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A Little to the Left review – cozy puzzling hits the limits of its form

A messy pile of envelopes, letters and stamps

Slick puzzle design finds itself at odds with the creativity of organising that A Little to the Left wants to evoke.

The act of organising is a powerful one. It allows us to make sense of chaos, to put order to the objects around us and focus our mind. A Little to the Left, a puzzle game and first effort from Max Inferno, sets out to capture this, asking you to organise household items whilst dealing with the occasional disruption from a cat. The problem is, the fact A Little to the Left is a puzzle game is the thing thats holding it back.

Let me explain. Imagine theres a random set of books in front of us. You might choose to order them in alphabetical order by author. I could choose to order them by title instead. I could go for something less practical like the colour of the covers, which wouldnt be of much help if I needed to find a particular book, but itd be aesthetically pleasing. Part of the power of organising comes from creativity and control. There is no “correct” answer in tidying, but A Little to the Left asks you to find it.

At its worst, I felt like I was on the worlds most frustrating episode of Only Connect, without a Victoria Coren-Mitchell to debate my answers with. And this is where A Little To The Left struggles where others, such as Unpacking, succeed. I can choose how to categorise things, and someone else might see a different way to categorise them but theyd both be equally as valid. Theres creativity to tidying, but as soon as you frame it as a puzzle to be solved its no longer an exercise for your own mind. Some puzzles in A Little To The Left do have multiple solutions, but too often I found myself asking “how do you want me to arrange these items?” rather than “how do I want to arrange these items?”. Sometimes, I found myself so stumped on how to place everything, despite understanding the general pattern of what the game wanted me to do, that it all felt terribly annoying.

Watch on YouTube

Watch the launch trailer for A Little to the Left on Switch.

Some solutions arent all that intuitive, and I only managed to solve them thanks to trial and error. These puzzles are usually the ones which will “snap” an object into place if youve put it down correctly, but theres little satisfaction to be found by using brute force. In the ones which dont have this “snap”, you may have things placed correctly, but just slightly off from the position it needs to be in for the game to register it as solved.

Luckily, Max Inferno added a feature called “Let it be” based on feedback. It allows you to skip a puzzle and move on to the next, so you can continue progressing even if you do get stuck. Its a welcome addition for when a puzzle just isnt clicking with you. Theres also a hint system which consists of a hand-drawn sketch of the answer, leaving you to just arrange everything on the screen so it matches the sketch. I disliked this because a hint should never give away the answer immediately. In the end the hint almost serves the same purpose as the “Let it be” feature, allowing you to move on to the next puzzle whilst also removing the fun of figuring out the answer.

If this was purely a game about tidying things up, being given a blueprint to follow wouldnt be as disappointing. But it is, and its a shame that the subject A Little to the Left uses to present its puzzles is organising, because despite those few (slightly infuriating) frustrations I mentioned before, its actually a really good puzzler at its core. Most of them are well-designed and require a range of logic. Some of them rely on you recognising a pattern, or making sure youve been paying attention to the themes of previous solutions.

Just looking at this makes me want to reach into the screen and adjust those picture frames.

Theres also Max Infernos own unique takes on classic puzzles. One standout involves jigsaw pieces, but the aim isnt to fit them together to form a solid rectangular picture. Another puzzle is like a tangram, but with extra rules that help you to figure out where to place each shape. Theres even a couple of variations on Tower of Hanoi (or what I always remember as the pancake stacks in Professor Layton), in which you need to stack objects in size order. These puzzles, which are often the ones with only one solution, are the most satisfying because theres a common understanding theyre built on. I know what you want me to do when Im given jigsaw pieces. I dont know what you want me to do when Im given a bunch of different leaf shapes.

Some of the more abstract puzzles that I struggled with. Here I felt the game hadnt made it clear how the game wanted me to arrange these, nor how I could work it out based on the previous solutions.

When the game gives you puzzles which easily click or can be deduced with relative ease, its a delight to play. Youre learning more about the developers way of thinking than might be obvious at first glance. Its as if youre truly getting a look into how they would arrange their home. This is even emphasised by the games visuals and tone. Objects will rattle and shake as you interact with them, each with their own unique sound. The thump of a cardboard box, the crunch of a slice of toast, and the squeak of a cloth all exist to remind you of the games domestic setting. It was difficult for me to ever be truly annoyed at the game when the depiction of each object has been so carefully created. The game favours a cool-toned pastel palette which keeps it easy on the eye, and the soundtrack uses lighter instrumentation such as a xylophone and a range of string instruments to maintain a bright and breezy atmosphere throughout.

This was my favourite puzzle in the game. Although it looks tricky at first glance, all it requires is some logic and a bit of visualisation (two things I love).

Its a shame, then, that A Little to the Left is held back by its nature as a puzzle game. Despite its beautifully hand-drawn graphics and mostly well-thought-out puzzle design, it cant escape from the contradictions it introduces by giving hard solutions to the freeform creativity of tidying up.

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