As much as big, cinematic games tend to steal the show around this time of year, perhaps the most interesting game I played at Summer Game Fest this year was A Little to the Left. It’s a quaint, tactile puzzle game about arranging and straightening everyday household objects. The title is a passion project for Max Inferno, a two-person studio that has been developing the game for a little over a year now.
It’s the kind of game that, at first glance, looks simple. And to an extent, it is – really, all you’re doing is rearranging and adjusting items in various ways using a pointer. But it’s the variety of the types of challenges on offer here, combined with the quick speed in which they are doled out, that’s likely to surprise even seasoned puzzle-solvers from time-to-time.
“The levels, they seem really straightforward, but every level offers a different kind of logic to solve it. So, it kind of keeps you on your toes,” developer Anne Macmillan said.
For example, sometimes, the puzzles you’ll be solving simply involve sorting objects by size or by color. But going from something like that to something slightly more complicated – say, a puzzle asking you to shuffle around jars filled with sand based on the ways their curves align with each other – threw me for a loop. It wasn’t because the puzzle itself was really challenging, I would say, but simply because each puzzle I played felt different than the one immediately prior.
Some of the puzzles have multiple solutions, which is fitting for this type of experience.
“There’s more than one way to organize things,” Macmillan said. “And so, we’re really interested in how what people see as like the primary solution, what people see as a more hidden solution.”
Funnily enough, there was one point during my demo when I was presented with a bunch of keys of various shapes and sizes, and my instinct – which was to align the key holes together as if the keys were about to be attached to a key ring – wasn’t registered in the game as a solution. With one of the developers sitting right next to me, I had run into a situation that Macmillan said they hadn’t anticipated. I suppose that could be viewed as a limitation of this type of genre – the more freeform the puzzles are, the greater the likelihood that people who think differently than the game designers might get stuck on a puzzle, simply because of the different ways people’s brains works. But it was more funny than frustrating, and most of the other puzzles were instantly intuitive.
The aspect that I enjoyed the most about A Little to the Left was just how tactile everything felt when shifting and adjusting the household object – a huge accomplishment for these relatively simple 2D in-game items. It reminded me of the similarly excellent sound design in Unpacking to an extent.
“We’re really interested in using audio design,” Macmillan said. “Every object has unique sounds and… it just I think feels tactile to pick up stuff. You get a sense of how it feels based on how it sounds.”
With such a strong overall presentation, I have little doubt that I’ll have a great time working my way through all the puzzles on offer. But what happens when you complete all the puzzles in the base game? Fortunately, it sounds like there will be plenty to do for quite some time, as a new feature announced during Summer Game Fest was something called the Daily Tidy Delivery, which promises to deliver a new puzzle to players every day.
“It’s taking some of our favorite puzzles form the core game and sort of re-jumbling them up,” Macmillan said. “So, that could be like the colors, or the amounts, or the design that will change every day. And you earn badges for playing them for a year.”
I loved how some of the older Picross and Professor Layton games would dole out extra bonus puzzles over time, and this very much seems like the kind of game that would be fun for those casual pick-up-and-play puzzle sessions that have been getting rarer and rarer for me. It helps that this particular puzzle game is homing in so deeply on that specific part of my brain that wants everything put in its proper place.
A Little to the Left is scheduled to come to Switch later this year. You can check out a video version of our talk with Macmillan below.