypoint, would take anything away from it — especially when developer Hyper Luminal Games has prided itself on how accessible Pine Hearts is in lots of other ways.

Indeed, in terms of accessibility, Pine Hearts is up there with the best of them: you can change the colours of your screen, alter the size of text, turn on Dyslexia-friendly fonts and there’s even a monochrome mode for players who suffer with eye strain. It seems the team has considered almost everything… except how the general population might find actually playing the game.

Pine Hearts screenshot
Screenshot: GameSpew

The lack of a useable map isn’t the most egregious of Pine Hearts’ annoyances, either. While you have a main series of quests to play through, you can’t always progress immediately: you’ll need to spend time completing side quests and collecting memory droplets. You see, the memory scenes you unlock aren’t just there to display the emotional bond between Tyke and dad — they also provide you with key abilities you’ll need to move forward.

Eventually, then, you’ll need to have completed just about every side quest and picked up the vast majority of memory droplets. All 1,300 of them. The main issue? This is never made obvious early on, and so if you don’t pick up side quests as you pass through, you can look forward to a lot of backtracking later on.

Worse still, there’s no way to track your side quests. You simply pick them up by talking to someone, and it’s entirely up to you to remember where you got it from and what you need to do. Talking to the same person will give you a brief reminder, but you won’t find them in your quest journal. This feels like an oversight more than anything, particularly when side quests are essentially as mandatory as anything else in the game.

It may sound like we’re being harsh on Pine Hearts, but even with these issues, we’ve had a pleasant time with the game. It’s cosy gaming 101, with no stressful situations, no combat, and a world that you can approach however you want. Yes, it could be better, with a few key tweaks here and there. But even in its current state, we’d still be quick to recommend it to anyone who enjoys wholesome adventuring.

This Pine Hearts review is based on the Switch version of the game, with a code provided by the publisher. It’s available on PC and Switch.

Pine Hearts review - GameSpew's score

Pine Hearts
7 10 0 1
Imagine Link to the Past without the combat and threat: that's sort-of what Pine Hearts feels like. There's a lot to like about this cosy adventure set in a colourful world, but a few issues hold it back from being quite as good as it could have been.
Imagine Link to the Past without the combat and threat: that's sort-of what Pine Hearts feels like. There's a lot to like about this cosy adventure set in a colourful world, but a few issues hold it back from being quite as good as it could have been.
7/10
Total Score

We like...

  • Wonderful, colourful world
  • Low-stakes adventuring that you can take at your own pace

We don't like..

  • Getting around the world is tiresome
  • Minimap is next-to-useless
  • Side quests are mandatory - and you'll find out the hard way

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