Love – A Puzzle Box of Stories Review

Sometimes, simplicity is key. Love – A Puzzle Box of Stories, as can be inferred from its lengthy name, seems to want to dispel this by infusing its straightforward puzzle game with a great deal of unnecessary complications.

Initially appearing as an uncomplicated puzzle game, Love gives us a colourful block of flats with which to play. This tenement building is split into ‘past’ and ‘now’, with a big glowing line down the middle, and each floor can be rotated to reflect either time-zone. The past is grey, enhancing the challenge of matching the modern-day world with its older self. By rotating, clicking on characters, and finding objects, you are encouraged to link the tenants together – a process that is supposedly intended to highlight some emotional connections within. 

Starting out

Your tutorial equips you with your photo album – a half-finished book full of photos either taken “now” or “then”. Your task, set to jaunty guitar music that occasionally strays into public-domain YouTube tutorial soundtrack territory, is to match the photos you take to their historical or current counterpart. Swivelling floors and zooming into rooms, you find yourself following a man who appears to have lost his wife between the two photo eras, one side showing them happily eating a meal, watching the stars, chatting away… and one side showing him clinging to an urn in a not-very-subtle indication of loss. You are then prompted to photograph this man and his strangely affectionate urn in the same positions as those idyllic earlier photos. 

Fine, a fine premise. The sort of thing you’d download from the app store and flick open in a doctor’s waiting room or on the bus when you didn’t have enough emotional energy for social media. Rotate some blocks and snap some shots. It can sometimes be hard to see what is supposed to be going on, and the lack of a hint system is less likely to make you scratch your head and more likely to give up in frustration as there is very little to drive your completion of the game. 

From a tactile standpoint, I do quite like the rotation and clicking of things into place. It can be satisfying and a little too fun to just twist and turn this building, hoping something falls out. The rooms are pleasant to explore, although it would be nice to have more to interact with, as most of the elements are purely for background dressing. The tenants themselves are all quite samey – the art style maybe a little simple for the need to differentiate between characters.

Love is a reach

The puzzles are a little dull, and the game itself a tad cluttered, but on the whole, this game does a job adequately. It won’t be the best puzzle game you play this year, or maybe even this month, but it is not entirely without charm. Unfortunately, the marketing materials and “point” of the game are so dizzyingly and aggressively trying to force an emotional connection and chin-stroking depth that it kind of makes the actual tasks hard to focus on. 

“Every life has a story. Every story has regret. But what if you could change the past? LOVE is a puzzle game about finding the things we’ve lost in ourselves and the people who help us find them.” – thus reads the blurb on Steam. My rebuttal, put simply, would be – no it isn’t. It is a game about rotating tiles. Love cannot help itself but come across as smug and self-satisfied, when the answer to a puzzle where you click on someone and put them on a seat next to their estranged dad is supposed to elicit a significant emotional response. It is a brave move to put the focus of a game with no dialogue, no facial expressions, and a repetitive soundtrack on feelings. It can be done, we’ve had Journey and Limbo for example, but this is not a success.

These criticisms may be a personal taste thing (tough, I’m the reviewer), but genuinely, if you’re looking for a small puzzle-box game like The Room or GNOG, this might tick a few boxes. It will satisfy in much the same way as a Rubik’s cube or a wooden puzzle does but somehow manages to be a bit more obnoxious. Younger players especially may see the value in this, and it certainly has a place, just don’t expect to find yourself moved and bereft afterwards – you’ll probably just want to make a cup of tea and get on with your day.

[Reviewed on PC]