There’s no doubt that farming simulators are massively popular, especially amongst Switch gamers. I love a farming sim myself, usually when it’s coupled with other gameplay mechanics like in Harvestella or Animal Crossing: New Horizons 2.0. This universal fondness for farming sims does mean that the indie market is flooded with new games in the genre, so if you want your game to stand out from the rest, you need a gimmick.
Paleo Pines is an adorable indie farming sim with a massive twist – you can befriend and ranch dinosaurs. Like many games in the genre, you move to a dilapidated farm with big dreams of fixing it up and starting a new life in the countryside. With your partner Parasaurolophus Lucky in tow, you meet the townsfolk, record the local flora and fauna, and figure out the mystery of why Lucky’s species is so rare.
The art style and presentation of this game immediately drew me to it, as well as my and my partner’s interest in dinosaurs. This love immediately grew when I made my character at the start of the game. I’m very picky about character creators as someone with a very distinctive personal style and curly, bright blue hair. I want to see myself in the games I play and I often have to compromise. Not with Paleo Pines – the outfit options are varied, colorful, and gender-neutral, providing a quirky, cottagecore-esque vibe right from the start. I even found a near-perfect replica of my hair texture and color!
The best way I can describe this game’s overall vibe is that it’s comfy. There’s a quest system once you leave the tutorial but it never seems pushy. You’re free to take the game at your own pace, deciding whether to focus on growing your farm, befriending the locals, or getting the other species of dinosaurs to trust you and move to your ranch. As someone who only recently started playing Stardew Valley and finds that quest system extremely overwhelming, Paleo Pines’ approach is much more my speed.
This demo is definitely a very promising first look at the game, but it’s definitely not perfect. I played on PC and the movement can feel a little awkward when using a controller which makes me slightly worried for the Switch release, but there’s still plenty of time to iron out the finer points before Paleo Pines’ full release later this year. My main criticism is that although I love a well-developed tutorial, aspects of the opening hour or so feel uncomfortably railroady for a game focused on exploration.
In particular, I spent a good 45 minutes playing about with the dino flute trying to communicate with dinosaurs before realizing I had to complete a specific quest before the game would let me use the flute on wild dinos. Again, I like a developed tutorial, but when you design a game so that it’s clear how to use the item without doing the tutorial mission, you should reward players for getting there on their own.
It’s a testament to good game design that I saw the dinosaurs blowing colorful bubbles that correspond with the flute’s notes and immediately thought, “Hey, I can copy this melody on the flute to communicate with them.” This is by no means a deal-breaker, but if you don’t have the patience to go and complete the specific quest first (especially as the map doesn’t have fast travel points or quest markers) you might be turned off the overall game, which would be a shame.
Overall, the Paleo Pines demo has got me even more excited for the game’s full release and I think the concept is the innovation of the farming sim genre that we’ve been needing. It appeals to a wide range of audiences and has a diverse character creator and cast, and is a fun and relaxing experience. I can’t wait to continue my adventure in Paleo Pines!