These Robotic Hearts of Mine
Interactive art has a reputation for being light on the challenge, but These Robotic Hearts of Mine, a puzzle game by Alan Hazelden definitely shows that it doesn't have to be. It's a simple game of gears and direction... one that I would love to see re-created in the physical space of a gallery. However, each solution presents another line in a story of technology, hearts and heartbreak. The puzzles alone would be fine, and the elegy is affecting. However, the combination fits like one hand into another.
In each level, there are gears surrounded by hearts, all pointing in different directions. Clicking a gear rotates it clockwise 90 degrees, along with the adjacent hearts. The goal is to rotate the gears so that all the hearts are facing upwards. Then the screen turns to pink, a heart beats, and the story continues...
Perhaps it just came along at a time that I wanted something exactly like it, but I have nothing but praise for These Robotic Hearts of Mine. Pixelated graphics have become a common gimmick in arti games, used even when they might not be appropriate. Here, thought, they work perfectly, creating an aesthetic of cold, mechanical minimalism. The moody soundtrack, with its echoing sounds of clanking cogs and thumping hearts, reinforces this feeling. However, this is alienation is balanced by the human emotion of the text, as little of it as there is. If any game has better captured the sweet ache of melancholy, then I have not seen it.
Also available for iOS devices! (iTunes link)
It doesn't hurt that the central puzzle mechanic is engaging and unique, though I don't know if it would sustain interest much beyond 31 levels. The difficulty is masterfully paced for both novices who solve through brute experimentation (e.g. me), and also the master-solver who enjoys deducing the correct sequence of moves that will achieve victory in as few clicks as possible. This makes These Robotic Hearts of Mine the perfect game for those who want a little challenge in their art, and a little art with their challenge.