You’d think after reviewing games for several years that the process would come a little easier, but with A Little to the Left, the self-proclaimed “cosy” puzzler from the folks at Max Inferno, I find myself a bit in the wind. In many ways, this is a game that more than lives up to its premise and promise – you are tasked with solving just over seventy puzzles themed around the simple but satisfying act of tidying up your living space. Think stacking papers in an aesthetically pleasing pile, peeling stickers off fruit and packing away the cat’s toys. These short but sweet instances are approachable, pleasing to look at thanks to the game’s softcore art direction and could easily be considered lovely. Problem was I just never wanted to actually play the game and I’m still unpacking why.
A Little to the Left comes to us by way of Max Inferno, a two-person team out of Nova Scotia whose goal with the game was to turn the mundane into the sublime. What began as a small Itch.io project was retooled into a retail game and shown off during E3’s somewhat cloying ‘Wholesome Direct,’ a showcase of ostensibly cosy and/or quirky experiences. The game’s tone and intent speak directly to me on a fundamental level, essentially gamifying the small moment-to-moment tasks of house care but removing the friction. A Little to the Left feels almost perfectly attuned for this moment in time as with caution and reluctance we re-enter a ‘post-covid’ world and find ourselves in desperate need of a brief, warm moment of respite.
Simple puzzles, like aligning imagery, can be immensely satisfying
The game opens with a puzzle so simple I got stuck on it, straining my brain to see a solution that I most definitely noticed immediately. A painting is askew on the wall, the cat in the feline portrait almost smugly daring me to miss the point, and it simply needs to be nudged a little to the left. Straightened, the melodic and soft success tune plays and I’m whisked away to the next of dozens of harmless small problems to solve. You can engage with these puzzles with either a mouse or using a controller, either one requiring little more than basic grab, hold and move mechanics. I played around with both input methods and found both equally serviceable and mildly unsatisfying, as the controller felt too slow while the mouse made the experience feel too clinical. These are incredibly subjective issues I know but when the core interaction breaks bad, it’s hard to not think about it.
Fortunately, there is a planned mobile port of the game and I’m genuinely keen to nab that thing and get to fully unwind with A Little to the Left because the game is quite fun. There is a decent variety of puzzles to be found in the game, with occasional chapter breaks to indicate growing complexity and progression. Though again, this isn’t an experience best measured by traditional means, it’s designed to be picked up, poked at and put down again. Another reason playing it on anything other than mobile feels like a waste – nothing says unwind like sitting down at your desktop PC and awkwardly poking at puzzles meant to relax you for five minutes at a time.
A Little to the Left RE4 DLC Pack when?
A Little to the Left also boasts some great approachability options to ensure an optimal chilled state while playing. Its puzzles aren’t usually all that complex (arrange a pattern or size flow, align like items and so on) but the game seems to understand that the last thing a player needs while trying to sink into the experience is a hard stop. By pausing the game you can either decide to pass on the puzzle entirely and simply progress to the next one, or access the game’s charming hint system. The solution to the puzzle, complete with a sketch of the final outcome and needed movements to get there, is available to you on a blackboard that’s obfuscated by a layer of chalky residue. Picking up the erasure and wiping it down reveals portions to you at a time if you don’t want the whole solution right away. It’s endearing and genius game design.
The game also just looks a treat, with a soft and welcoming colour palette and the video game soundtrack equivalent of an ‘X tunes to study to’ YouTube playlist. That is unequivocally a compliment, mind you. Its rounded edges and pastel interpretations of real world objects is lovely and does fully realise the idea of turning these mundane objects into something far greater. While some of the puzzles can feel a little too abstract, made worse by the art direction’s aversion to detail, the game doesn’t outstay its welcome at a crisp three to four hours depending on skill. Essentially, A Little to the Left is a sweet little puzzler that I still struggled to complete.
My primary gripe was with the method of delivery, but I think the beauty, and in this case frustration, of a game like this is the space is allows for your mind to settle. While arranging a stack of books or organising calendar stickers, you’re largely left with your own white noise and if the activity in front of you isn’t ready to catch the slack, the relaxing to tedium scale begins to tilt. A Little to the Left looks beautiful, sounds great and is generally a good time that could be great on the right hardware, but I’m still unsure if its inability to grab me was my own white noise being too loud, or something more fundamental about the game itself. The answer will more than likely depend on the person tilting those little digital items to the left in the first place.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Max Inferno
- Secret Mode, Max Inferno
- Switch / PC / Mac
- November 8, 2022