I’ve been steadily making my way through some of the shorter indie games on Xbox Game Pass, with the latest being a charming little puzzle adventure called Carto. Here, the titular heroine is separated from her grandmother after their airship encounters trouble during a lightning storm. Both happen to be cartographers, which obviously plays into the gameplay loop.
Carto is equal parts adventure and puzzle game, consisting of exploring a watercolor world and chatting up the locals while finding map pieces and putting them together in order to explore more. The story itself is fine, if not unremarkable, thanks to the formulaic nature of “meet new person and do their fetch quest” being the entirety of it (give or take a few sweet moments between Carto and her new best friend).
Thankfully, the map building mechanic is strong enough to carry the experience. Opening the in-game map presents you with a tile grid where all of the tiles in your possession can be turned and placed to grant Carto new paths to explore. Common sense rules apply, with roads, forests, water, and icy terrain needing to connect to one another, so you can’t just place them wherever you want.
You’ll also be rotating and remapping the same tiles in such a way that allows you to view certain events, find specific NPCs, and complete quests. For example, one of the later chapters sees you manipulating the map tiles on the surface in order to form underground pathways, while another has you shifting between the same two tiles in a Zelda-style Lost Woods puzzle. It’s pretty cool! If you can’t make sense of it, just check out the trailer I embedded up top.
Some of the late-game stuff turned out to be real head scratchers and I ended up stumped pretty badly. I resorted to using a guide, both to finish the game and to unlock all of its missable achievements, and I have no regrets. I never would have figured out some of those puzzles otherwise.
I briefly mentioned the watercolor aesthetic earlier, but it really does deserve more than a smattering of applause. All of the characters and maps are absolutely wonderful to look at and the end-of-chapter screens help breathe life into the otherwise passable narrative. I don’t think Carto needs a deeper story, though. It’s easy to follow, relatable, and provides all the motivation your character needs to chart this new world and reunite with their grandmother.
I’d estimate that it took me four hours to finish, but I did use a walkthrough during that last hour. It really is a fun, memorable game even if I struggled to wrap my head around some of the later map puzzles. If you have a Game Pass subscription, it’s currently part of that library to check out. And if achievements are your thing, you’ll be happy to know that the PC and console versions are both on Game Pass and have their own respective achievement list. Yay for stackables!