Within the last few months, gamers have been inundated with titles that offers high octane, adrenaline fueled experiences that have offer fifteen explosions for every bullet fired. For some, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of action in these games and I find it enjoyable when games provide quieter and more subtle experiences. That’s the biggest compliment I can give Bent Spoon Games’ first title, Girl With A Heart Of. Although it isn’t a perfect game, it offered some respite from all the gunfire and explosions that have been assaulting my senses for the past few months.
Girl With A Heart Of is the story of Raven, a young girl who was born without a heart. However, because her birth was foretold by a small cadre of individuals, a wizard was able to fit Raven with a mystical artificial heart. Raven was ignorant of her birth defect until an attack on her underground civilization by the armies of Light injures her mother who, out of fear of dying, tells her daughter the truth. From there, Raven seeks out the wizard who saved her only to discover that he has his own plans for her.
Girl With Heart Of is a two dimensional side scroller with minor adventure game trappings. As you move through the underground world, you'll converse with major NPCs and pick up items that can be used to advance the primary narrative or fulfill requests from various individuals. Completing these tasks is a simple affair and you’ll never have to worry about hitting any particular road blocks such running out of money or solving intense logic puzzles. In fact, there is no currency to manage in this game. If you approach a vendor that is carrying the object you need, simply interacting with them will add the object to your inventory. Later on, you’ll be able to take special jewels to the blacksmith and craft them into items that can be placed in Raven’s heart, granting perks and abilities.
Game progression is handled by going to sleep after you've completed all the tasks asked of you (this gets annoying later on, as the game tells you to keep doing things that you thought you didn’t have to complete). After going to bed, you'll wake up in a dream and prompted to allocate the skill points you’ve acquired that affect certain abilities, leading to better magical effects and dialog options. Conversation plays a big part within the game, as most NPCs will have A LOT to say and all speech is presented as text. This causes some problems when the game displays big blocks of text, bringing the dialog dangerously close to TL;DR territory. While conversing with others, Raven can ask all sorts of questions through a dialog tree and one thing that becomes increasingly noticeable through her interactions is how adult and mature some of Raven's comments and questions are, despite being so young. She doesn’t come off as being “special” or mature for her age, so her emotionally and psychologically deep observations are jarring.
There is a combat element to the game, but the game takes a surprisingly long time to get to it. Through your instructions with the wizard John, he’ll teach you various powers to fight enemies such as an energy bolt and shield power - but these training sequences are drawn out a bit too much. These abilities can also be upgraded when you’ve entered the dream world. When you enter the combat phase of the game, you can shoot various creatures without having to aim because the game will auto target for you, requiring little effort on your part. I was expecting the omnipresent mouse cursor to be of some use here, but just like the rest of the game, it proves to be completely useless (more on that later).
It's hard to look at this game and not say something about its art style, but what it comes down to is that some will like it, others won’t. The game’s visuals resembles someone's personal art project. The visuals aren't BAD, anything can be considered art by anyone, but they’re not on the same level as say, Limbo or Braid. There isn't much going on visually within the game world and people don't look very detailed. On the other hand, major NPCs are given large profile images when you talk with them and more attention is paid to their looks than most other environments. I’m not purposefully knocking the game’s art style, just pointing it out.
What bugged me the most about the character designs was the inconsistency of skin tones. Raven's skin is pale, but her care giver's is a warm pink (not flesh tone pink, actual red mixed with white pink). When talking to someone else, their face was a dull blue. Why is that? Is it supposed to be from lighting? Do these underground beings vary in skin color? Why is this world the way it is?
Again, I don't want to harp on the artwork, as I am sure someone at Bent Spoon put in a lot of time and effort and while it may not win contests, it certainly gives the game a much more personal feel than those that offer art design by committee. It would have been easy to give the game a retro pixel art design, as most indy games tend to do, so I give Bent Spoon credit with rolling with its chosen art design.
The biggest issue I have with Girl With A Heart Of is that its pacing is really slow. There is a lot of conversation to sit through before getting into the game proper and movement throughout the world could really use some sort of fast travel feature. Another curiosity is the inclusion of a mouse cursor that is essentially meaningless. Why have it when you can't do anything with it at all? Why design it in the style of the game when it can only choose dialog options (which you can do with the keyboard anyway) and allocate resources in the character menu? It seems wasteful.
The game's script is also problematic, bogging things down with some needless back story. As I mentioned earlier, the game presents you with big blocks of text quite often and it is really easy to gloss over what could very well be meaningless banter. At times, the dialog attempts to come off as heartfelt and moving, but unfortunately, most of it is unintentionally funny.
Girl With A Heart Of is a decent first game that, sadly, has a number of flaws preventing it from achieving greatness. There are traces of good here, however. For example, I liked how the game switched the concepts of light and dark. Normally, you'd play as the hero of light fighting against the darkness but in Girl With A Heart Of, your dark world is under siege by light. It’s a nice, unique twist. If the dialog had been cleaned up and the pacing quicker, then maybe the game won’t feel like its trudging through five feet of mud. If you enjoy playing and supporting the work of independent developers, then give Girl With A Heart Of a chance. Just keep in mind that it has a number of missteps holding it back.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.