Telling a story about toys that come to life is always going to be a prizewinner; be it Toy Story or the fable of Pinocchio the puppet who wanted to be a real boy. But what happens when the toy maker becomes obsessed with his creations? How does that obsession affect his family life?
Tin Hearts examines some of these themes even though, at heart, it’s a great puzzle adventure set in a realistic, yet mini, world. Originally designed as a Lemmings-styled clone, Tin Hearts soon turned into a much bigger prospect.
Set in Victorian times, Tin Hearts puts you in the reliable hands of genius toy maker Albert J Butterworth. You get to know him and his family (wife and child) throughout the game. The main soul of this game is a puzzle adventure but the narrative is interwoven within perfectly, telling a great story full of heart, warmth and good writing.
Tin Hearts can best be compared to that old Amiga classic, Lemmings. Your task is to control a group of tin soldiers, helping them move across a map to an exit with all of them arriving safely. In between are obstacles blocking your path and so you’ll need to utilise various tricks to ensure that they get to their destination safely. The thing is, like Lemmings, when they start moving they won’t stop unless their direction is changed by objects or items.
The locations for each level are based around (to start with) rooms in the family Victorian house. So you have levels set in the bedroom or living room or even outside in the garden. You see these spaces from above but from the perspective of the tin soldier, so in a way, it all gets a bit Micro Machines.
Each level starts with you having a look around the room you are in. You have a little box that holds the tin soldiers and when you click on them they start to emerge, moving forward without stopping. You need to look for an exit doorway which is where they need to go, with a specified number of soldiers required to finish the level. The brilliant prologue will give you all the tools that you need to get them to that exit.
Some of those tools include the ability to stop time so you can pause and address the route you need to take. You can also fast-forward moments, which is handy when you are confident that you have created the right path and need the soldiers to get going. Then there is the most useful ability to rewind time, allowing the opportunity to remove any unruly mistakes. This is very useful and ensures you’ll be more relaxed about puzzle solving without the time pressure.
You can collect different blocks that will propel the soldiers in a variety of directions. Some machines give the soldiers balloons so that they can float across impossible chasms. Later on, you can control the direction of toy drums so the soldiers can bounce across the room. You can also use the direction of windmills that direct the toy soldiers when they are in mid-air with a balloon. Every now and again you get to control one soldier in free-roam too, so they can go off and explore the level and help create the perfect pathway for the others.
As you progress new gameplay elements are introduced; they are always intuitive and innovative. The only criticism I have of Tin Hearts is that the levels in and after act two can get a bit lengthy and I found myself relying on quick resume on the Xbox so I could go off and have a think about things. Because it’s a long game depending on your skill set( around the 10-hour mark) some bits could have run a bit leaner without issue.
Visually and Tin Hearts is a delight, like a Christmas card at times. There is some beautiful lighting and amazing rooms, whether from a normal perspective or via the zoomed-in miniature. It has a lovely colour palette that keeps the world upbeat even in the darker moments and it is the touches that are left around the levels which show the tinkering experiments of the toymaker.
The soundtrack works brilliantly with the gameplay and has almost a Disney movie feel to it; obviously that isn’t a bad thing. The voice-over actors deliver a warm performance and have some very touching moments in the story which they nail completely.
It may take a couple of levels, but you’ll get hooked by Tin Hearts. The world, gameplay ideas, and touching story are all good enough to reel you in. I do think the level design found in the latter parts of the game does feel a bit extended, but others will welcome the challenge and relish in the complexities.
For now, I’m going to head to the loft, grab my old toys and see if I can breathe some life back into them.