When I heard that Tin Hearts, the debut VR game from UK-based Rogue Sun, was essentially Lemmings in VR, I’ll admit my heart sank a little. It’s an idea that’s been done before but found little use inside headsets and I’d hoped a team comprised of ex-Lionhead developers would be capable of more.
Turns out they are.
Tin Hearts’ delightful opening act isn’t just a rock-solid puzzler; it finds genuine use for its platform, too. This is a masterclass in VR world-building, making your environment and its history intrinsic to the experience. You’re not simply guiding a group of cutesy toy soldiers to across nameless desktops and the chasms between them but instead retracing the steps of a famed toymaker. Each level takes you to a new room in his workshop of wholesomely-crafted gifts, given a somewhat eerie tinge by the persistent absence of their inventor. There’s an authenticity to the environments that makes them a joy to simply exist in, be it the cluttered desks housing toys that work in unknown ways, or the tools that prove just how dedicated this inventor is. Fable’s feather-light fantasy fingerprints can definitely be felt here.
But, more importantly, you’ll occasionally see visions of the past. The toymaker and his daughter can sometimes be seen busying themselves with new inventions or just generally playing together, whilst you’ll also find letters that start to hint at where later acts (currently still under development) are going to go. You’re essentially a time-traveling fly on the wall, giving the moments in which you observe the toymaker at work a sense of investigative curiosity and also an intimate privilege. Within the first act alone I began to admire his tenacity and the creations that sparked directly from within it. I found myself becoming truly engrossed in this story and eager to push onto the next level purely in the hopes of finding out what happens next.
It certainly helps that the puzzles are entertaining in their own right. I thought I had Tin Hearts figured out within the first few levels; angled blocks could only be placed in certain ways and levels could be finished off with just a few moves. I got the sense that this was going to be a game that held your hand a little too tightly.
But it doesn’t take long for the game to open up and bestow an impressive amount of agency upon the player. Tin Hearts starts to make full use of the environment around you. Yes, there are books, pots and other obstacles that will keep your little minions on the generally correct path, but once you get the chance to place blocks wherever you see fit the game hands it all over to you. It becomes a game of spinning plates; spend too much time focusing on the soldiers up the front and you’ll more than likely hear the sound of one at the back falling to their doom before long.
Helpfully, there’s a quick and easy way to reverse time or speed it up once you know you’re on course. It can be used to quickly identify where things went wrong and set you on a course to make up for it. It’s a key part of keeping the game entertaining without dipping into frustration all too often. That’s not to say the game is light on challenge; in fact I really struggled with one of the later levels that could have done with some better signposting.
Pacing seems to be expertly executed, which gives me hope that the two acts set to arrive later down the line will continue to innovate and intrigue. Tin Hearts gets off to a great start and is that rare Early Access game that will have me eagerly looking forward to returning to it as new levels are added. As far as I can tell, it’s Rogue Sun’s show to lose.