(PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox) There’s a thin line between cozy, fun puzzle games and cozy, frustrating puzzle games. Some video games look cute, swear that they’re a breezy affair, but then a few hours in you’re searching for walkthroughs and then shouting out to no one: “How the hell was I supposed to know to do that?!”
CARTO is from Taiwan developers Sunhead Games, and the central conceit is basically: “What if we had a Zelda game with no combat, and you could move and rotate the tiles that make up world maps?”
It’s a fantastic idea that they endless exploit, and it has more than a few other facets going for it: the art design is cartoonishly spectacular; it has a great score that I have accidentally fallen asleep to more than once; and the writing is an appropriate amount of whimsy and melancholy for all ages.
You play as Carto, a young girl who gets lost during a storm and is thrust onto islands where, when someone comes of age, they are forced to leave their family behind. Carto helps heal a lot of these people as she pushes forward to be reunited with her grandmother.
Like I said: whimsical, but also melancholy.
However, some of the puzzle design felt lacking to me. I rarely try to lean on walkthroughs and while I love logic and lateral thinking puzzles, I found some of the puzzles simply maddening and, when I found out the solution, I knew I would have never have solved them on my own.
(It doesn’t help that every fucking site that features walkthroughs now is just an endless array of modals, pop-ups, auto-refreshing and ads.)
That said, I do not regret my time with it, or my cheating. If you use walkthroughs when you realize you need them, it’s a very cozy and very cute experience. At first blush, you might think that it’s an adorable mobile game ported to consoles, but no — it’s far more substantive than that.