STAFF REVIEW of Paleo Pines (Xbox One)

Monday, October 16, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Paleo Pines Box art As someone who grew up watching “The Flintstones”, I often wondered what it would be like to have dinos who did your household work for you. Now I can have some sense of that possibility with Paleo Pines, developed by Italic Pig and published by Modus Games. While they may not do your dishes or vacuum your floors, you can befriend all sorts of dinosaur friends who will help you with your foraging, gardening and harvesting, all while being completely adorable companions.

The character customization is very basic, and I would have loved to see a few more options, especially for hair and clothing, but I made a character that I was happy enough with to start.

Paleo Pines starts off with a bright and colourful intro where you see an egg hatch and out pops a blue Parasaurolophus (try saying that three times fast), and they get the name of Lucky. This was just the beginning of the names of dinosaurs that you will learn throughout the game. Many very complicated, and I was happy when I could assign them nicknames when I befriended them). You get to watch baby Lucky grow up, play, and take bubble baths, eventually realizing that Lucky is quickly outgrowing your current home. Soon you and Lucky will head out to Paleo Pines where it’s rumoured there are more of Lucky’s kind living in the area.

When you arrive, you get a ranch and a plot of land that is a rundown mess. Small rocks and branches are strewn about as well as larger boulders and logs. You will have one pen existing for your dino to live as well. You can ride this particular dino, and their personal skill is removing small items like stones, branches and ropes, giving you rock, wood and fiber in your inventory to sell or craft other items.

While the tutorial is a little slow, I will give a nice little nod to Paleo Pines for acknowledging when a player doesn’t need the extra help. I’m very familiar with cute farming sims, and on day one I figured out how to farm on my own. On day two the townsfolk informed me they had nothing left to teach me. I assume this was the farming tutorial day. New crops and seeds will become available to you as you expand the areas you have access to.

Early in the game, you will meet two locals named Mari and Owynn. Both are known dinosaur researchers and tell you that Lucky may, indeed, be the last of their kind since others of their species haven’t been seen in some time. You will acquire some of your first tools at this point, a journal for tracking everything, and a flute. Most mechanics in Paleo Pines have been seen in other games, like farming and gathering, etc., but the flute is a new and really interesting mechanic for me. As you try to befriend dinosaurs you meet, you will need to learn their friendship song. Each species has its own unique call. Musical notes are in four colours of red, blue, yellow, and purple, and each note can be held for up to three beats. Thank goodness you don’t have to be musically inclined for this minigame of sorts. The notes trail across your screen multiple times. If you have to hold the note for more than one beat, it’s represented with a ring around it. Some of these I found difficult, but I think I was just trying to go too quickly at times. If you slow down, it’s fairly easy. The player's notes are represented as bubbles, with longer-held notes creating larger bubbles. It’s quite a cute image in the game.

Once you correctly play the friendship call of a particular species it’s recorded for you in your journal. This way you can refer to it any time you come across another dinosaur of that species. After you’ve managed to get their attention with the friendship song, it’s time for another mini-game. This time you have a gauge in the corner showing the dinosaur's interest in you. Feeding snacks will increase their interest and excitement if they like the snack and soothing them will calm them down. It’s a bit finicky, mostly because it can sway wildly without warning. If the dinosaur gets bored, it will fall asleep and you will need to try again. While they are asleep you can walk up to them and learn some valuable information to help complete your journal though, so It’s not always bad. The dino can also get over-excited and run away.

Once you get the dino to trust you, they will follow you back to your ranch and you’ll set up a little home/pen for them. Each dino has its own requirements for happiness, like shelter and food type, or whether it likes company or being alone, etc. Once you get them settled and work on their happiness, they’ll eventually be willing to help you out. They can clear rocks, branches, boulders, and trees, and even plant and water your crops for you. My favourite were the small dinos who would plant crops for you as long as you left them a basket of seeds to help. Adorable.

The larger ones can be equipped with saddles to ride them as well. When you leave your ranch to explore or go into the towns, you can take a few dino partners with you. Using them, even if they are just following you, is how they level up and get larger stamina bars. You can normally ride one of the larger dinos and have two others follow you. Try to bring ones with different skills so you can just swap out as needed. It was pretty cute having a mini dino parade while exploring the world.

The people who live in Paleo Pines each have their own personalities and stories. They will give you quests from time to time, mostly involving locating items or delivering things for them. They will reward you with other useable items primarily but also shells (coins) at times. In the center of town sits a bulletin board. Here you can pick up quests as well. Don’t ignore this, as the payments are usually pretty good for a small amount of work. Eventually, these became quite repetitive as well though. Seriously though, how many people in this town are losing their hats?

Plenty of spaces to explore, a heartwarming story, and the ability to befriend a large selection of dinosaurs are just some of the highlights of the game. I was disappointed with the lack of fast travel between biomes. It would have been helpful as the game moved along, and the fact that there were a very small number of quest styles over the approximately 25 hours of gameplay. Paleo Pines is clearly designed as a cozy game, and it’s apparent from the first moment you enter the menu. The rounded and simple designs of the characters, the bright colours of the biomes and dinos, and the simplistic controls all create a perfect blend for a chill and cozy gaming experience. The soundtrack is equally lovely and balances out the cozy feeling well.

With no fail states or timers and a chill open-world design, players can choose to tackle Paleo Pines as they desire. Want to focus on farming? Want to discover, befriend, and train dinos? Want to explore the world and find out whether Lucky is the last of their kind? You can do any of these or all of these. Paleo Pines is easily one of the more approachable games I’ve played recently. Since there are no timers or fail states, anyone of any ability can take their time and not feel stressed or rushed while playing.

While approachability and accessibility are not the same, they often get mentioned in the same light and I’ll say that Paleo Pines does have some nice accessibility options including the option for larger text boxes and a ‘walking toggle’ so you don’t have to constantly hold a button or trigger to walk. One option that is missing, and a big miss in my opinion, is a colourblind option. The flute minigame mentioned earlier relies on colours, and this could present issues for players. That being said the notes are also represented with the applicable symbol also shown in the legend to press so that might assist. The bubbles when the player plays the notes do not have the symbol though, so if a mistake is made the player may not realize which note was the error.

Ultimately how you feel about the Paleo Pines comes from what you want to get from it. If you are expecting something like Jurassic Park, it’s not going to satisfy you. If you’re looking for an advanced story, it’s not here either. It’s a perfect game for those who want a cozy farming-style sim with cute dinosaurs. However, it’s more of a farming-sim lite than most farming sims I’ve played. Paleo Pines is more about exploration and collecting than farming. I think it has a broad range of appeal for a lot of gamers, and it gave me exactly what I wanted from it. While there wasn’t a lot of variety of missions and could become repetitive at times, it’s the perfect game to just pick up for an hour or two if you want to decompress. It’s also only under $30 USD so it won’t break the bank either.

**Paleo Pines was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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