We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Pine Hearts review - heartfelt and hopeful

In our Pine Hearts review, we follow Tyke on his journey to revisit his childhood and grieve his lost father, making new friends and memories along the way.

Pine Hearts review: Tyke and his dad drawn in chalk on the Standing Stone in his memory

Our Verdict

Living up to its name, Pine Hearts is a thoughtful and emotional nugget of joy. Its welcoming atmosphere encourages curiosity and play, while not being afraid to tackle some of humanity’s most difficult emotions.

As a cozy games lover with a special interest in game accessibility, I’ve had my eye on Pine Hearts since it appeared in 2023’s Wholesome Snack and Access-Ability showcases. Considering it’s also a game about grief, I was interested to see how the developer, Hyper Luminal Games, married the emotional and serious theme with such a bubbly and colorful aesthetic. Let’s just say I’m not disappointed.

It’s clear from every aspect of this game that the teams at Hyper Luminal and Little Nook poured their heart and soul into bringing Pine Hearts to life. Even before I read the accompanying statement from the game’s creative director, Rob Madden, I knew how much the project meant to those working on it and how much they believed in its message, which immediately helped to immerse me in the story.

Madden says that Pine Hearts is inspired by the sudden loss of his father in 2019, so he hopes that Tyke’s story of grief can “bring a little hope to people that may be going through, or have gone through similar experiences… I’m continually blown away by [the team’s] care and respect for the subject matter.”

The game establishes its tone right from the opening cutscene by showing us Tyke’s train journey to Pine Hearts camp, a journey that’s filled with anxiety over revisiting a place he hasn’t been since his father’s passing, but ultimately ends with him finding the courage to step off the train and into a new chapter of his life. I’ll discuss this further later on, but Tyke and his dad never speak in the cutscenes, yet we learn so much just from their expressions and body language. This is even more impressive when you consider that all the characters in this game look kind of like beans!

Pine Hearts review: A wide shot of the entrance to the caravan park featuring an allotment and a children's play park

Before the story starts, Pine Hearts presents you with a plethora of wonderful accessibility options, including color-blocking and reduced input modes to aid with visual impairments and motor functionality. The settings menu is also full of options and they’re really easy to find, which I appreciate. I’m glad to have the option to bump up the text size so I can comfortably play on my couch in handheld mode.

Everything about Pine Hearts is designed to make you feel at home. The character designs and environment are colorful and soft, with no sharp edges, you learn different mechanics incrementally, which encourages backtracking and minimizes feeling overwhelmed, and the campsite/holiday park setting is incredibly nostalgic – particularly if you grew up going on cheap Haven holidays in the UK like I did. There’s so much to see and do but it’s all painted with a comforting familiarity that feels so natural.

One of the main mechanics of Pine Hearts is collecting memory droplets. Some of them are just lying around the park and are easy to find, but you’ll need more than just the obvious ones to complete your journey to the top of the mountain. I love this concept because it encourages curiosity and experimentation. I’ve spent so much time running around the different biomes, talking to every NPC and interacting with the environment to see what would happen, and then Pine Heats rewards this behavior with droplets. It’s a win-win.

Pine hearts review: An example of NPC dialog from the Lone Camper

Speaking of the NPCs, they are so incredibly charming and hilariously written. Every interaction makes me giggle or smile, and there are plenty of pop culture references hidden in their dialog, too. As well as being a joy in itself, Pine Hearts’ incredible NPC writing provides a stark contrast to the emotional yet wordless cutscenes between Tyke and his dad. The lack of speech helps to sell the idea that these cutscenes are memories, fuzzy at the edges due to the erosion of time and the developing brain of a child.

The cardboard cutouts and crayon doodles in Tyke’s memories add to the charm, all while linking the idea of his father with the journal that he carries everywhere he goes. The innocence and color established in these scenes also make it even more painful when we start to see Tyke’s dad decline in health and realize that he was just a kid when he went through this mountainous loss. Mountainous, like the peak he has returned to conquer.

I won’t get into specific spoilers, but let’s just say that Pine Hearts’ ending is incredibly cathartic, even for someone like me who hasn’t experienced this level of loss. I can only imagine how those that Madden is trying to reach will feel when they come to the end of Tyke’s journey. I bawled my eyes out with a smile spread across my face, which is one of my go-to indicators that I’ve just played an incredible game.

Pine Hearts review: A terrified baby Tyke hiding behind a bush from a cardboard cutout dinosaur in one of his memories

My experience with Pine Hearts wasn’t entirely perfect, but the issues I experienced didn’t do much to change my opinion of the game as a whole. The frame rate had some problems, making the game chuggy at times, especially around auto-saves. I also struggled with the map, which I think could be a little more detailed and interactive. This felt especially relevant towards the end of the game as my search for memory droplets started to feel like a grind, and I had to backtrack a lot to find previously unreachable areas with my new skills. Generally, I don’t mind backtracking, but I kept getting lost or going in circles because I got no information from the map.

Luckily for you, the day-one patch fixes both of these issues, so it shouldn’t impact your own experience with the game. It’s great to see such a quick response from the developer and publisher to ensure their game launches in the best state. My only other complaint also has to do with endgame grinding. I reached a point in the story which, to me, seemed like the beginning of the conclusion, so when the park ranger told me, “No, actually, you need X more droplets before you can go through this gate,” it broke my immersion slightly. Again, I had a great time backtracking and seeing new areas of the park, but this part just felt slightly narratively stilted compared to the rest of the story, which flows naturally from one quest to the next.

Overall, as I’m sure you’ve gathered from how long this review is, Pine Hearts has a lot going for it. It’s a beautiful, thoughtful, and heartfelt journey through childhood memories and trauma, loss, grief, acceptance, and healing, accompanied by delightful NPCs and set in a vibrant, exciting, familiar, and cozy location. I’m so glad that Madden got to make this game and share part of his story with the world, and I can’t wait to see what Hyper Luminal Games makes next.

We’ve got plenty of suggestions for great cozy games on the Switch and mobile, so make sure you check them out next. You can also check out Kayleigh’s Life is Strange: True Colors Switch feature for more insights into gaming’s links with grief and acceptance.