Some will call it pretentious - heck, just look at that title - but we’re going with ‘ambitious’.
These Robotic Hearts of Mine bravely attempts to explore the fragility of love, loss, and the human condition in its story of a boy, a girl, and a robot told in spare, efficient text between its 36 puzzles.
Each stage simply asks you to turn cogs to spin groups of hearts around until they’re all the right way up. Its pixel-art aesthetic uses a limited colour palette – white, grey, black, and a pinkish-red for the hearts - but it’s lent a rich atmosphere through ambient aural brushstrokes that create an oddly imposing feel, especially as the story takes a darker turn in the later stages.
The cogs rotate 90 degrees clockwise with a tap, shifting any hearts beside them. You have an infinite number of taps to reach the solution, though the idea is to try to complete each stage in the minimum number, displayed on the bottom-left of the screen.
Cog in the machine
Finish a stage, and you’ll be shown a graph of how your efforts compared with other players. Even with just a single direction to turn the cogs in and rarely more than three or four per level (and often less) it can take a long time to find the solution. Hitting the par for every stage is where the long-term challenge lies.
It’s all very simplistic, but thoughtfully put together – you can undo your last move or restart at any time, the latter reversing your actions as the cogs whirr back into their original positions.
The solid mechanical clunk that accompanies each turn is genuinely one of the most perfect sound effects you could wish to hear. It’s an aural response you can almost feel.
Nuts and bolts
The level design also underlines the narrative. When two characters end up following a trail of another, the next puzzle sees a long winding stretch of hearts. Towards the end, the rotation of one cog slows dramatically for reasons we won’t spoil but which are undoubtedly tied to the storytelling.
This kind of clever, thoughtful touch demonstrates that this is not just a puzzler with a tacked-on narrative, nor a story with ill-fitting puzzle interludes.
Not all of its ideas are quite so successful. In a game that takes such pains to build a rich atmosphere, the presence of the graph at the end of the stage seems like an unnecessarily mechanical intrusion.
Mech it easy
Meanwhile, the ability to skip levels might help you to avoid the frustrations of getting stuck and being unable to reach the story’s end, but at the same time it cheapens the experience slightly. In fact, you can skip all levels if you want and just read the narrative.
Perhaps a more elegant solution would have been to unlock a level-skip option after a certain number of failures. In its absence, you’ll simply have to rely on your own willpower.
The only other problem is that once you’ve read the moving conclusion, there’s little incentive to return. Some completists will want to finish each stage with the minimum tap tally, but otherwise it’s a one-shot deal.
But don’t let that put you off. These Robotic Hearts of Mine is a unique and thought-provoking puzzler with a touching tale at its heart, and three dozen satisfying, brain-twisting conundrums to solve. It’s a game that dares to be different, and on a service where clones are so rife, that’s something to be cherished.