Remember when Lemmings was all the rage? It’s hard to imagine that the studio that would go on to develop the monumentally successful Grand Theft Auto franchise made such a quaint little puzzler. Lemmings was a darn good game, spawning multiple add-ons and sequels over the years. It’s honestly a little surprising that the franchise hasn’t yet seen a (re)release on the Switch.
Enter Tin Hearts. Created by ex-Fable developers over at Rogue Sun, Tin Hearts is a heartwarming mix of environmental storytelling and Lemmings-like puzzle gameplay. Indeed, the whole premise of the game requires you to guide a troop of “mischievous tin soldiers’ through increasingly complex paths from their starting position to the end goal.
Much like Lemmings, the tin soldiers only move in a single designated direction, so it’s your job to manipulate the environment to ensure they stick to the most optimal path. This is primarily done by strategically placing triangular-shaped toy blocks in their path, thus causing them to collide with the blocks and change direction. Failure to do so may result in the soldiers plummeting off the edge of a desk and onto the floor, smashing into tiny pieces. Luckily, you also have the ability to manipulate time.
As you progress through the early stages, Tin Hearts gradually introduces new ways to alter time. First, by tapping the clocks found in each room, you can speed things up, making the wait for the toy soldiers to traipse their way to the goal a little less arduous. Later on, you’re given complete control over time remotely, so you can pause, rewind, and fast forward on the fly. Pausing is especially useful, as it allows you to view the predicted path of the toy soldiers, so you can move objects into place without worrying about the wellbeing of your ceramic buddies.
You could argue that such quality-of-life mechanics make Tin Hearts a little too easy, and yes, there are moments when you can effectively solve a puzzle within a couple of short minutes by simply pausing time and placing all of the objects in the correct locations. But actually figuring out the most efficient route is really where the true joy lies in Tin Hearts.
The game starts off fairly simple, with blocks that contain certain icons cut from their woodwork, making it easy to slot these into the right place. Later on, however, completely blank objects can be placed anywhere, so you’re given complete creative freedom in how you’re going to solve the puzzle.
That’s not all, either. The devs introduce even more new elements as you progress, including toy trains that you can move around the tracks and a delightful mechanism that attaches coloured balloons to each of your tin soldiers, letting them float over gaps safely. Heck, there are even dastardly Jack-in-the-Boxes that will gobble up your soldiers if you’re not careful. Granted, your tin troops won’t dig their own tunnels or build their own stairs like Lemmings can, but that’s not really needed here. There’s plenty to sink your teeth into and some of the later puzzles will definitely have you scratching your head.
We haven’t even mentioned the presentation yet, and it’s mostly absolutely superb. As you work your way through the puzzles, the game tells the surprisingly heartfelt story of Albert J. Butterworth, a Victorian inventor. We won’t delve into exactly what goes on with the narrative, but we were nevertheless captivated. Wisely, the tale is told mostly through visions unfolding during gameplay, so you can keep your focus on solving the puzzle while keeping an eye on the characters in the background. It’s most certainly the best way this story could have been told without interrupting the flow.
That said, from a technical perspective, the game could use a few improvements, at least on Switch. The frame rate, while consistent, is unfortunately consistently choppy. While it’s certainly not a dealbreaker for a puzzle game of this nature, a smoother experience would have been welcome. Additionally, because you’re essentially ‘possessing’ an object when you go to move it, the camera shifts dramatically to communicate this, and the sudden change in perspective can oftentimes be a bit jarring. It’s not a particularly egregious issue, but definitely one to watch out for.
The biggest star of the show for us, however, is the music. It’s simply wonderful. Focusing on gentle piano tunes and whimsical melodies, the soundtrack is perfectly suited to this kind of game, and it makes the emotional beats of the story hit that much harder. We can’t fault it, quite frankly.
Tin Hearts is a lovely little puzzler that’s engaging and emotional in equal measure. It takes all the right inspiration from Lemmings but manages to stand on its own two feet with a unique visual style, clever mechanics, and a wonderful narrative told effortlessly during gameplay. Technical hiccups pull it back from true greatness, including a choppy frame rate and jarring camera movements, but if you’re after a relaxing puzzler that’s not too taxing on the ol’ noggin, then you really can’t go too wrong with this.