Where Cards Fall Review
How would you keep a player captivated between bouts of intense puzzle solving? In many games, the solution is to stuff some semblance of a backstory in any crevice possible: a faded family picture in the background, an awkward conversation between two long-lost friends, a slight grimace etched on the protagonist’s face as they thought about a painful memory.
But Where Cards Fall, a card-based puzzle game about stacking house-like structures and paving a route towards your goal, chose to dispense with these minutiae in its coming-of-age tale. Its protagonist has no discernable expression, conversations are carried out in a fictional language, and the environment is mostly bare, save for some elegant, if not generic, props. It attempts to tell a story with minimalist details, but you can only draw vague inferences to the pantomime that’s taking place on screen. All the character motivation that propels the game forward is for naught if you can’t really understand what’s going on.
If the absence of a moving adolescent tale, such as the likes of Oxenfree, may leave the game feeling like disparate parts of a whole, then perhaps the strength of its puzzles—which are both creative and eye-catching—may draw you back in. What’s immediately apparent, despite the game’s barely-there context, is that the protagonist is traversing across landscapes that represent their key memories, as they reminisce the events that took place in their teenage years, all the way through adulthood. You’ll need to make your way towards the end of the level, which is represented by a solitary card, to move on towards the next one. To do so, you’ll be constructing houses, platforms and buildings of varying size and heights with stacks of cards.
Deck of houses
There are some limitations, however. For instance, decks denoted by a square means that the structures you build will be square-shaped, whereas decks labelled with a triangle can be stacked to form a more triangular roof, which allows the protagonist to climb on top of them to get to hard-to-reach places. In later levels, more hazards and obstacles are introduced, such as cloud-like platforms that are depressed the more card structures are placed on them, and passing wind that can easily blow your house of cards over. Then there are the landscapes that make up these levels—which range from seaside scenes to tranquil dreamscapes strewn with personal articles and paraphernalia. The basics of these puzzles would need a bit of getting used to, particularly with its fiddly controls on the Switch, but they are largely compelling brain teasers that reward your hard work with a rush of dopamine. And if all else fails, there’s also a handy hint system that will get you out of most tight spots.
These puzzles are the bite-sized, whimsical charm that propel Where Cards Fall, but it could still do with cutting the fat off its mind-boggling puzzles. Each time you’ve completed one of them, you’ll be introduced to an unskippable and largely non-interactive cutscene on some pivotal memory of the teenage protagonist, which feels like an obligatory and unnecessary inclusion after a while. My attention wanes, and I’m quite ready to move on from whatever larger-than-life dramatics, tenderness and awkwardness of the protagonist’s teenage years.