Before we begin, I’d like you to take a journey back in time, if I may?
The month is February and the year is 1991. R.E.M’s Losing My Religion is soaring up the charts, Hannibal Lector is earning a reputation as a dinner guest to die for and a quirky cadre of green haired goobers called Lemmings are marching their way into gamers hearts.
The release of Lemmings in 1991 introduced the concept of guiding a herd of mindless little creatures through a range of obstacles to the gaming public. It was simple, addictive and spawned a franchise that would become the bedrock of casual puzzling for years to come.
Fast forward three decades and the general concept remains as compelling as ever, as evidenced by many iterations spread across a plethora of platforms. Kartoffl is the latest attempt to bring this tried and tested Lemmings formula to VR and is the first of its kind to land on the main Quest store.
Kartoffl Review – The Facts
Platforms: PC VR via Steam, Quest, Quest 2 & Quest Pro (review conducted on Quest 2)
Release Date: Out now
Follow The Leader
Kartoffl sees the player tasked with navigating legions of shuffling, anthropomorphised potatoes from one end of a map to a nearby finish line. To achieve this, they will need to traverse a jumble of floating geography, navigating the likes of sheer drops and crumbling platforms along the way. Your semi-sentient spuds will cascade endlessly onward until they reach an obstacle and perish from the impact or reach the end of the platform and waft gently to their demise.
To avoid this inexorable march of doom, the player is equipped with a range of items to guide their plucky potato peeps through the world and safely to their destination. This includes simple turns which divert your par-boiled procession as well as springs that vault them over obstacles. With its selection of increasingly elaborate machines, Kartoffl introduces a reasonable number of options in how best to navigate the floating perils.
While each level equips you with just enough pieces to achieve your goal, there is nonetheless ample scope for creativity along the way. To complete each level, the player must simply get the required number of spuds safely to the finish line. In most cases this can be achieved through a fairly obvious route, however the choice is yours – take the easy option or try to forge a path less traveled.
Puzzling For All Levels Of Experience
Kartoffl gently increases its level of challenge as you play through the 60 puzzles on offer at launch, but the game never really kicks in to the devious difficulty of some other puzzlers. Instead, Kartoffl seems content with offering a calm, accessible puzzle game that will allow puzzlers of all experience levels to proceed through without getting stuck.
Where the game does manage to ramp up the difficulty somewhat is in the optional bonus points system. Each level contains three stars to collect, most of which will require you to divert some of your mashable minions along a more dangerous path. Successfully scavenging all three stars often requires a slightly more cerebral approach to the proceedings which can leave players scratching their heads. Even so, Kartoffl does seem to have a slightly younger audience in mind, so in many instances obtaining a full complement of stars was slightly less challenging than one might hope.
New equipment becomes available at a measured pace throughout the game, with new mechanisms (and combinations thereof) keeping the puzzling fresh as you progress. That said, reaching the last few levels and realising that there are no new items coming is slightly disappointing. The basic components of a great little puzzler are all there, but this lack of deeper options leaves the game feeling a touch shallow towards the end. A few more mechanisms to combine and convolute would have made for a more satisfying climax to the game.
More Physicality Than Expected
In addition to the general puzzle elements, Kartoffl also incorporates an unexpected and particularly engaging physical component. Certain levels fall into the “set it and forget it” style of play whereby the challenge is to devise an escape route using the available pieces and then launching your ambling taters into the fray. Other levels, however, will demand more agility and interaction in order to complete.
Usually in these instances the number of pieces available falls far short of what is required to escape the level. Players will need to move around the map quickly in order to juggle your limited array of pieces from one place to another. In many levels this is possible by the narrowest of margins and only a well-planned, expertly-executed sequence of actions will stop your veggie-brained army from plummeting to their doom.
This precise physicality is made achievable thanks to a well-wrought control system which allows you to either move through the game world or move it around you. Similar to the likes of Demeo and Little Cities, the player can grab the world and spin it to gain a better vantage, or use the grip buttons to move hand-over-hand through it. There are also stick based movement options, even including a handy “sprint” function, all of which are intuitive and enhance the overall gameplay.
The only thing Kartoffl’s control system lacks is the ability to scale the world. This would have been a fantastic addition, allowing players to pan out and take an overview of the map, then zoom in to focus on a particular detail or section. While this is definitely a sorely missed opportunity, it is hardly game breaking.
Kartoffl Review – Comfort
Kartoffl poses very little danger for those susceptible to motion sickness and nausea. Although some might find the process of spinning the world around slightly off-putting, the game offers a completely serviceable solution in the form of stick turning. As mentioned above, players can also choose to move within the game world by pulling oneself through it, which provides a far more comfortable option. A range of vignette options are also available, however there is no teleportation movement available, so the most susceptible players may need to take some care.
Coherent, But With Room To Improve
Visually, Kartoffl is a brightly coloured, but simple affair. The art direction is cute, the colours vibrant and the visual landscape is consistent and easy to understand.
Aesthetically the game finds a tonal match between the gameplay and sound design – everything feels coherent, if perhaps a little basic. In a game world founded on manipulating squadrons of walking potatoes through moving mazes, it does feel as though there could have been a little more whimsy employed in designing the simple floating landscape settings.
This contentment with basic functionality is also prominent in Kartoffl’s overly-simplistic UI. The menu system gets the job done, but it does very little to reinforce the character of the game or give the overall presentation a sense of polish. Once the game is loaded, you can easily access the games options or select your level… and that’s about it. Some basic, playful interactivity with the landing environment – as excellently demonstrated in Tentacular, for instance – would have gone a long way to adding weight to the perceived production values.
Similarly, the sound design is entirely adequate but falls disappointingly short of the excellence that Quest users have come to expect. The audio cues that inform the gameplay are clear and well-conceived, but the music is painfully lacking, to the point of becoming distracting. Unlike, for example, Spacefolk City (which was an absolute masterclass in ambient sound design for a broadly passive game) the music in Kartoffl becomes repetitive very quickly and downright annoying shortly after.
Kartoffl Review – Final Verdict
Kartoffl is a perfectly charming puzzle game which combines tried and tested mechanics with a few novel quirks in order to be both familiar yet interesting. While not exactly a genre-shaping revelation, playing Kartoffl remains an undeniably entertaining experience that reveals itself just slowly enough as to become unconsciously more-ish.
For veterans of the genre, this review should perhaps be a warning that Kartoffl may not stretch your gray matter to its limits. But with those expectations appropriately managed, the game is an intuitive, relaxing and altogether pleasant way to occupy a few low impact hours in your Quest. With a focus on accessible difficulty that will allow players of all levels to have an engaging experience, Kartoffl is easy to recommend to casual, nostalgic and younger players alike.
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