I thought Pine Hearts would be another heartwarming adventure, but it's actually one of the only games to reduce me to tears

 Tyke petting a dog outside of a gate with ranger Maddie in Pine Hearts.
Tyke petting a dog outside of a gate with ranger Maddie in Pine Hearts.

To me, Pine Hearts looked like yet another cutesy adventure game to pour a few hours into and leave with a warm fuzzy feeling in my chest. But the further I ventured into the sleepy scenery of the caravan park, the more heart-wrenching the story became rather than the heartwarming feeling I thought I was in for. The truth is, Pine Hearts at its core is a game focused around coming to terms with loss, no matter how many distractions you try and throw yourself at along the way.

When you start the game, your character—Tyke—has a single intention. You just want to climb the mountain and reach the summit. Unfortunately, you don't have the right gear to do so and the only way we can get ahold of it is to explore the park. This is done through meeting the charming characters littering the map and helping out across various puzzles and fetch quests, all featuring humorous dialogue and interactions. I felt like each character I helped out became my friend, which started to build a support network for Tyke and his adventure.

But the more time I spent with the game, the more I unraveled a thoughtful, more solemn story than I expected. There was still this feeling of childlike wonder that accompanied the exploration, though, which helped alleviate the heaviness of the game. As you complete quests for the park's visitors, you unlock memories that you play through as a younger Tyke, all of which take place in the park. To reinforce this sense of childlike curiosity and wonder, these memories are constructed of craft materials: dinosaurs and goblins built of cardboard and environments shoddily coloured with crayons. These sections of the game, although short, very quickly became my favourite parts.

They're integral in understanding the story since they're the only insight you get into Tyke's motivation to climb the mountain, as well as being your way of unlocking skills like climbing and lifting that help you travel further around the map. But the pacing of unlocking them is what stuck with me. At first, you unlock the more joyous memories fairly quickly. They feel abundant, and I felt like I was breezing through the game at an alarming rate. But once you exhaust the easy challenges to complete and have to work to unlock the next memory, they take a deeper turn. In a way, I saw this as Tyke having more time to reflect since he was rapidly running out of distractions, which is why these childlike memories become slightly darker in colour and lose their whimsy.

But even though making your way through these memories is quite emotional, especially compared to the start of the game where everything is fun and bright, it's all essential and unavoidable. Without reflecting on the hardships as well as the fun memories he held of the park, my grasp of why you need to push through to help him climb the mountain probably wouldn't have given me such a deep connection with the game.

Don't get me wrong, Pine Hearts would've still been a fun game had it not delved into such an emotional story. Above all else, it's still a sweet slice of narrative adventure, and fans of games like Lil Gator Game, A Short Hike, and Little Kitty Big City will find a lot to love about it. But the way Pine Hearts cracks the surface and presents something so gut-wrenching in a sweet and accessible way is what puts it slightly above other narrative adventure games I've put hours into. It's fun at first, but the story that you discover is what stays with you even once the credits have rolled, and that's what drives me to share it with others.

Pine Hearts ended up not being the adventure I was expecting, but that isn't a bad thing at all. It's an emotional journey that will make you laugh through its charming little character designs and humorous dialogue, but it'll also tug at your heartstrings the further you dive into Tyke's backstory and desperation to reach the summit. It presents grief and loss sweetly and sentimentally while still being fun. This is why I mark it as a game that anyone facing their own mountain ought to pick up when they can.