Do you remember Lemmings? The goofy green-haired creatures in blue nightgowns that would pace rhythmically across your CRT screen right into the dangers ahead are synonymous with old-school PC gaming. Few games since then have attempted to modernize that unique puzzle formula where you had to remove obstacles, build bridges and set up routes to ensure the safety of your mindless minions.
From the magical minds of Rogue Sun, a studio made up of several former Lionhead Studios developers (of Fable fame), and in the spirit of Lemmings of yesteryear, Tin Hearts is a narrative puzzle game where you guide a battalion of tiny excited mechanical toy soldiers into more over 50 lively but dangerous levels; kitchens where gigantic people chop food, bedrooms full of toy cannons and copper cellars full of tinkling pipes and other steam-breathing dangers – every domestic space turns into an imaginative stage on which you can safely watch your soldiers.
As the saying goes, “No mechanical wind-up toys shall be left behind,” and you achieve this by carefully charting the path for them. These soldiers don’t have much initiative, you see, so it’s up to you to direct their path away from danger. This could be as simple as laying down an angled block to alter their course away from deadly hazards, or setting up trampolines, cannons and inflatable balloons to lift them to higher ground.
Also, Tin Hearts doesn’t take place in an old house, but in the home of genius inventor Albert J. Butterworth in a steampunk-inspired alternate history Victorian home. That means there’s strange mechanized stuff going on, and the house is filled with clockwork spiders, tiny robot guards, and terrifying jack-in-the-boxes that pop out of their cube-shaped enclosures to gobble up your soldiers.
But there’s a twist here. See, sometimes it takes a brave tin soldier to break through the ranks to clear an obstacle. To that end, you can take control of individual soldiers and free them from the line so they can run away and change things on stage. Suddenly the game takes on a 3D platformer dimension as that soldier will face his own challenges as he races against the steady advance of his comrades to clear the path for them.
At other times, the game feels almost a bit like Dungeon Keeper, as your spectral hand manipulates and optimizes elements of the stage for the little humans who march on it (minus all the beating and bullying you’d inflict on your demonic henchmen!).
Tin Hearts is also a real eye-catcher. The world has the feel of a beautiful toy box broken into by a development team with a penchant for fairy tales, and the soldiers – propelled by the little brass keys that rotate in their backs – are richly detailed and animated. Suffice it to say that when something inevitably goes wrong and one of your men is crushed into dozens of loose pieces, it will hit you right in the heart.
Tin Hearts is marching to PC (Steam, Epic Games Store, GOG, Utomik), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox on April 20, 2023. You can find all the links via the Wired Productions store (opens in new tab). If you just can’t wait to get started, you can sign up for the closed beta (opens in new tab)which runs from February 10-14.
A magical mini world of some of the best fantasies in gaming awaits…