By Angelica Guarino,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Forgettable stories hamper innovative puzzle design.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this game.
Carto helps others solve their problems by using critical thinking and puzzle-solving skills. While these achievements press the story along, the tasks are fairly generic in a way that doesn’t allow for many tangible lessons or compelling story events.
Positive Role Models
While Carto herself is a bit on the quiet side, many of the characters she encounters have qualities embodying perseverance, curiosity, and the spirit of adventure.
Ease of Play
While the controls are intuitive and the instructions are clear, some puzzle solutions don't feel like they're based in logic or pattern-finding. While not too complicated or frustrating, this makes the game feel random at certain points.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Carto is a downloadable puzzle adventure game available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Mac, and Windows. Players take on the role of Carto, a young girl who comes from a long line of cartographers, who finds herself separated from her grandmother and their airship by a large storm. Waking up stranded on a strange island, Carto decides to figure out where she is and chart a way home. There's no inappropriate content to be found in the game. While players may enjoy the mechanic of manipulating the map to solve puzzles, the nature of some solutions makes these tasks feel random at times rather than grounded in logic and critical thinking, which could frustrate players.
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What’s It About?
CARTO’s adventure begins on a small island inhabited by three families. These villagers are preparing to celebrate a coming-of-age tradition in which children turning 15 must board a ship and leave their families forever, sailing off to the first island they can find to start their adult lives. In the middle of a forest, Carto meets the young girl whose time has come -- Shianon. Shianon vents her frustrations surrounding the tradition and asks if Carto would be willing to come with her on the ship. With a simple nod from Carto, the two are off to the next island, finding an entirely new story and cast of characters. To travel around each environment, players must manipulate each piece of a partially-completed map with the goal of finding additional map pieces, story items, and lost characters. This process of a short story arc followed by an entirely new character continues throughout each chapter of the game, with minimal narration provided by a storyteller living in a blocky wooden chalet whose multistory library already contains a written account of Carto’s fate.
Is It Any Good?
On paper, there’s seemingly no way this puzzler could go wrong, but the weak story limits the clever gameplay significantly. Carto has everything -- an adorable young heroine, a unique puzzle mechanic, an array of wacky, lovable NPCs, and beautifully hand-drawn environments to explore. But despite hitting all of those marks, the designers seemed to miss one small thing -- the expert scriptwriting necessary for pulling these elements together. For example, the game chooses not to answer important story questions, such as why the traditional coming-of-age ceremony on the first island exists. This thread continues throughout the stories of the next islands, leaving these plot points to fall flat. In some scenes, the dialogue feels like it’s solely filling empty space instead of deepening themes or teaching lessons.
To further this point, it's worth mentioning that Carto herself only speaks in emojis or smiley-faces. Nothing's known about her aside from her desire to return home, preventing any connection with her by the player. Additionally, you're never given enough time to bond with anyone else either. As soon as players feel invested in the chronicles of a sleepy little boy named Mo and his evasive flock of sheep or the side quest of a man named Ganga and his search for a rare botanical anomaly known as the Ghost Lily, they're whisked away to a completely new setting with totally new lore, which leaves the resolution of each tale unfulfilled and underwhelming. Because the gameplay tasks are always so similar, there isn’t a reason why more time couldn't be given to allow relationships with other characters to evolve and mature. Overall, it’s frustrating that so much went right in this title only for the general feeling left at the conclusion to be indifference. But this isn't to say that Carto isn't worth a try. As long as users enter with appropriate expectations -- for relaxing puzzles rather than a riveting adventure -- players will leave satisfied.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about traditions. Many of the characters in Carto have motivations related to long-standing commitments or folklore, but when should decisions be informed by familial or cultural traditions, and when is it important to take a step back and question a custom's origin or purpose?
What would happen as a result of being separated from one's family? How would that make you feel? How would you deal with it?
- Platforms: Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online?: Available online
- Publisher: Humble Games
- Release date: October 27, 2020
- Genre: Puzzle
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures
- ESRB rating: E for Comic mischief
- Last updated: December 13, 2020
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