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CONSOLE: PSP / PlayStation 3 DEVELOPER: Die Gute Fabrik PUBLISHER: Copenhagen Game Collective
RELEASE DATE (NA): November 8, 2011 GENRE: Platformer/Puzzle
// review by SoyBomb

I left my heart in San Francisco. Please mail it back.

Indie games... they're slowly taking over the world. Large budgets and vast cinematics are being pushed aside more frequently in favour of smaller operations and more simplistic graphics. (Unfortunately, they also are a part of the inevitable Kickstarter vacuum.) But with these more minute studios comes fresh ideas. They are willing to step outside of the tried-and-true formulas that big box companies continue to endorse. For every Bioshock, there is now a Super Meat Boy. For every Assassin's Creed, there is now a Minecraft. For every New Super Mario Bros. Extreme Funky Edition Wii U Plus Minus, there is now Awesomenauts. Sometimes these indie games are called indie because of their small-scale production values. Other times, they are indie because they are a bit too quirky for the hardcorerest gamers out there. The latter is true of Where Is My Heart?.

Where Is My Heart? was developed by Die Gute Fabrik ("The Good Factory", if you're speaking Danish — or at least eating one). You follow the adventurous exploits of three little monsters who become lost while returning home in the forest. Their house flies off for reasons yet to be explained, and they have to therefore go hunting for it, all the while collecting floating hearts and... jumping into trees with faces... that act as portals... so... yeah. This game is a delicate combination of absolute inspiration and terrible game design, wrapped in a delicious pastry. Kinda like a danish.

The game itself is a basic platformer. Your goal in each of the 26 chapters is to get from Point A (where you're spit out by a grumpy-looking face) to Point B, the exit (also a face). It sounds simple, but it really isn't. Normally with a game like this, I'd say, "Oh, but there's a catch..." But there are so many catches here, it's like a game of baseball. Get it? Get—

The main problem lies in what you see. It would've been gracious of those chin-tufted developers to simply show us our surroundings and allow our thumbing skills to lead us to glory. But no, they weren't satisfied with that, they said as they stroked their chin-tufts in a muse-like fashion. Someone with a Danish accent stood up and affirmed, "I think we should take the scenery and cut it up into rectangular chunks. Then, we should shuffle around those squares on the screen so that it becomes extremely difficult to see what is to the left or right of where you're standing. But when they walk left or right, they'll see their character pop up in a different frame. They'll have to piece together the nature of their surroundings through experimentation and repeated deaths into unseen chasms, sharp spikes, or poisonous water pools! The kids'll go nuts for this stuff!" And the programmers still awake at the end of that speech applauded and celebrated this meritorious idea. With danishes, no less.

So they divided each level into a bunch of panels, adding a mixture of longevity and frustration to the game. You really have to wrap your brain around moving left and appearing in a small square at the top of the screen. It blows your mind sometimes. Your mind will be calmly laying upon your cerebral cortex when suddenly, your monster appears in a completely unexpected frame, and your mind just flies out the window into the path of a renegade Ikea truck.

Wh... where do I go next? I... I don't know! ...Up?

Taking a page from the Book of Lost Vikings, you get to play as all three monsters. One is brown, one is black, and one is orange. Individually, they are equal. They are supposed to play off of the concept of being like a family, but it's not exactly illustrated that way. But I like the little square-headed fellows. I like to leave them just standing around. After a little while, they'll show off their cute little mannerisms. The orange one cries. The brown one shouts, "Hey!", and I love his powerful voice, like that of a restless elderly gentleman ready for a day on the town. And what does the black one do? He just stands there... waiting... to kill and suck blood, probably, being a bat and all.

There are certain blocks upon which you can stack the three monsters. By doing so in a certain order, the top character will earn a temporary special ability or transformation. These are very important to your success. The brown monster turns white and becomes the Antler Ancestor, capable of performing a double-jump. The orange one changes into the Rainbow Spirit, a white winged disembodied smiley head that can not only make the panels move around but can also hop between them if she jumps in the right place. The black monster whips out his Virtual Boy (not really) and is able to see and access hidden routes and platforms not visible to the naked eye. With the abilities in place, you must achieve greatness or succumb to an early forest demise and decay in the ground like a fermenting danish.

Sometimes the biggest issue is block outlines, similar to those from Super Mario World. Remember when you had to visit Switch Palaces and jump on a special switch to make outlined coloured blocks become solid? ...No? Well, that's what you had to do. And that's what you need to do in Where Is My Heart? to fill in some empty block spaces to help you get to safety. And then there are just other hearts hovering in midair, awaiting you to rescue them from eternal tropospheric flotation. To get a perfect score, you have to collect every single one of them from every chapter. That's not an easy feat, especially since, due to a developer oversight, one heart is unobtainable. That's right: you can't get a perfect score. So don't bother. It won't win you friends or free danishes anyhow. You lose a heart (and a point) every time you die, and caring about high scores will bring more frustration than you deserve.

So... will you live? Or will you die? Have no fear: it's not really that scary. Do you think you could be frightened by a game that looks like it was made in MS Paint? I think not. And don't expect any bloodcurdling music either: there is practically no music to speak of at all. The background is filled mostly with nature sounds that add to the ambiance but remain as impressive as a donkey with a little hat: mildly, but not very.

I'm not even sure if I like this game or hate it. It brought me sporadic bursts of enjoyment coupled with frustrations and physical headaches, the likes of which have only come about from excessively sleeping on my own face at two in the afternoon. And sometimes, the game seems arbitrarily full of itself. In between chapters, a picture of a monster character appears alongside a pretentious quote about itself that makes little sense. I guess this is what they mean when they say video games are an art form: it's about as intelligible as a cubist illustration of a johnnycake.

Where Is My Heart?: It's for people whose hobbies include rearranging squares into different sequences and finding meaning in art forms whether or not it is actually there.

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