Tin Hearts review - Slow Lemmings-like puzzler needs to shift gears
Rogue Sun is banking a lot on Tin Hearts.
The company is stuffed to bursting with industry veterans whose years in the video game world collectively branch close to triple digits, and with historical work on Fable and Ace of Spades, there's an expectation already laid out in front of them to make a splash on their arrival with their first ever game. And that's without even considering that their first game is built for VR.
It's bold for sure, but in the meantime, we have about a month before the launch of the VR version of Tin Hearts to tinker with its console port. Sadly, like a little tin soldier struggling to climb over a hurdle, it falls short.
Rogue Sun's heart is in the right place with Tin Hearts, but perhaps their focus on both VR and consoles for their first title, despite their collective years in the industry, was too ambitious. There could still be brilliance to see from the team, and with this hope, we'll treat Tin Hearts as a trial run - but good gracious, it's a laborious one. This toy soldier could do with a little WD-40.
Rusted from the Rain
Though the game may seem like a mere Lemmings-alike from the outside, it was described to us in our conversation with Rogue Sun's Kostas Zarifis as a game that hides a compelling story. The narrative of Tin Hearts follows scientist Albert in the development of his genius toys that spark imagination across the country - while contending with the illness of his wife and his subsequent estrangement from his daughter.
The story is described as akin to What Remains of Edith Finch, and though it fights for your attention, the gameplay of moving blocks, cannons, trampolines and toy trains in order to bring your regiment of toy soldiers from their box to a goal set in Albert's whopping Victorian home has to come first.
The first moments of Tin Hearts lure you into its charm, with its deeply sombre and serene soundtrack, and your first look at the admittedly sweet tin soldiers - but once this immediate allure wears away, the game's frustrations come into view.
To begin with, moving around the levels of the game feels like walking through treacle, and to shift instantly to a more lucid movement system when picking up blocks is equally jarring and nonsensical.
Though the puzzles found here are intriguing in their own right when new playstyles come into the field, they're all incredibly slow, with the simple time-speed mechanic feeling a little lumbering, making reaching the goal feel more like a sigh than a belt of triumph. There's a sad plodding in Tin Hearts - and it seems to exist in the gap between its potential and its execution.
If I could turn back time…
The game's story is sold as the true heart of Tin Hearts, and while the intent is certainly in place to make the game much more than its meandering puzzling gameplay, the execution of the narrative simply doesn't land.
The ugliness of the human character models does a lot to pull the player away from the intimacy of the tale, and the poor voice acting only stacks on top of this. You'll find yourself wanting the ethereal flashbacks to hurry themselves up so that you can get back to the play/pause system that is disabled during these live-in cutscenes, and your interest in Albert and his family will have waned to the point of eye-rolling boredom by the time his story concludes.
Though there is plenty to poke at in Tin Hearts, there are moments of delight - namely, the moment in Act II in which you'll gain the ability to take control of one of the soldiers for yourself, transforming the room you find yourself in from a large-scale obstacle into a platforming playground. It's here that the game excels, giving you the chance to problem-solve new routes for your legion of soldiers to take, and even though there are collision issues and one instance of a flashy mess upon falling through the floor out of the game's boundaries, this is the best way to experience the game and its world.
Exploration is the best part of Tin Hearts, and though it joins your puzzle-solving arsenal as just another addition, it quickly becomes the highlight of the title.
Though there are flashes of fun in Tin Hearts, it ultimately fails to follow through on its promises to supply intriguing puzzles at the same time as telling an intimate story.
Of course, there is still the VR version of the game to come, and while there will presumably be some positive changes, especially when it comes to camera angles and the slowness of movement, it's also hard to expect that Tin Hearts may become the next VR must-play.
Reviewed on PS5. Review code provided by the publisher.