Paleo Pines offers a fresh spin on what is starting to feel like an oversaturated genre, yet still maintains the same satisfying day-to-day loop of traditional farming simulators. It’s a lot of fun for dinosaur fanatics, but there’s a lack of content to drive you to keep coming back once you’re set up.
Variety of dinos to add to your farm
Decent-sized map to explore
You can pet the dinosaurs
Day loop gets a little repetitive
Starting up feels slow
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Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One
Release date: 26th September 2023
Paleo Pines starts with the traditional formula of a farming simulator, immediately handing you some derelict land to call home and placing you amongst an entirely new town to explore, but introduces a new element as its unique selling point: dinosaurs. There’s going to be no collecting cows and chickens, or riding around the town on the back of a horse, here; you’re armed with a huge variety of Cretaceous and Jurassic helpers.
It’s certainly a quirk within the genre, and it's a great basis to set itself apart from what is starting to feel like an oversaturated market of games with the same mechanics and content. However, despite its obvious oddity, there’s something about developer Italic Pig’s Paleo Pines that still glistens with familiarity and raises the question of whether its inhabitants are enough to set it apart from the competition.
Rise and grind
You start your time with Paleo Pines by creating your character, immediately promoting a sense of ownership and personality, rather than just picking from a series of preset avatars like older Story of Seasons or Harvest Moon games would have you do.
Armed with your first dinosaur, a blue parasaurolophus called Lucky whom the central story revolves around, you’re soon introduced to some of Paleo Pines’ quite humorous inhabitants and their dino companions. They quickly share their surprise with Lucky, who is apparently an incredibly rare species since the other parasaurolophus’ has gone missing, and it becomes your main aim to uncover their whereabouts. However, before you set off on this adventure, you need to visit your new ranch.
Your land is entirely abandoned with a lot of debris to clean up from the get-go. If you’ve played any Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley, this won’t be breaking news. This process is the backbone of farming sims, but it’s still the best way to get you familiar with getting set up on your farm and getting familiar with the space. But although it is an essential step, it feels like there’s not much of an attempt to shake things up and make them more unique or exciting, so it ends up feeling pretty long-winded when you’re just desperate to jump in and start collecting dinosaurs.
Your stamina also depletes incredibly quickly, as does Lucky’s, so days will be pretty short if you’re spending more time on your farm than you are walking around and meeting the townsfolk. I always find the stamina to be one of the downfalls of farming sims since so much is expected of you each day, be it through crop cultivation, mining, or clearing up your land, and there aren't many obvious pointers within the game to help you know how to replenish this.
Eventually, you can somewhat automate your farm depending on which dinosaur species you keep around - incredibly useful if you don’t want to waste your own stamina cultivating crops. Each species comes with its own perks, such as the triceratops which helps till multiple squares at once, or the velociraptor which helps harvest crops once fully grown, however, you will find clearing your space and getting to grips with the taming process can become quite the timesink.
Same old same old
Even though you’ve got the excitement of dinosaurs to play with, the day-to-day routine is still pretty rigid. You wake up, water any crops you’ve got growing, and try to clear as much space as possible as you get started. Unfortunately, Paleo Pines doesn’t offer much to shake things up from this traditional routine as you get set up, but at least you’ve got a spare pair of talons to help out.
Lucky is your key to getting things cleared since their presence basically grants you a secondary stamina bar, but you’ll also need to rely on it as a mount if you prioritize getting places quickly. Taking the size of the map into account as well, you’ll probably want to consider this once you start straying from home territory.
However, you can’t rely exclusively on Lucky to help you around the farm. You’ll learn to rely on a variety of old tools pretty quickly, like a shovel and a hoe which will help you get the farming side of things set up. You’ll also get gifted a few packs of seeds so you can start to get some income, but this takes time to set up and feels like a drip feed if you stick to one crop type.
The journal does help keep things slightly more exciting though, and you’re able to take on quests for the townsfolk to keep your daily adventure more productive alongside following the main story. These tasks usually revolve around collecting certain foragable items or growing specific crops for a recipe. They’re fairly passive quests, and the freedom to do what you want makes the experience feel a lot more relaxing, but it’s nice to have the option to follow a little more structure.
Dinos for days
Where the game does shine is through it’s dinosaur interaction sections where you can really get to grips with the critters that sold you the game in the first place. However, it’s not as easy as walking into a store and purchasing new dinosaurs to add to your journal and ranch. Instead, a creature-collecting element is introduced, and with nothing but a flute to attract their attention you’re tasked with befriending and logging your experience with said creatures in a Pokemon-esque fashion.
Across the large map, you’ll come across what feels like hundreds of species of dinosaurs that spawn in the overworld, and once you’ve got settled into the town you’ll be free to go and wrangle as many as you can home on your ranch. These species will spawn in the same place each day, so if there’s a certain dinosaur you want to collect then you’ll know where to head without being sent on a wild goose chase. But while this sounds pretty mundane and repetitive, there’s still an exciting addition to the collection element.
Rather than offering the same dinosaurs with the same patterns and colors each day, there’s a chance you’ll encounter new variations, some boasting a different ‘rarity’ to more common designs, almost like the Paleo Pines equivalent to shiny Pokemon. They don’t boast any sort of skill or stat boosts, but they are neat to look at. Your journal is the key to logging each color pattern and nature, which is why it’s essential to keep exploring even when you feel satisfied with your collection.
Walking into the open plains for the first time and seeing dinosaurs in their natural habitat and feeling as if I’d just entered Jurassic Park - except I didn’t have to fear for my life if one started to show an interest in me.
But, as easy as it is to befriend these beasties, it’s much more challenging to care for them. Rather than a traditional farming simulator that will have you throwing wheat and seeds at your animals and calling it a day, each species of dinosaur you house on your ranch has specific requirements for pen space, diet, and living preferences which you need to keep in mind if you don’t want them to get upset because they will leave your ranch.
If you’re a superfan of dinosaurs and farming simulators, Paleo Pines is a dream come true. It’s relaxing and brimming with cute critters, yet still offers structure when you need a little more story to follow during your day-to-day, but it’s hard to shake the close comparison to other farming simulators despite these differences.
Accessibility settings within Paleo Pines include features such as turning off the general blur, and the ability to increase text size for dialogue boxes, but this is done through a simple yes/no option rather than a slider to completely personalize it to your preference. Character speed can also be slowed down through this menu, alongside high contrast mode.
Although accessibility settings already offer numerous features to toggle, a number of in-game elements have been curated with accessibility in mind without the need for an additional menu.
For example, visual cues have been implemented within the game by default for sections such as analyzing dinosaur friend calls rather than just relying on the audio, and the colors used as these bubbles have been selected to take into account color blindness, as shared to Twitter and Steam by Italic Pig.
How we reviewed Paleo Pines
I’m not a stranger when it comes to farming simulators. I’ve spent what I can only assume are thousands of hours watering crops, tilling soil, and fawning over chubby-looking animal sprites in the hopes that I can make enough money for another bag of seeds. So, I’m confident in calling myself a farming simulator aficionado and knowing what makes such a game worth checking out.
I played Paleo Pines for around 25 hours on PC with a mix of mouse and keyboard and controller, completing pages of quests and collecting numerous dinosaurs to add to my ranch. I’ve explored the map, met its cast of characters, and befriended a huge array of dinosaurs across each season and period in the game. After completing almost a year of in-game time, I got incredibly familiar with its routine and learned how to optimize my farm to make each day as productive as possible.
For more adventures like Paleo Pines, you might want to turn your attention toward the best indie games. However, we've also got a list of the best story games if you want something slightly more narrative-driven.
Kara is an Evergreen writer at TechRadar Gaming. With a degree in Journalism and a passion for the weird and wonderful, she's spent the last few years as a freelance video game journalist, with bylines at NintendoLife, Attack of the Fanboy, Prima Games, and sister publication, GamesRadar+. Outside of gaming, you'll find her re-watching Gilmore Girls or trying to cram yet another collectible onto a shelf that desperately needs some organizing.