Every so often a game comes along that truly stays with you on an emotional level long after the credits finished rolling. This past summer, Limbo's release on the PlayStation Network provided me with that type of experience. It is now the fall, and the PlayStation mini Where Is My Heart? has just provided me with a gripping, emotional sense of awe. Now, the game may not create these feelings within every gamer, but even then, there's no denying that Where Is My Heart? is a wonderful experience that's both a work of art and proper homage to classic game design, all the while providing one of the most genius gameplay formats seen in a platformer in a long time.
Where Is My Heart? is a tale of sticking together. You play as a family of three monsters who have lost their home. Together they must find their way across several different areas–forests, caves, mountains–in order to find their home once more. Though there's not much narrative to guide you through the story, quick bits of text pop up before each level, each of them riddled with meaningful undertones and, at times, confusing phrases.
The game itself is a 2D platformer, and there's plenty of running and jumping, but there's one unique mechanic that makes Where Is My Heart? stand out as a work of excellence. Rather than being a straight platformer with straightforward levels, the screen is broken up into panels. These panels are jumbled on the screen, mixing the levels up in crazy ways. So if you run from left to right on a panel located on the lower left of your screen, you may find yourself being switched over to another panel located at the very top of the screen.
The levels start out simple enough, with the panels being arranged in a not-so-complex manner. But it doesn't take long for the game to amp up the challenge by mixing the panels up even more, and going as far as filling the screen with a bunch of panels both large and small to really confuse the heck out of you. This forces you to do two things. First, you need to really rearrange the way you play platformers. Had the levels been designed in a more simplistic way, Where Is My Heart? wouldn't be all that challenging. The way developer Die Gute Fabrik arranged the panels, though, makes for a confusing experience that you can't rush. This isn't a simple run-and-jump side-scroller. No, Where Is My Heart? is a think-run-and-jump platformer.
The second thing you'll be doing a lot of in this title is experimenting with trial and error. Though you do get the hang of where certain areas are located in relation to the panels' placement, a few jumps aren't very clear, and it's very easy to find yourself landing on some spikes or falling into a small body of water. You'll perform blind jumps more often than you would probably like to, so it's a good thing you aren't restricted by a limited number of continues. Can this aspect of the game get frustrating? Yes, a little. But in a sense, it helps you relate to the three monsters–the crazy panel arrangement and reliance on trial and error makes you feel lost at times, just like the family of monsters, allowing you to relate on a personal level with the characters you control.
Speaking of these charming little monsters, they each have special abilities that they can utilize whenever they stand on special blocks. One character turns into a cute critter with antlers and gains the ability to double jump. Another turns into a vampire and garners the power to reveal hidden paths and walk on platforms other characters can't see. Last is the Rainbow Spirit, which can rearrange the panels. Additionally, if the Rainbow Spirit is jumping, this mechanic can be used to place the spirit in a completely different panel. It's pretty confusing at first, but it works, and it adds another layer of depth that totally helps differentiate the game from other side-scrolling platformers.
Visually, Where Is My Heart? boasts a beautiful, pixelated look. What makes the graphical design so impressive is the combination of light color usage and charming design. Trees look absolutely stunning, the characters are lovely in each of their forms, the backgrounds are rich in a minimalistic way, and the levels themselves are just a sheer joy to look at. I previously made the joke that Where Is My Heart? gave Rage a run for its money as far as my personal favorite graphical design of the year was concerned, but hell, that's not a joke any longer. Where Is My Heart? may very well be the best-looking game I've played throughout all of 2011, and this assessment is based on my love of aesthetics and art design in games.
Complimenting the rich art style of Where Is My Heart? is a wonderfully quaint soundtrack and collection of sound effects. Natural sounds of forest creatures are heard throughout the game's entirety, and serene themes decorate the experience beautifully. The songs in Where Is My Heart? reminded me a lot of the ambient sounds of The Album Leaf's music, which is most definitely a good thing. For a game that's constantly challenging you to think differently and throwing confusing puzzle gameplay at you, I was really able to appreciate the calm music and sound effects that accompanied me throughout my journey.
Where Is My Heart? is a one-of-a-kind game. It's a special experience–the kind that doesn't come along too often. The novel gameplay concepts presented in this title are remarkably fresh, yet they blend incredibly well with the game's old-school platforming roots. The art design and lovely music only serve to make the game feel even more amazing, and the meaningful tale hidden within the game's imaginary walls makes it a personal journey that needs to be experienced. Admittedly, it's a bit of a shame that you can't revisit past stages once you beat the game, but that's just a minor gripe. It doesn't change the fact that Where Is My Heart? is one of those rare instances where a game can be enthralling, captivating, and just straight-up brilliant, even if it's over after just a couple of hours.