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Die Gute Fabrik’s Where Is My Heart? begins with a simple premise. A family of monsters gets lost in the woods. You guide them through each stage, combining their powers to manoeuvre each monster to the exit. Sounds simple.
The game’s challenge arises from the ways in which the developer skews perception, carving each stage into tiles and jumbling their position onscreen. Imagine a wall of surveillance-camera monitors observed through broken glass. You walk a monster off the left side of one tile, and she walks on to the right hand side of a different tile on the opposite side of the screen.
To help monsters to the exit, you must first put the stage together. Not actually, but conceptually. You accomplish this by experimentation, stepping a monster carefully out of one square to see where they appear. You must watch the trees and rainbows and clouds. You must piece it all together, and you must remember it.
It’s an ordered chaos. More than simply a novel trick used to hide a generic platformer, the dissected screens are deliberately and expertly arranged to be just confusing enough without rendering the whole illegible. In later stages, you interact with the tiles directly. One monster’s special ability allows it to fly outside of the tiles, rotate them around, and land on a different one in a different section of the stage.
A less skilled developer could easily abuse such a novel device, but the restrained, careful design of Where Is My Heart? ensures the game lasts just long enough to get the most out of its mechanic without succumbing to padding. In one stage you might go horizontally up the screen or vertically across; in another, the monsters bloat into bug-eyed versions of themselves.
Each stage feels vertiginous and unique. The pixel-art visuals of diluted tones and understated environments aren’t stunning so much as soothing. Such a pragmatic choice ensures that the stages remain decipherable. Combined with the skeletal music of low-key hums and ambient cicada chirps, Where Is My Heart? paints a magical world before its tile-shifting mechanic rips the canvas to shreds.
Where Is My Heart? revels in simplicity, beauty and restraint, yet the experience tempers such qualities by proving challenging, infuriating and exhausting. Not unlike love itself. The straightforward is rendered complex; the infuriating overshadows the beautiful; and even when the solution is right in front of you, your inability to see straight renders it invisible. This is Die Gute Fabrik’s ultimate success: Where Is My Heart? does not merely convey its theme through its style, it channels it through its play.