Underneath its cute façade lies a very tough puzzle game. Frustrating in places due to its ambiguous instructions it wins you over with its cute characters and humorous situations.
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure,
Developer: Sunhead Games
Publisher: Humble Games,
X.D. Network Inc.
Release date: 27 Oct, 2020
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps and therefore the clue is in the title as this game basically revolves around moving map pieces on a grid, turning and manipulating them to find your way.
Carto is quite difficult and when it is playing fair it is a challenging puzzle game that will appeal to puzzle lovers. The problem I had with Carto was occasionally I wasn’t sure what the rules of the puzzles were. Sometimes told in riddles or shrouded in mystery, part of the puzzle is working out what the puzzle is!
Carto and her grandmother are inseparable and live aboard an airship in the sky. One day a freak storm hits the airship and sends Carto hurtling out of the ship. Carto must find her way back to her grandmother. Along the way she will meet numerous characters who will aid her in her quest. The story develops as you meet more characters and you hear their stories and aid them in their predicaments. It’s the usual story. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Writing that actually made my back itch! Once you complete their task they’ll throw you a tasty bone or whatever it is you need to continue your quest.
Carto interacts with characters to begin brief dialogue exchanges asking her to perform certain tasks. You normally have a bit of a chat with them first and get to know them a little.
She has the ability to manipulate map pieces by moving them and rotating them. There are certain rules when moving and turning them. They must match up with like sided pieces. For example, forest areas must touch other forest areas and water must touch water etc.
As you progress in the chapter, new pieces of the map are found and you will discover new characters to talk to. The map pieces come in all different shapes and sizes. The more pieces, the more complicated things usually become.
A typical quest is to go find and talk to a character. The tricky part is trying to rearrange the pieces so they don’t clash and your passage is not blocked by obstacles like mountains or rivers. The way the maps are designed is extremely clever sometimes.
You can enter some buildings you find and occasionally go underground. There is a nice variety of locations to keep your interest.
Carto can occasionally pick-up other items along the way. These rarely have any bearing on puzzles however. Usually, these items relate to the story line. Her grandmother often sends paper airplanes with accounts of how much she is trying to find Carto. These objects all enhance the storyline and the charm of the game.
Between levels you will often visit the story chalet which hosts a library of books, overseen and catalogued by a story tender. All your adventures and interesting facts you have learnt on your travels will be documented here which you can read. There are a few puzzles to be completed here where you have to move the rooms around to reveal new rooms.
At the end of each chapter there are some beautiful hand drawn scenes showing events happening now and between the next chapter. There are a few different ways the story is progressed which keeps it fresh and exciting.
There are about six random achievements to collect which will give you a puzzle piece; Collect all six and you’ll be able to enter the airship at the end of the game where you can interact with Granny and see some art work and play tunes from the game.
Carto is very charming to look at even though the graphics are reasonably basic. The characters still manage to portray a certain amount of emotion through their actions and environments are varied and interesting. I certainly enjoyed all the locations I visited and the characters I interacted with.
There are a variety of tunes playing throughout the game. Usually, one tune is associated with a certain level. They all sound very pleasant and are hardly noticeable in the background but add a nice feel to the game.
Carto is tough in places. I challenge anyone to complete this game without looking at a walkthrough.
My main issue with the game is that I felt it was unfair occasionally.
Carto is not a traditional puzzle game where you know exactly what you need to do and the challenge is completing that goal. The game is often deliberately vague with your instructions and sometimes you are wondering what happens next. Once you know the solution it sort of makes sense but sporadically it makes no sense at all.
An example, is that I was told to go visit the loch which is shaped like a fish. The puzzle here is to rearrange the pieces of the map to look like a fish and then go there. This is the solution.
Now, I am no marine biologist but that is the weirdest fish I have ever seen.
Other puzzles are told in riddles so you need to work out the riddle before you can rearrange the map to solve it. I got stuck on some puzzles because a new puzzle element was introduced without any tutorial. One puzzle solution didn’t even work for me until I started the level again then it miraculously worked.
I don’t mind shaking up the puzzle genre. I’m all for originality, but I do get incredibly frustrated when the solution seems unfair or the question is vague.
Apart from this one big issue, Carto is an original, endearing and charming puzzle game with memorable characters and humorous situations. It plays out like an adventure game with lots of character interactions and story-lines. There are ten different chapters and about six or seven distinct biomes to explore. It took me around fifteen hours to complete to one hundred percent.
The story and the characters were the main attraction for me. They were all extremely charismatic and you felt empathy for their predicaments. The visual style of the game is also very endearing and the whole game felt whimsical and charming. There are some nice tunes playing constantly in the background and the whole game has a very pleasant feel.
Carto is incredibly endearing and charming experience. The characters are memorable and the locations are interesting. You will definitely be impressed by the story telling and the world that is created.
As a puzzle game it was a bit hit and miss, I thought. I did get frustrated over some of the puzzle solutions. Occasionally, they seemed too vague or unfair. It certainly not as easy as some have suggested.
The puzzles do get harder as you progress, but give the demo a try for an idea of gameplay.