Carto desert nomads

Genre: adventure, puzzle, crayon cuteness

Release Date: 2020 

Developer: Sunhead Games

Publisher: Humble Games

Carto is a game for map lovers, from keen exploring toddlers to jaded old video gamers. Adorable and cute are generally not associated with Geographic Information Systems, but Carto will not bore you with coordinates and projections (we’re talking about the game, not the GIS software). You do get to play with map tiles and topography, but you have the power to rearrange the world and shift mountains, glaciers and deserts as you see fit.

Story:

Carto and Granny are on an exploration trip aboard their homely dirigible. One fateful stormy night, as the skies are torn asunder, little Carto falls off the airship to awaken the next day on an unknown mysterious island. A resourceful toddler, Carto happily strolls into new adventures to get home safely.

Playability: Move landscapes with controller

Carto plays very well with keyboard or controller. The gameplay is disarmingly simple. Simpler than Tetris. You start with a small map, and as you progress through the story, you get more pieces of the map. To expand a map, you can only join map tiles of similar topography or geographical features: lake with lake, forest with forest, grassland with grassland and so forth. Carto frolicks around the map, meeting new friendly faces, strange cultures, solving riddles, carrying out quests, getting closer to home in the process.

Annoyance: Maps all over the place

Carto can be a little hard sometimes, especially later in the game as the map expands dramatically. Only a little though, as the friendly people and animals you meet all have very helpful tips and hints. A streamlined inventory of map pieces would make things easier. Puzzles and quests are story driven, providing a gentle incentive to roam a little further. Often times, I found myself quite happy to cavort about, playing with birds and bees without a care in the world.

Beauty: Crayon Cuteness and soothing sounds

Carto gets full grade on Crayola cuteness, bordering on Kawai but with more subdued tones and colouring. With smooth animation and topographical pieces that magically fit, you’ll soon view yourself as a highly regarded map artist. Soothing nature sounds and cheerful music provide good vibes throughout.

The Old Video Gamer’s Prattle: Cute Carto puzzles through life 9/10

I’m not big on puzzle games. I don’t have the patience and it’s hard for me not to look up solutions online. I really like Carto though. It’s neatly drawn and cleverly put together. Carto is full of tenderness, discoveries and unflinching optimism. The background story can be at times on the melancholy side of life and if you let your younger kids play the game, you’ll need to set time aside to tackle a likely barrage of questions about local cultures. Carto’s maps are full of wondrous stories that only require chill out cheerful exploration and a capacity to be awed.

If you’re into soothing one-of-a kind games, try Spiritfarer, where you’ll trade cute map puzzles for a cute meditative experience.