Where is my Heart? Review—Cuter Than Hello Kitty! And Much More Fun!
The world of gaming has seen some interesting fads over the last few years. Motion controls, 3D gaming, and “Indie” games, most notably. The last is perhaps the most confusing, because the games industry has always had small, independent developers—it’s just now a hip and trendy thing. It’s basically akin to how music works; some bands get a lot of hype and buzz, especially if they appear in a TV commercial, while others seemingly languish unknown and unappreciated.
Even though the vast majority of Minis have been made by Indie developers, the sort of buzz and hype shown towards those games on other platforms has mostly eluded them. Why is that? Maybe it’s a branding problem; maybe Sony should have called Minis “Indies” or “Indie Minis” or something like that. Maybe it’s the stigma of the PSP, which is unloved except in Japan, despite it being one of the greatest gaming devices ever. Or maybe it’s because most Minis have lacked the artistic intent or pretension (depending on your point of view) that most of the hyped Indie stuff has.
Where is my Heart? is one of those games that seemingly does have an artistic vision to it that would bring a lot of attention to the game, had it been on another platform. It’s a puzzle platformer where you alternate control of members of a family of three monsters, using their teamwork to finish a level. Somewhat in the vein of The Lost Vikings (or Minis’ own Revoltin’ Youth, which also deserves more attention), but with a very distinctive twist: the game’s field of play (usually just the screen) is broken up into a number of frames, like cartoon panels. Only it’s as if someone cut them all up and reformed the comic strip out of order.
That is, if you move your little guy out the right side of a frame, while he will appear in the left of another frame, that frame might not be next to the one he moved out of. But it might. That’s a big part of the game, figuring out where you go when you leave that frame. Sometimes the panels will duplicate others, so you see the monsters in more than one of them at a time.
The complications don’t end there, as each of the family of three can transform into a giant robot—well, a different type of monster, actually, with special abilities that are needed to solve the level. How this works is more than a little confusing. I was stumped on an earlier level for several days because I needed to do this and had no idea how it worked. But basically, there is a little outline on the screen, not unlike the chalk outline of a body at a crime scene on TV. You simply move the monster that fits the outline into the pattern, and it changes into its alter ego. One just double jumps, but another lets you rotate the panels of the level, and the last one turns into a bat that lets you see hidden platforms.
So the way to solve the level also needs to be puzzled out, and of course, on top of that, you need to actually perform the platforming elements—jumping correctly, that is. That aspect isn’t super difficult but can be a little tricky because the size of the frame can change from level to level, as well as the very small graphics sometimes used, and can be hard to gauge at first.
The artistic angle really comes in from the story and presentation of the game. It’s about a very cute family of monsters that gets lost in the woods and has to chase around a “Heart Tree” and meet a lot of strange beings. If you like European art house films, it will probably appeal to you. If not, well, at least it makes more sense than a Werner Herzog movie. And did I mention it’s cute? Hello Kitty has nothing on it. (There is a press kit on their website which contains a PDF that explains the story in detail, which certainly helped me make sense of it. Also explains how they want the name of the game capitalized, Where is my Heart?)
Neither gets in the way of enjoying the game, but what does is the lack of a tutorial or any in-depth explanation of how to play it. There is some help provided in a fairly clever manner, a little thought bubble with an icon over one of the monsters, telling you what to press. While this was nice, it would would have been more useful to have better in-game help or a software manual.
The art in Where is my Heart? is both simple (basically pixel art) yet minutely detailed. Pretty much every pixel of the PSP’s screen is used as part of the level’s design, so the details are lost unless you have very good eyesight or are playing it on a PS3 instead. Not owning a PS3, there were many moments when I wished there were an XL model PSP so I could have a bigger screen.
The sound effects are very minimalistic but nice, and the music is ambient, so at times you might not notice it. Well, most of the time you don’t notice it. If Brian Eno’s pioneering ambient album was called Music for Airports, this game’s soundtrack might well be called Music for Libraries.
While Where is my Heart? is drenched in art, ultimately it’s a game, and judged as one, it stacks up very well. It takes the enjoyable team-based platformer concept, adds a twist with the panel effect, and takes that twist to another level (sorry for the cliche) with rotating the panels. The level design is very cleverly done as well; you’ll often feel a light bulb going on over your head.
About the only drawback is, as mentioned, the lack of explanation of the basics of the gameplay. While I can understand wanting to let the player figure it out on his own, with the thought bubbles explaining the controls, I stumbled onto the transforming thing only by sheer accident. There’s also a lack of game-related frills like achievements and a high score table, which do add replay value to a game.
Where is my Heart? isn’t for everyone, and it is a little pricey compared to other Minis, but at the same time, it’s extremely well designed as a game and incredibly charming.