Clever puzzles and a comforting vibe.
I often find myself thinking about how scary a place the world feels these days, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Whenever your mind wanders to this dark place, it always helps to distract yourself, and video games are an excellent form of escapism. In those moments where a distraction is warranted, a simple, relaxing game can be just what the doctor ordered. With this in mind, I was very excited to discover A Little to the Left, a heartwarmingly wholesome puzzle game and the first creation from developer Max Inferno.
A Little to the Left offers a series of nebulous puzzles for the player to solve. These puzzles are completely lacking in instruction of any kind. The player is presented with an assortment of household items, no additional context to guide them. Perhaps you’ll find yourself staring at a row of books on a shelf, or an assortment of batteries lying next to a tray, or some spoons of various sizes.
The task at hand is to analyze the objects in front of you and deduce what you are to do with them. Look for any patterns that might be out of order or differences you can correct. Try arranging those books from tallest to shortest. If that doesn’t work, perhaps there’s some kind of pattern on the spines by which you can arrange them. Should you be stacking those postcards on top of each other, or is there a bigger picture to be made by arranging them properly? Maybe those spoons need to be placed side-by-side, or maybe they need to be stacked on top of one another.
The sense of accomplishment that comes with solving these puzzles is incredible, because it doesn’t really feel like you’re solving a problem that someone else has laid out for you. There’s no prompt to follow, and no template laid out for you. There’s nothing but your own observation and whatever clever solution you can conjure up.
What’s especially charming is the fact that the objects at play are all items you would frequently come across in your day-to-day life at home. Calendars, cleaning products, mugs, picture frames; all of these and more make up the focus of your puzzle-solving journey. Having to analyze such mundane household items with a hyper-observant lens forces you to rethink the way you see them. Playing A Little to the Left caused me to stop and think about how there might be more to the routine aspects of my life than I previously thought. I’d never before considered the way bread tabs slot into each other so neatly, or the way cans look so much better stacked with others of the same color. Then I thought, if I’d never considered these little details before, what else could I be noticing if I just paid a little more attention? A Little to the Left made me genuinely rethink the way I go about my life, which is probably the highest praise I can imagine giving to a video game.
If the focus on household objects doesn’t give enough of a warm and cozy feeling, the presentation of the game will. Every level is full of the warmest music you can imagine, with soft, emotive piano and whimsical xylophone behind it. The score is so jovial and playful that you can’t help but think back to easy childhood days while listening to it. It’s the kind of music that makes you feel nostalgic, even though you’ve never heard the tune before. The art direction matches this happy tone perfectly; each of the items featured in the puzzles are illustrated with bright pastels and soft, crayon-like textures. What’s more, every so often a housecat will stop by and interfere with your puzzle solving by batting at your objects, which is maybe the most adorable thing I can imagine.
A Little to the Left seems designed to make players feel comfortable and relaxed, free to stretch out their brains at their leisure. This is further encouraged through two key gameplay features, the hint and the skip. If you find yourself struggling at any point during a level, you can access a hint via the pause menu. You will then have to pick up an eraser and remove a big block of scribbles, leaving behind a simple pencil sketch indicating the general end result you should be aiming for. Alternatively, if you’re just not having fun solving a particular puzzle, you can always choose to let it be and move on. There’s no penalty for doing this other than a blow to your completion percentage, so there’s no reason to sweat the small stuff. A grueling grind this game is not. Players are encouraged to take the puzzles on at their own pace, making them as difficult as they want, and swiftly moving past the ones they aren’t enjoying.
There are five chapters in A Little to the Left, with each chapter containing between thirteen and twenty puzzles. This gives you a high number of puzzles to work through. You have to at least attempt each level before moving onto the next one, but once you’ve accessed every level, you can skip around and complete them in any order you want. Adding onto the amount of content are the daily tidies; new puzzles provided to you daily. I’m a big fan of these, as more content is always a good thing, but in this case they also incentivize players to come back to the game and maybe retry old puzzles they’d given up on.
My only real issue here is the presence of a few control issues, which certainly feels like an odd complaint for a puzzle game. The control stick is quite difficult to use because of how sensitive it is. Slight adjustments are hard to make because even small movements move your cursor a lot, meaning that touch screen is the ideal way to play A Little to the Left. I don’t know how much of an issue this really is, as I have to imagine most people would prefer to play a puzzle game in handheld mode anyway, but it’s still worth noting.
The lack of tight control wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for my biggest issue with the game, which is the extreme precision required to clear some of the puzzles. While every puzzle has a very different solution, at their core each one is fundamentally solved by moving objects around into a specific layout. A level is cleared when each of your pieces have been placed in the correct location. The issue is that some of these placements are incredibly precise; if your items aren’t placed in the exact correct spot, the level won’t finish.
This issue becomes greater when you consider that by the very nature of the game, you are attempting to solve these puzzles without the use of prompts. A few times, I was positive I’d figured out the solution only for the level to not complete. Stumped, I would turn to the hint to figure out what I was actually supposed to do, only to find out that I’d come to the correct solution and just hadn’t aligned the items quite perfectly enough. I can imagine this really frustrating some players, which is not a good result when the atmosphere you’re going for is so jolly and calm. I really think the hit detection could stand to be made a bit more forgiving. I don’t think it’s necessary to require such precise spacing when your players go in not knowing what they’re meant to be doing.
That said, it’s hard to be too upset about anything when the game is so gorgeous, puzzles are incredibly clever, and you can just skip levels if they’re really giving you a hard time. I can’t imagine anyone not having a fun and relaxing few hours playing A Little to the Left. If you don’t want to take my word for it though, take the word of my parents. They are certainly not gamers, but they do like puzzles, so I decided that this game would be an excellent one to show them and get their thoughts on. They both found the precision required for puzzle completion to be a bit frustrating, but they were won over by the wholesome aesthetic and clever puzzle design. I can’t think of a more valuable stamp of approval than theirs, so if you don’t want to try A Little to the Left for me, give it a go for my mom and dad.
Brendan Trump is a features writer and game reviewer for GoNintendo. His opinions about everything are entirely correct.