Modern indie games built for retro hardware aren’t a new thing, and with the recent resurgence of the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance through the retro modding community and bored people like myself, it’s not too surprising to see a resurgence of quality games being developed for Nintendo’s classic handheld. While most of these games have been nothing more than brick breakers and Pokemon clones. Developer Carmelo Electronics’ Pine Creek is one of the stand out titles to come out of the modern Game Boy indie game scene.
Pine Creek | Old Hardware, New Ideas
Pine Creek is a summertime murder mystery in which you take control of a young boy named Adso and try to uncover the mystery of your best friends' grossly disappearance from their small town. While this premise might not be the most original at first glance, the game's execution and world-building help bring the small sleepy town of Pine Creek to life in ways that made me forget I was playing the game on a 20-something-year-old Game Boy Color. Its use of (sometimes crude) character dialogue and pacing helped with the game's overall immersion and in no time I found myself totally immersed with the game and its characters.
The limitations of the Game Boy Color’s hardware don’t really affect the overall gameplay too much. While there are a few spots where it's looking a bit rough, like the text in Adso’s journal, or the many times I collided into a wall or sign due to the game's geometry, I never felt like the overall game was held back by hardware from the Clinton administration. While I did spend most of my playtime in Pine Creek with my modded Game Boy Color, I did play it a bit on my PC through an emulator and never ran into any issues. The sound was about as much as you’d expect with a Game Boy Color game. While it wasn’t bad, none of the game's music really blew me away, but it was effective in helping convey the overall mood of Pine Creek so it’s definitely worth playing the game with the volume on.
Visually Pine Creek is on the higher end of what the Game Boy is capable of. The use of color and detail in some of the world's environments look better than some first-party Nintendo games, and its violent and detailed pixel-art in some cut scenes really sell the story developer Carmelo Electronics is trying to tell. The world felt lived in and the characters dialogue never came off overbearing or sloppy. There’s also a lot of hidden mini-games in Pine Creek that I won't spoil here, but it's worth exploring and trying out some of the absurd games in the arcade.
Pine Creek | Classic Gameplay, Modern Execution
At its core, Pine Creek is a story-driven murder mystery. While the mystery isn't too difficult to decipher and the game's limited puzzles aren’t going to bust your brain anytime soon, the game's overall theme and way it uses more “modern” gameplay conventions such as side quests, flashbacks, and dialogue paths make Pine Creek feel like any other game released recently. It’s a short game clocking in at around 3-4 hours, and while this may seem extremely short, Pine Creek does have some replay value due to the game's dialogue options and few choices you can make in the game. Although they don't change the game in any dramatic ways like other Game Boy games like Deadeus. Pine Creek is still worth diving into and giving a chance if you’re a fan of story-driven games.
There's a few gameplay elements that were underutilized such as the journal and lack of inventory. The games journal is supposed to be used as a checklist of sorts, but I never found myself using it too much due to its clunky implementation and general difficulty to read the text on the screen. Visually it's interesting to have a handwritten font in Adso’s journal, but due to the hardware capabilities, some notes weren’t as sharp and readable as they should have been. The lack of an inventory screen is also a misstep due to the games requirement of needing items to solve puzzles. While it wasn’t game-breaking, an extra screen would have saved me some backtracking.
The way Pine Creek handles its more mature themes is also a welcome addition to the Game Boy’s game lineup. While I won't get into too much detail here due to major spoilers, it was refreshing seeing a game handle some more adult themes without making light of its content. There are still a few spots in the game where the dialogue didn't quite hit the nail on the head, but for a small indie developer, its handling of touchy subjects was fine and never felt like it was using that as a cheap way to shock the player and evoke emotion.
Pine Creek | Final Thoughts
While at the end of the day it’s still very much a Game Boy Color game, Pine Creek’s world-building, immersive storytelling, and use of modern gameplay conventions help the game stand out as one of the best independent Game Boy games available today. If you’re a fan of mystery adventures, nostalgic for the Game Boy, or just want something that's a little different and won't take up a ton of your time, I’d highly recommend checking out Pine Creek.
Techraptor played Pine Creek with a rom sent by the games publisher Incube8 Games.
- Immersive Story Telling
- Dialogue Choices
- Fun Side Quests
- Detailed Graphics
- Some Text is Hard to Read in Journal
- A Bit Short
- Could Have Used More Puzzles