I’m a sucker for an adventure that tries to be more lovely and peaceful than it does dangerous and exciting, so Carto appealed to me from the get-go with its charming world and map-making puzzling antics. It’s been on my radar for quite some time too, so I was happy to see that it had launched on PC and consoles.
After finally trying it on the Nintendo Switch, I’m happy to report that it was a blast to play and certainly lived up to my expectations. I mean, it hooked me in enough to complete it in its entirety in one thoroughly entertaining session, with those six hours spent with the game some of the most enjoyable I’ve had with a puzzler for some time.
Carto puts players in the role of a young girl who is, aptly, named Carto – it’s a play on cartographer, which ties in nicely to the puzzling map-constructing escapades she’ll get up to on her journey. Following a devastating storm, Carto finds herself separated from her grandmother and looking for her way back home. How does she do this? By using her special ability to piece together maps of the world, of course. As she explores each unique locale and reconstructs them for her own purposes, she’ll also get to meet and help a colourful cast of characters who’ll lead the way for Carto to finally make her way home to her grandmother.
The tale behind Carto’s puzzling is simple lovely. It’s the best way to describe it, with the peaceful tone of the adventure and the antics you get up to along the way always emanating a feel-good vibe that just makes the game all the more enjoyable to uncover. There’s some great writing on show throughout that makes all of the characters endearing to encounter, whilst it’s easy to root for Carto as she looks to make her way home. It shows there’s a whole lot more to this adventure than just puzzling…
Carto’s gameplay revolves around constructing your own maps in order to explore your surroundings, with new pieces continually unlocked that can be rotated and pieced together in order to form an ever-expanding island. Whilst it sounds easy on paper, Carto utilises puzzling mechanics where there are restrictions in place as to what parts of the map can be pieced together, though it’s simple enough that it never feels overwhelming – there’ll just be plenty of moments of deconstruction and restructuring as you work with what you’ve got.
Of course, whilst piecing together tiles to forge an explorable map is easy to begin with, plenty of new mechanics are introduced along the way to spice up the experience and add a puzzling twist to your progression. You’ll encounter NPCs when exploring for example that’ll often need to be led to certain points of the map… if they exist. See, it’s all well and good for someone to ask you to take them somewhere up north or down south, but if you haven’t placed the necessary tile in that point there will be nowhere for them to go. Again, all it takes is a bit of shuffling around with your tiles in order to progress, but it always feels clever in design and satisfying to actually do.
That isn’t even as clever as it gets, with plenty of tricky mechanics brought to the fray that’ll challenge the player to think outside of the box. I don’t want to detail them too much here since they really make up the meat of Carto’s experience, but there’ll definitely be times where you’ll really have to think carefully and place each map tile perfectly in order to navigate the many obstacles in your path. It may sound a little intimidating and sure, some puzzles could be perplexing, but it never stopped the game from being fun. In fact, it ensured that the challenge curve of Carto remained rewarding, with the ever-changing obstacles and ways to approach the gameplay meaning that nothing ever begins to feel too formulaic in design as. It’s good stuff.
It just makes for a lovely gameplay experience, which is complimented by a wonderful hand-drawn visual style. There’s something about the charming environments of the game and the quirky characters you meet that just felt so pleasant to engage with – it made me want to spend more and more time in Carto’s feel-good world, with every hour I spent playing the game seemingly flying by and keeping a big smile on my face. It’s also worth mentioning that the soundtrack is great and fits the vibe of the puzzling perfectly too, with the overall presentation of Carto remaining top-notch throughout.
If I had to pick out a flaw for Carto, it’d be that it could get a little easy once you worked out how each puzzle works. Whilst some puzzles did take a while to solve as you figure out the mechanic behind them, once you understand how they work they’ll rarely push your skills. It’s a minor complaint and certainly didn’t stop me appreciating the varied puzzle design, but it did mean that there was a lot less challenge when playing through a second time (which is something that could be tempting to some players given that the game should only take around six hours to beat).
Carto is a lovely puzzler that was an absolute joy to play, with its clever gameplay mechanics and endearing world making for one heck of an enjoyable experience. It has a good amount of variety offered in its puzzling to ensure you’re never doing the same thing for too long, whilst the charming visuals and the quirky cast of characters makes exploring the ever-expanding map feel all the more rewarding.
It just really makes for a feel-good experience overall, with everything about Carto’s world coming together nicely to put a big smile on player’s faces.
Developer: Sunhead Games
Publisher: Humble Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC