A quirky puzzle game involving time travel and a rotating apartment block, LOVE – A Puzzle Box Filled with Stories has arrived on the Nintendo Switch. The Finger Guns Review.
Having grown up living on a council estate, I felt a familiar feeling while playing LOVE – A Puzzle Box Filled with Stories (which I’ll just call LOVE from here on out). This game’s central premise is built up around a series of characters and there interwoven lives. It felt uncannily like a big portion of my life. It’s not uncommon on an estate for everyone to know everyone else’s business. “Jill’s sister Tracey got off with Brian down the club last night” and so on and so forth. The whole dynamic of a street be altered over something as trivial as someone wanting to park their car someplace different. For better and for worse. What’s more, there are people who never move out of a council estate. They’re born there. Grow up there. Marry someone from there. Get old there. Die there. They can be microcosms of their own destiny, influenced by the people that live there. Maybe that’s similar in other parts of the world – I doubt any of the LOVE developers from Canadian studio Rocketship Park have spent time in a British council estate and I can only go on my own experiences – but it’s impressive that this game manages to conjure up familiarity that someone 3300 miles away can recognise.
LOVE is a puzzle game that centres around a single apartment building and its inhabitants. The aim of the game is to fill an album with photos of the people that live here. These photo’s come in matching pairs – one from the past and one from the present – and tell a story across a set of 8 photos. To get you started with each puzzle, you’re gifted a few photos to use as a starting point and it’s up the player to explore this apartment block, interact with it and influence the relationships of those that live there in order to capture the missing landmark moments of their lives.
“How do you take pictures of things that have happened in the past?”, I hear you ask. That’s where LOVE’s unique mechanics comes into play. This apartment block is split into two sections. The left side of the building is set in the past. Here everything is monochromatic with red accents. The right side of the block is set in the present and is presented in full colour. Here’s the incredibly smart aspect – each floor of the apartment block can be independently rotated. As you do so, the contents of the apartments that passing through the wibbly wobbly, timey wimey time divide will change before your eyes. Send an room into the past and the people inside will be young again. The apartment opposite will have been transported to the present, aging the room, its contents and its inhabitants. Boys become men. Couples separate. Children appear and disappear.
For the most part, the puzzles in LOVE are like a Where’s Wally character search combined with logic based environmental aspects. You’ll begin with a photo of a couple, person or thing and your first port of call is to find that in the building, whether that be in the past or present. You can click on small icons which lower the external walls so you can zoom in and have a nose around in the rooms themselves. Once you’re found the image in the photo, you’ve got to see how the picture relates to their environment and the other photo’s you’ve been given. By clicking on the characters, you can direct them to do things, should the world be set up to allow it.
This is where the environmental aspect of the LOVE comes in. The player can act like a force of nature (or a weird omnipotent god that’s only interested in the lives of these 20 or so characters) to alter the environment. In one story telling puzzle series, a man is cheating on his girlfriend and the aim is to make her aware of his unfaithfulness. Initially, the man and his new lover are hiding behind a fence. By using a key to turn on a power supply in the present, you can use a CCTV camera to view their location in the past. By taking control of the CCTV camera, you can make a dog bark which moves the cheating pair to a bench in plain view of the floor above. Once the correct apartment has been rotated into place, you can open the window which draws the soon-to-be-jilted lover to the window to catch her cheating boyfriend in the act. Bring the pair to the present and you can see how this past interaction influenced their relationship.
Of course, not all the stories told in LOVE are as downbeat as that. Some are of old friends reuniting over their love of music. Others are about lovers coming together to have a family of their own. Couples break up only to long for one another in the present. In one story, you’ll be sharing an old photo on this game’s version of Facebook by hacking into a computer. In another, you’ll be dropping an old photo from a window ledge in the past, blowing it over the time divide using a fan on the floor below in order for it to fall at the feet of a character in the present that needed reminding of a past romance.
As you complete puzzles, new rooms and characters are introduced where previously there were blank spaces. The stories overlap and cross over into one another as you continue to build on a lattice of puzzles. It all builds a warm and welcoming puzzle structure.
Not all of LOVE’s stories manage to be poignant though. That’s primarily because all of this is presented via the gestures of low poly models that barely have facial expressions and come without any accompanying text or dialogue. After snapping a photo of some landmark life moments, I was left confused about what had just happened. Without explicit explanations, some of the events just aren’t clear enough. This is especially true of the sections in the past. Most characters have a red accent to help the player identify them from one another – a red hat or a spikey Mohawk for example. Even with these features though, it can be hard to know which character is which when they’re predominantly black and white. All of these niggles are compounded when playing LOVE on the Switch in handheld mode. Everything looks so tiny, it can be difficult to read what is happening.
There are a handful of puzzle solutions that felt more frustrating than enjoyable too. I’ll be honest, I reached the conclusion of a hand full of the puzzles purely by coincidence rather than forethought. I rotated the building and a camera icon appeared which allowed me to progress a story I wasn’t even attempting to solve at that point. I also got stuck on one puzzle – I consider myself to be reasonably skilled at puzzle games – and had to resort to trial and error rather than traditional puzzle solving.
Despite these niggles, I leave my short time with ‘LOVE – A Puzzle Box Filled with Stories’ with positive feelings towards it. It’s an ambitious game that tries to do something unique, linking narratives in a novel, adventurous way. For every moment where it falters, where the game can’t make the most of its premise, there’s 5 sections when it delivers touching, warm tales via puzzle solutions that have thought provoking solutions.
LOVE is a charming game that ties a time bending puzzle box to a lattice of interwoven dioramas that await the player’s intervention. It’s like a Rubik’s cube but instead of coloured tiles, there’s bite sized narrative adventures to uncover. Not all of the stories are impactful because they’re told exclusively though character gesticulations rather than text or vocal performances but more than enough stick the landing to make this a satisfying experience.
LOVE – A Puzzle Box Filled with Stories is launching on Nintendo Switch (review platform) on May 28th, 2021. It’s available on PC via Steam now.
Developer: Rocketship Park
Publisher: Thalamus Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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