A game about life, emotion, and cute creatures…but mostly that last part.
Love and hate are complicated emotions, each in many ways a reflection of one another. Understanding them both and learning to master their role in your life can be a neverending journey. Luckily, love and hate are also adorable amorphous blobs from a new iOS puzzler; they’re considerably easier to master…and a whole lot more fun.
From the developers of the gorgeous Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers comes About Love, Hate, and the other things. And besides being another in an ongoing series of ridiculously long titles, this sophomore effort continues Black Pants Game Studio’s trend of hand-crafted quality. Throughout the game, players control the ever-optimistic “Love,” and the mischevous, raspy “Hate.” Blocking their path to the switches that will free them from limbo are blinking dullards known as “other ones;” equally blobular in shape, but entirely unmoving, they can be pulled closer with Love’s warm call or pushed away with Hate’s bitter hiss. Getting to the end of each level means alternating control between Love and Hate to free up paths, create staircases, and pave the way to each glowing red exit button.
In a sense, About Love, Hate, and the other ones is a classic block-sliding puzzler. Remove the platforming shawl and you’re left with a 2D plane filled with obstructions that must be shifted out of the way. The game excels, however, by insisting that the normal trappings aren’t enough. Aesthetically, the pencil crayon-like backgrounds and menus give the experience a “euro-cartoon” feel akin to classics like The Triplets of Bellweville. Meanwhile, interaction between Love, Hate, and the other ones - filled with three word phrases and quaint noises in place of dialogue - makes traversing a level feel like playing out part of a Pixar short. A sweet, oddball story about two opposites whose greatest asset is each other.
More than just a theme, this concept defines the gameplay and makes bog-standard problem-solving feel unique. The constant, alternating tug of war to push and pull each other one into its right place delivers a satisfying feeling of progressive success. That is to say, what at first appears to be hit and miss experimentation soon reveals the kernel of a way forward, which in turn leads to more informed tinkering until it’s clear the player is crafting a soluton. And with no control over any character except the two titular protagonists, each able to jump atop and over one another’s heads, and the heads of the other ones, each stage feels like an interlocking series of hand-offs, in which both Love and Hate are crucial parts of a head-scratching dance.
As with any dance, there are of course a few missteps along the way in About Love, Hate, and the other things. While there may be five different types of blobs to manipulate, not even lifting wind jars and robotic transistors can distract from the fact that level design is slightly uninspired. Roughly one quarter of the sixty available stages will feel oddly similar, taken in context of the whole experience, or rudimentary in the approach to a solution. Moreoever, Black Pants seems to have conflated the idea of challenging and demanding, with regards to aiming the calls of both Love and Hate. While it may be purposeful that each floating heart or lightning bolt can’t do its work except in clear sight of an other one, not all the puzzles take advantage of this properly. For every couple that use this fact to offer clever obstruction-based challenges, there is another that feels needlessly clunky as a result.
Ultimately though, it’s one review’s complaint that seems to epitomize the key selling point that ties this experience together. In discussing replayability, it mentioned that a persistent undo button and no formal scoring system reduced the chance of players wanting to revisit - that the game lacked incentive to return. In truth, that’s perhaps what I enjoyed most about About Love, Hate, and the other things: the fact that - despite its flaws - it remains an artfully assembled, surprisingly emotive puzzler that aims for something better than “addictiveness.” Rather, this is an experience designed to feel wonderful while it lasts.
- Lovingly crafted pencil crayon-like visuals. Surprisingly expressive characterizations for a game about blobs. The push-pull mechanics build on classic block-sliding foundations to offer depth and nuance. Working at its best, each level feels like a mind-bending dance.
- Roughly a quarter of the available levels feel slightly uninspired, repetitious, or rudimentary. The demands for precision feel just as often frustrating as they do part of the design.