by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Puzzles Without The Filler
You'd never know by looking at my cupboards, closet, or work desk, but I actually love organization and clearing games, and find it incredibly cathartic to get everything where it needs to go. Packing was my late-night meditative game for quite a while, and I enjoyed Train Station Renovation more than I probably should have. That being the case, A Little to the Left, a self-described "cozy puzzle game," seemed right up my alley. While developer Max Inferno doesn't nail every puzzle and chore, the majority are pleasantly relaxing and provide a great opportunity for short sessions of play.
I respect that A Little to the Left is so no-nonsense in its presentation. There's no elaborate setup or text to read before jumping in, and instead, the player is immediately given a simple puzzle after clicking through the main menu. Like many other organizational-style puzzle games, the completion of the puzzles serves as its own satisfaction for working through each challenge. Instead of overly elaborate set-ups, most consist of twisting, stacking, moving, or otherwise reorienting household items like books, screws, or postcards.
The catch, and it's definitely not going to be for everyone, is that there's no indication of what each setup is actually looking for to achieve completion. Often, the goal is obvious - objects may have clear grooves that must be interlocked or decorative shapes that must be matched - but otherwise, it's simply a game of trial and error between different possible solutions that are all equally valid in concept. The first puzzle that really illustrated this was a series of several books early on in the game. Each one had a design on the bottom third, and those designs could be matched up to form one flowing and symmetrical design. I spent quite a while getting each book perfectly aligned, and my reward was... nothing. It turns out that the goal was instead to organize the books by height to form a reverse bell curve, mismatching the spine designs in the process.
In many of the puzzles, this process of trial and error is necessary, and the degree to which it sounds fun is going to be the biggest determining factor of whether the game is relaxing or frustrating for any given player. I'll admit that it wasn't always for me, and there were several occasions on which I skipped past a puzzle after one of my solutions just wasn't what the game was looking for. Others will likely enjoy the low-stakes process of moving things around and looking for the right answer in each set-up.
The game also takes its name quite literally in some of the puzzles, as even the smallest fraction of an inch separates what's accepted as a successful solution of the puzzle. Most are black and white enough that things are clearly either where they're supposed to be or they aren't, but there was more than one in which, after being fairly certain that I had things correct, I checked the solution and found that I was indeed doing things correctly. Most eventually went through with some fiddling, but one specific puzzle just wouldn't click, no matter how much I went back and forth to the answer page.
Forgiving Help and Hints
All this said, it's nice that any of the puzzles can simply be skipped and revisited later. Solving one isn't required before the next is unlocked, which is a pleasant change of pace from most similar games. Furthermore, every challenge has an available solution page that's presented in the form of a scribbled-out piece of paper. Players can erase as much of the scribbles as they want to either reveal the whole answer or only a part of it. There's no limit to how many solutions are given and no penalty for using them as often as desired. However, with the game already lacking replay value after the puzzles have been solved, taking the easy route isn't recommended unless something has been repeatedly revisited with failure.
I mostly enjoyed my time with A Little to the Left when the puzzles were of a more straightforward organizational nature, like organizing a toolbox or drawer, but the whole game is made improved by the brightly coloured visuals that look like something out of a scrapbook. They pair well with the soft musical accompaniment that instils gameplay with a sense of child-like wonder appropriate for its puzzles and gameplay loop.
A Little to the Left is a game that I ultimately ended up respecting more than I actually enjoyed it. I can absolutely see how this is going to be a slam dunk for many puzzle solvers out there, but the lack of clear solutions for some of the puzzles simply wasn't up my alley. Luckily I was able to skip or look up the answer for the content I didn't enjoy, and the less abstract and more organizational-styled puzzled did give me that endorphin hit when everything was finally neat and tidy.
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Cozy art and music direction, simple puzzles that don’t rely on over-game-ifying the process.
Some puzzle solutions require too much trial and error or simply don’t ask for a seemingly logical answer.