Carto is a game about cartography. Where other games place players into a giant space and hand them a map to navigate, Carto instead gives players a blank map and a handful of map pieces that they must stitch together to explore the space. It’s a really neat concept and this mechanic is pushed throughout Carto in a lot of interesting ways. This game is absolutely worth your time.
Developer: Sun Head Games
Publisher: Humble Bundle, X.D. Network Inc.
Release Date: Oct 27th 2020
Available on: Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Gamepass
First off, how exactly does making the map work? As previously stated you’ll have a handful of map pieces, henceforth referred to as tiles, that you can combine and reorient to create an explorable space. Each tile has a handful of contextual properties such as water, roads, or biomes that determine where it can be placed relative to other tiles. For example, if you wanted to combine an ocean tile and a land tile you’d need to place a coastline tile between them. This provides rules that govern what is possible while also adding a layer of complexity to placing tiles.
Thankfully, placing tiles is an action with no permanence, so players can continually alter the play area to fit their current needs. This lends itself to some clever, albeit simple, puzzles and also provides a way for efficient players to quickly bounce around the map. It’s almost as if you’re able to invent your own fast travel locations by moving the tile you’re current standing on to another part of the map.
A big part of the fun of Carto is discovering all of the different mechanics yourself, but I did want to give a few examples to illustrate why this mechanic is so interesting. One is more broad and doesn’t necessarily spoil a puzzle while the other will give you the solution to a puzzle, so be mindful of that while reading on.
One of my favourite ways that Carto utilizes tile placement comes from a puzzle where you must navigate a forest. Similar to the Lost Woods in Zelda, you enter a forest where a single wrong turn will send you back to the start of the forest and everything looks identical. However, in Carto the forest is just two tiles. As a result, you must identify a subtle clue from the tile you’re on and orient the other tile in such a way that you can continue to follow the path laid before you. It’s a really neat twist on a familiar idea.
Another stand-out puzzle involves opening a safe. You’ll eventually find the combination for said safe and must enter it by lifting the map tile and spinning it around accordingly. The solution is fairly obvious, but this puzzle stood out as unique thanks to its use of Carto’s central mechanic of lifting and moving tiles.
While I’m a more mechanically focused player, and I think that Carto’s main appeal lies in the novelty of its unique mechanic, it’d be disingenuous of me to say that I didn’t enjoy the heart-warming story. At the beginning of the game Carto is separated from her grandmother and she spends the majority of the game trying to find a way back home. Along the way you’ll meet a handful of different characters that you’ll assist who will in turn help you. There is a very strong theme of coming of age and repeated reinforcement that kindness is its own reward, which lends to a wholesome vibe throughout Carto.
If you’ve managed to get this far I hope I’ve convinced you to give Carto a shot. It is presently available on all the major platforms and is included in Gamepass. The central mechanic is neat and explored well enough to result in a satisfying experience. On top of that, there is a wholesome story awaiting those of you who give it a chance. Carto is absolutely a game you should play.