Paleo Pines is a dinosaur-themed farming simulator from UK-based studio Italic Pig where you find yourself on a cute island where there are townsfolk to meet, dinosaurs to befriend and secrets to discover.
The game starts with you creating your character, who has to be female (unless we missed something), and then, as most farming-based games tend to start, she is given a farm and is tasked with turning it from a derelict yard full of rubble into a thriving farm and a suitable location to keep dinosaurs in.
Early on you’ll meet NPCs in the nearby town centre who will, by way of tutorials and small quests, teach you the mechanics of the game. Activities such as buying and selling resources, planting seeds and caring for crops, fixing up the old ranch and decorating it and so on are all explained and before long you’ll be planting carrot seeds in the ground. Everyone is friendly enough and, to the game’s credit, they do have identifiable personalities despite their Mii-styled looks. Your main companion for this adventure is your starting dinosaur, Lucky, and if you treat them right they’ll act as both a steed for getting around the island quicker and they can also remove debris from your ranch. Everything is on a stamina cool down though from their actions to yours and that can be an inconvenience, especially as your farming expands and the daily chores start to mount up. Your character’s walking speed is pretty slow and so you’ll be tempted to run everywhere, but that soon becomes impossible once your stamina is spent and then the only option is to go to bed and start again the next day.
As useful as Lucky is, they can’t do everything and so you’ll be looking to recruit new helpers. Other species of dinosaurs have different abilities. Some can smash through large obstacles, opening up new areas for you to explore, while some can speed up the farming process by watering crops faster than you can as well as tilling the earth and harvesting crops. However, the process of getting these dinos to join the team is quite a fiddly one.
Firstly, you have to locate them in the wild and then earn their basic trust. You do this by approaching them, playing your flute to get their attention and then matching their calls with your flute again. At this point you need to either soothe them, but not so much that they get bored, or feed them (although this can also cause them to leave). You need to figure out what food they like, which is a whole thing too as that’s not explained. Once that’s done, you then need to give them a ‘Poppin’ (a sort of cake thing, that’s actually kind of expensive). If that all works, they’ll follow you and you can lead them back home.
However, that’s not the whole story. Once home they’ll need a pen to live in. These have to be built and then equipped with a trough, for feeding, and a ‘Dreamstone’ to allow them to sleep there. Dreamstones are surprisingly rare and early on most of them are in areas gated away from you. Finding them can be difficult as they don’t always stand out from the scenery and the game’s in-built map offers zero help in locating them.
But, assuming you’ve managed all that, they don’t just then start helping you with the farming. You have to get them from ‘Friend’ status to ‘Helper’ which involves some sort of mysterious combination of feeding them, petting them, playing more flute at them and taking them out for walks. That’ll increase their happiness meter and if you can max it out, they’ll start helping you. However, the exact requirements are never known and they only become a helper on a new day, so most of the time you’ll spend resources and time looking after them only to then wake up to find them in a mood because they’ve pooed in their pen and are unhappy with the room service.
While some of this is explained along the way, it’s not brilliantly explained. Nor is much of the key information available in the in-menu help section. We found ourselves Google-ing the answer to most of our queries and there seemed to be plenty of others asking the same questions. That puts the game at odds with its cutesy, kid-friendly presentation as the target audience will really struggle with some of the game’s fussier mechanics while adults may bemoan the lack of precision, information and freedom that you might see in other farming games.
Last year we reviewed Let’s Build a Zoo, a solid zoo-keeping indie game that had you managing all aspects of running a zoo from the animal husbandry and care to minutiae such as working out individual salaries and how much to charge for various snacks. It was ten times more complicated than this game but it gave you everything you needed to not only run the zoo but to really design things your way. It worked well whether or not you were totally laid back about it or if you had complete OCD. That sort of precision isn’t really as easy to pull off in this game because all the basic tasks in it are just a bit more of a hassle to pull off. And following quests is made much harder by the fact that the in-game map gives you the least amount of information possible.
And even when you do figure things out, that game loop of planting, watering, harvesting, feeding and selling when combined with the stamina limits just feels like busywork a lot of the time. Sure, most farming games do, that’s kind of the thing, but it didn’t take long for us to ask that most telling of questions which is ‘yeah, but am I actually having any fun’ and a lot of the time the answer wasn’t yes. That’s possibly down to the game’s glacial pacing. However, there’s more to the game than the daily grind and certainly its best aspects come from meeting and finding out more about the dinosaurs out there and, to a lesser degree, meeting and helping NPCs. Although, on the latter it was odd how often an NPC would need a hat delivered to another NPC and we did find ourselves annoyed when we went to a town festival and couldn’t really figure out what was going on. We earned seven or eight ‘festival tickets’ but there was nothing we could buy for that amount. And the stuff we couldn’t afford didn’t have any description that told you if it was worth saving up for or not.
However, if you like a cute and comfortable farming sim that goes at its own pace, then this might be your type of thing entirely. For us it didn’t really grab us like Let’s Build a Zoo and it certainly lacked the slickness of Disney Dreamlight Valley which did everything this game does but bigger and better (albeit with much more of a budget and price tag) and, as we said, it’s not a game that kids are going to be able to play easily (although they might enjoy watching their parents have a go at it).
+ Chilled gameplay
+ Cute presentation
- Draconian stamina mechanic
- Lacks precision
- Useless in-game map