Carto is a fun little puzzle adventure game which serves as a great experience for younger gamers, not only because of its genuinely intuitive puzzle design, but also because of some of the heartfelt lessons contained in its narrative and quests. In Carto you play as a young girl with the power to literally change the landscape of islands using pieces of a map like it was some kind of jigsaw puzzle, and it’s all wrapped in an adventure with a meaningful coming of age message.
Anyone who has seen Moana by Disney and Pixar will appreciate the style and themes of Carto, with its charming insight into indigenous island life and their rituals. Much like the aforementioned animated hit, in Carto our young heroes must set sail and embark on their own destiny as part of a coming of age ceremony. In the world of Carto, children must leave their native island and embark on their own calling, finding their own island, never to return to their home ever again. This is a pretty tough lesson early on in the adventure, but these kids manage to forge a bond and make new friends along the way.
The core mechanic in Carto requires players to navigate the map menu for the most part; as players discover new pieces of the map they then need to go into the menu and piece things together in ways that can open up new areas on the island. It’s a bit like completing a simple jigsaw puzzle usually, but sometimes a piece needs to be placed in a certain spot or order to trigger events. The puzzle design is usually quite sound and hardly ever cryptic, and so it’s a fun, intuitive exercise for the most part.
Once the island has been set up a certain way, players are then free to explore on foot and see what they unravel. Usually it’s about finding more map pieces to further expand the island and advance the narrative, but it’s also about simply enjoying the discovery of new areas and meeting interesting island folk along the way. Chatting with these charming characters is always fun, and it usually involves helping them out with some sort of task, typically involving a fetch quest or finding some person/event of interest. As the story unfolds there is a stronger sense of adventure but things in Carto rarely ever get too exciting or taxing, instead opting for a calming island getaway pace.
The presentation is strong here, with adorable art brought to life using simple animations like you were on the page of a children’s picture book. The character designs are cute, and the colour and textures resemble colour pencils or crayons on a paper. The music is atmospheric and catchy, largely making use of indigenous island beats and simple instruments to create a calming mood. It’s all very welcoming and has a great ambience to invite younger gamers.
Even though the game world appears to be largely simplistic, there is some level of attention to detail in Carto, helping make these flat and otherwise basic environments still feel rather immersive, enough to make them worth exploring. There are certain items and objects to collect which add a little bit of purpose and gameplay variety, but overall Carto largely rests upon its core map building and assembly mechanic. This usually involves frequently jumping in and out of the map menu, which can get a bit cumbersome.
Carto on Xbox One is one for the younger gamer, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. It has the right vibe and presentation of a children’s book coming to life, and the whole setup of using puzzle pieces to bring a map together makes for an intuitive and engaging gameplay mechanic. While the game world and exploration within is a bit on the simplistic side, the puzzle design is still effective in what it achieves, both in the game design and in driving a meaningful narrative.