Time to take command of your little toy soldiers: PETER HOSKIN reviews Tin Hearts
Tin Hearts (Playstation, Xbox, Switch, PC, £24.99)
Puzzle games tend to be kind of abstract. They take an idea — blocks falling from the sky, colourful blobs in a row — and give it just enough shape to make it playable.
Not so Tin Hearts. It takes its idea and gives it flesh, shape, emotion and drama.
I’ve seldom wanted to live in the world of a puzzle game before — but I’d make an exception for this one.
The idea is a spin on the old PC gaming classic Lemmings. Here, instead of green-haired critters, it’s toy soldiers that you’re guiding from each level’s entrance to its exit. Can enough of them make the journey without falling prey to the landscape?
But it’s the landscape itself and everything that comes with it that makes Tin Hearts stand out. These toy soldiers are marching across the shelves, workbenches and contraptions of a master toymaker from, I’d guess, the 19th century. It’s all very Geppetto and Pinocchio. And it’s all utterly wondrous.
Puzzle games tend to be kind of abstract. They take an idea — blocks falling from the sky, colourful blobs in a row — and give it just enough shape to make it playable
I’ve seldom wanted to live in the world of a puzzle game before — but I’d make an exception for this one
And it’s not just the toy soldiers moving around these spaces — you are too, in 3D, as a literal ghost, manipulating objects to nudge the little marching column in the right direction. A block here, a cannon there, a drum angled just so. There are moments when, just like in a real workshop, you’re thinking: ‘Where did I leave that confounded wotsit, again?!’
It’s a joyous, lightly challenging experience — but also a poignant one. Along the way, there are flashes of memory, telling the story of the toymaker and his family.
The classical score, one of the best I’ve heard in a while, helps to make you care … and believe that toys are magical.
Forget the grand, fantastic vistas of open-world role-playing games; I want to spend more time here, in this puzzle world, among the gizmos and the gubbins.
After Us (PlayStation, Xbox, PC, £24.99)
Verdict: Single-use, disposable game
It’s hard to do anything new with the platforming game. After all, it’s been decades since Mario more or less invented the genre, and almost as long since Mario, again, took it — almost perfectly — from two dimensions to three. There have been thousands of iterations on the form in the years since.
In my earliest hours with After Us, I thought it might be doing something new — or at least something striking.
It has you, as a radiant environmental spirit, bouncing through dreamscapes of litter, pollution and devastation in search of the souls of lost animals.
The visuals are properly apocalyptic. The electronic soundtrack thrums and throbs. And the vertiginous jumpy-jumpy gameplay is plenty rewarding, particularly when you get to a soul in a particularly inaccessible corner of this beautifully awful — and awfully beautiful — world.
But then, the more I played After Us, the more its charms faded. The exquisite mood persists, but all that jumpy-jumpy starts to feel a little samey-samey — and rather too imprecise for the challenges the game throws in your way.
Worse, its makers chose to add in some pew-pew too, in the form of a combat system that’s not only clunky and unnecessary, but also at odds with the game’s (increasingly forced) message of peace, love and snuggly animals.
Sure, you save some rabbits, but you have to do some murder along the way.
Still, there is something in After Us, at least for a few hours. This may not be a new kind of platformer, but it is the first in which I’ve been pelted by wind-blown plastic bags on the way to communing with a spectral dog. Mario, for all his achievements, never managed that.
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