It’s great when puzzle games do something like Unpacking and bring daily life into solving problems, and A Little to the Left is the latest to adopt that atmosphere. The goal in each of its over 75 stages is to tidy up. Put things that belong together in the same box. Organize items by size. Get settled. It’s calming… that is, until it throws a series of tedious or frustrating stages at you.
The premise in A Little to the Left is that it feels like, at least initially, you’re cleaning up around the house. Stages tend to involve household or recognizable items that are askew. It’s up to you to look at what is in front of you, then determine the way they should be arranged.
Generally, it’s a fairly clear process. When a stage begins, you’ll see objects ahead of you. They all follow some sort of theme. Your goal is to see what connects them and allows you to put them together in an orderly fashion. Maybe that means following patterns. It could involve checking statuses and sizes. Clearing things away can come into play. There is a place for everything, and A Little to the Left is about finding that. You need to go through them in order, as picking a specific level doesn’t let you skip ahead to later chapters. But once you do unlock one, you can return to play it again or perhaps try to find an occasional extra solution. There are also some daily puzzles to challenge. If someone has an issue, you can ask for a hint for help. There’s also no penalty to “let it be” and skip that stage. No scores, timers, or penalties are looming over you.
However, there is a cat. An often unseen feline stalks you in A Little to the Left, watching (and maybe judging) your progress through the puzzle game. It won’t make its presence known in every level, but it can pop up. When it does, it will sweep away items, ruining your work. Though sometimes, the cat isn’t even a villain. It’s an anti-hero scattering items so you could see, “Hey! There’s another stamp under that stack!” It’s a novel mechanic that sets the game apart, adding to the ambiance.
As part of its aesthetic, A Little to the Left doesn’t involve any text. Unless you go into the menu to ask for a hint or “leave it be” to advance to the next puzzle, everything will be wordless. It’s great for accessibility, but also sometimes hurts it. Many puzzles are obvious. If you get items of certain sizes or colors, you know they’d need to be put in order or grouped together. Objectives aren’t always that clear, though! Even the hints involve wordless pictures, which can occasionally obscure solutions. For example, nothing tells you that accents like pencil shavings are movable and considered “clutter.” Which means “removing” them by dragging them off-screen is necessary. Except you might not realize that for minutes. It feels like a forced obtuseness. It’s generally a lot of fun and soothing, but that makes the times when it gets a little too rudimentary or out there stand out.
For example, I found the reliance on faint tones or precise positioning to both be a little frustrating. It’s another quirk that keeps A Little to the Left from being a truly accessible puzzle game. When an item gets into a possibly correct place or position, there will be a slight chime. If the volume isn’t turned up high enough — or someone has hearing problems — you can miss it. Given there are puzzles in which getting the position exact matters, it can be an issue! It’s even worse when you get a puzzle like the one involving the cartons and containers at the end of chapter two. You can put them in the right places, but if it isn’t exact, it won’t register as correct.
Another thing about A Little to the Left is that it ranges from no-thought-required levels to ones that might initially seem unfathomable. The first three chapters tend to be incredibly obvious, to the point at which you’re just moving a few blatant pieces around. Then, once you are about to head into the fourth chapter, things pick up. That’s when it gets to the point where if a puzzle is challenging, A Little to the Left can really feel like you’re searching for one obscure solution. (Even a few chapter three puzzles near the end left me flummoxed.) Also, while an occasional puzzle will offer two or three options, it doesn’t feel as freeform as the premise proclaimed.
A Little to the Left is a good puzzle game to play when you need to take a moment to sort things out. It lets you take a moment to calmly organize things, perhaps tidying up your thoughts. I do wish its levels felt a bit more balanced. There are absolutely tasks that feel like rote behavior, as well as a few puzzles with solutions that might not seem to make sense. At least there’s always the option to “let it be” and move on.
- Given how it lets you skip puzzles and get hints on demand, I was dismayed to see I couldn't skip ahead to puzzles in later chapters.
- Headphones help a lot! So can "picking up" and "dropping" items around where you know they should be if it isn't automatically triggering a stage clear.