Paleo Pines by Northern Ireland-based devs Italic Pig, is a single-player role-playing game set in a time with cute dinosaurs. Available on console and PC, I have been playing, along with my 6-year-old, on the Nintendo Switch.
With a nod to elements from Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and Pokemon, would we find this dino-driven social/management sim as captivating? Let’s take a look!
As with most traditional adventure games you begin by creating your character. Here we have a fairly normal but not over-the-top palette to select from including skin tone, eye colour, hairstyle, etc as well as a selection of clothing. You will notice that to keep inclusivity you cannot set a sex and Italic Pigs have described the character as non-binary. My son being 6 did question why he couldn’t select a boy however he still managed to come up with a character and was more than happy.
Leading into the story, told as a series of picture postcards, you find that you had living with you a small blue baby dino that quickly grew up from an egg. Very soon you are dropped into the game.
Riding on the back of your dino, Lucky, you begin a brief tutorial on how to control the movement, open your inventory, and interact. The game is in a 3rd person perspective that is centered around your character.
A bit like Disney Dreamlight Valley, you need to clear areas to enable you to either pass through or build. Each action uses energy, therefore you cannot do very much in one go although you can get your dino to help you.
The main quest is to find the missing Parasaurolophus dinos. Yes, I had many attempts to try and say that word. In order to locate them you have a series of quests to undertake as well as side-missions that you can pick up from the town board or are given to you by the friendly villagers. You can check progress at any time by opening your journal. This displays everything from the time and weather all the way to the requirements of your dino and a calendar filled with events.
In true adventure form, you can buy and sell wares with vendors and begin building your own ranch. The currency is shells. You can construct pens, build farms and sow your seeds. There is not a huge selection at first and the farming mechanic is fairly basic. That said, it’s enough for my son to enjoy doing, especially when riding a dino to help with it all.
Rest assured that as you progress, you can be as creative as you like when designing your ranch, decorating, and of course, dressing your character.
While exploring the vast landscapes you will come across different types of dinos. In order to entice other dinos to join you, you can use your magic flute to play back the song that they have called to you followed by giving them their favourite food. The Gallimimus, for example, required various foods in order to get them to accept me. With the dino following my character, I found myself still at its needy cause, as it required other items. By using the journal on them I found that the dino was all of a sudden “discovered.” This helped reveal the habitat and diet as well as skills, but not much else. The magic flute is used to instruct each dino what to do.
While the tutorial was going well, there were some areas that you are left to find out for yourself. While perhaps the devs felt that it was obvious what you needed to undertake, there were some really frustrating moments where it was not explained as to what you are supposed to be doing.
Likewise, the map can be fairly unhelpful. While a map shows key landmarks and people, there is no in-game navigation or compass to help guide you when walking from place to place. As you can imagine, the fun begins to wear off when you are not sure what you need to do. Waypoints would have been helpful. Instead, you have to keep looking at the map to see which direction the red circle has moved in.
When traveling from area to area within the game, there is an element of loading times that feels that it is slightly too long. This leads to your mind wandering, especially if you are struggling with a task.
More than meets the eye
When you are not questing you can be looking for collectables. Within the Journal there is a Collection area that sets out the type and quantity of items such as rare gems to finding historical places. Similar to Animal Crossing, it’s a case of trying to tick them all off as found.
Paleo Pines features a day and night rotation that in turn leads to the next day in the designated season. Each of the 3 seasons, as seen on the calendar, brings with it different weather, more things to find, and also affects where dinos will be located. I liked how the game continues to evolve around you. The world adjusting its graphics to suit.
How many dinos can you find and successfully add to your growing ranch?
Graphics & Audio
The graphics are very easy on the eye with a fun and colourful cartoon style to them. The intro showed off some very wholesome postcard images that appeared to be very well rendered.
I did find that playing on the Nintendo Switch, Paleo Pines seemed to suffer from some blurring to the graphics, especially when it was docked and displayed on the TV. Edges just didn’t look that neat and it was almost as if something was turned down in order to optimise it. Similarly, shadows cast by objects such as trees seemed to draw in and flicker when they felt like it depending on the movement on the screen. It was almost as if it couldn’t make its mind up whether to show the shadow or not. I hadn’t changed the camera angle either.
The audio is very pleasing, with a happy selection of melodies playing in the background that match the gameplay at hand. Similarly, the sound effects of hopping on and off your dino and the general interactions are fun and immersive. Get ready for honks, trills and your magic flute filling the air with sound.
While there are a lot of quests and collectibles to undertake and discover, there are a lot of moments where you just hit a brick wall of frustration. I could therefore only play an hour at a time before struggling to fathom out what was actually needed of me next.
Overall there is much game-time to be had once you get going and the changing seasons revitalises the map.
Paleo Pines is fun to a point. I was hoping that it would have been a little more helpful when it came to the tutorial and perhaps the devs could update it to reflect the missing guidance. Although I expected a bit of a challenge, usually that is more the puzzle questing and discovering side rather than the fact that you don’t know what to do at certain points. Ultimately Paleo Pines frustrated us all at times.
While we enjoyed meeting the dinos and helping the villagers, some refinement is required if this is to truly be a time sucker like Animal Crossing was.
I award Paleo Pines a Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.