Ever since I was small, I’ve had a thing about maps. I love a good map, me, and at school I was one of those freaky kids who actually liked studying geography. Not only do I love looking at maps and trying to memorise the locations of places I’ve never heard of, but I’m consistently fascinated by the way contour lines on ordnance survey maps can turn a flat image of the world around you into a three dimensional one. When I get to spend time poring over video game maps as well, it’s a little slice of heaven.
By this measure, I should absolutely adore indie puzzler Carto, which is all about rearranging squares on your map to forge new paths and discover lost lands so you can make your way back to your gran. It’s a lovely chill game that’s very relaxing and gentle to play, but I have big beef with it, too.
Firstly, I firmly believe that maps are sacred and they should not be cut up and stuck back together again in whatever order you fancy. That must be breaking some kind of cartographer’s code, surely. Secondly, I refuse to get on board with the idea that Carto has a great sense of direction (it’s literally all anyone says about her) when she is effectively reshaping the landscape as she sees fit in order to get where she wants. That is cheating, and I’d like to see her make her way home without her special world-bending powers and then see what everyone thinks about her “always knowing the right way”.
Perhaps I’m projecting too much onto poor little Carto. It’s probably because I’m still sore about Matthew never believing that I know where I’m going because I once forgot the location of a cinema on Charing Cross Road in London several years ago. One time! I have never led him wrong since, but he refuses to believe anything else. It is infuriating, and I kinda resent Carto’s ability to simply carve up her map book to take sneaky little shortcuts everywhere.
Still, I shouldn’t begrudge a small girl just doing her darnedest to try and make it back to her gran’s airship after accidentally being chucked out of it during a storm. That should be trauma enough. It is a charmingly put together puzzle game, too, and each of its themed biomes have some pretty nifty ideas in them. There’s a very clever Lost Woods vibe to both its desert and forest levels as they shift and morph and change appearance when you put down tiles in a particular order, and I like how the lower levels of its volcano area can’t be moved and rotated because they’re, unsurprisingly, encased in rock. Instead, you’ve got to rotate the upper, ground level squares to put them in the right order.
It sometimes has a bad habit of being a little too obtuse for its own good (some of the dialogue hints could be clearer, I think), and it could probably be a tad shorter in length, too. Overall, though, it’s a very soothing game to while away four to five hours with. It’s on Xbox Game Pass for PC if you fancy giving it a go, or you can get it (and its free demo) on Steam.