Where Is My Heart?

[GDC 2011] A Heart-Felt Refrain

Where is my Heart? is the single coolest Minis effort we've ever seen. No, really, and here's why...
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: March 11, 2011
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The whole PlayStation Minis effort -- essentially giving developers 100MB to create any game they want that will run on both the PSP and the PS3 -- has been met with mixed results. A few developers have embraced the low overhead and have either ported existing games from mobile platforms or indie games initiatives on other systems, but by and large there's been very few pure Minis games released, and the ones that have been solo efforts have been overwhelmingly mediocre.

That's not to say there aren't a few standout titles. The good folks over at Halfbrick Studios were quick to port over their XNA development efforts from the Xbox 360 and have continued to release Minis over the past few years. Our Canuck friends at Frima Games cranked out a surprisingly awesome Young Thor, and here and there, we're seeing evidence of a slight resurgence in indie development efforts.

Enter Bernie Schulenburg, creator of hands-down the coolest concept we saw at this year's Game Developers Conference. Where is my Heart? is best described as a platformer with schizophrenia. What initially looks like a series of interconnected panes allowing a trio of cute little pixel art critters to scoot around a series of 30 levels quickly reveals itself to be something far more mind-bending. The panes, while often contiguous, don't necessarily represent the absolute flow of the level. You might travel to the right edge of one pane in the middle of the screen expecting to end up in the adjacent one, only to see the character appear three or four away at the top of the screen.

The challenge then becomes trying to simply navigate the various panes of a given level without falling to one's death or otherwise sending the cute little guys to their doom via spikes or water. It starts out simply enough; collecting all three furry family members takes releasing little pink hearts trapped in boxes or flitting around aimlessly. Get enough hearts and the exit to the level opens up. As things progress, just getting the hearts is half the challenge. Each of the levels follows a fairly obvious path; knocking a heart from one box will send it sailing into the tree-like exit's maw, but it will often also turn previously transparent blocks solid to allow access to the next part of the challenge.

Where things get truly interesting is in using each of the three colored characters in combination. Early on, a kind of minimalistic indication that a certain colored family member will have to occupy a certain height necessitates stacking of the characters. By filling in this little dotted space, that character's latent power is released. This can turn them into a drill-tipped down-thrusting head smasher (which allows them to pop hearts out of blocks they're standing on) or even a kind of huge-smiled ghosty-angel-thing (hey, the graphics are simple by design; we're just going to pretend they're open to interpretation). When the ghosty-angel-thing is finally introduced, the entire level of mind-bending complexity shoots up a few notches.
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