A Little to the Left Review
I’ll be perfectly honest with you – I hate cleaning. Like, a lot. As in, I have to force myself to get out of my warm, cozy, comfortable bed to go tidy the kitchen, solely motivating myself with the thought that I really don’t want mice in my flat.
But, regardless, I found myself intrigued by A Little to the Left, a new indie game by Max Inferno where the goal is exactly that: to clean. As the player character, your tasks simply involve straightening up what one can assume is your own home, solving puzzles in order to sort things into perfectly organized piles and arrangements. It’s a charming, laid-back game, and definitely more satisfying than cleaning my own kitchen will ever be. And, with a runtime of only about 3 hours, it takes far less time than real-life house-cleaning, too. What’s more, the player character also owns an adorably but slightly mischievous cat. The cat will, on occasion, disrupt your puzzle progress with a flick of a paw or a brush of a tail. It’s minorly frustrating, but so is the real-life act of cleaning when you own a cat. Points for realism there.
The game itself is solidly casual, branding itself as the type of “calming” title that fans of games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley would enjoy. A Little to the Left, though, is nowhere near as complex as either of those games. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, though. In fact, I enjoyed my playthrough. It’s a cute little title, and engaging enough that I found myself reorganizing stickers and stamps when they weren’t placed as neatly as I wanted them to be. As you might guess, that is incredibly out of character for me. And I would definitely also describe it as calming (or, at least, far more calming than cleaning in real life).
However – and this may just be because I’m a narrative geek – I found myself wanting some sort of story told through these stacks of letters and files we were meant to go through; even something as simple as a little knowledge about who our character is would have kept me more engaged than I was. There have been comparisons drawn between A Little to the Left and Witch Beam’s 2021 title Unpacking, which has a similarly domestic, “cozy” feel (and mechanically, relies heavily on the player organizing objects). However, in Unpacking, you actually learn quite a bit about the player character through performing the titular action.
The only thing we know about the protagonist in A Little to the Left is that they’re a hyper-organized neat freak. I mean, WHO organizes the food on their plate to precisely match the plate’s barely visible pattern? Definitely not anyone I know.
I did have a couple of other gripes with the game, mostly at the mechanical level. For example, the solutions to certain puzzles don’t always make much sense. There were a few times when I was just moving an object around semi-randomly until I heard the little ping that confirmed it was in the right spot. Additionally, there were a few puzzles where the right answers were physically impossible to obtain – as hard as I tried, that one photo frame just refused to lock into the position that the game wanted it to stay in. That was after I looked at the hint the game offered, too!
Luckily, the game has an option that lets you skip puzzles you can’t solve, regardless of the reason why. And, as previously stated, if you get stuck on a puzzle, you can always get a hint. For the time being, I’ll give the developers the benefit of the doubt on these buggy puzzles, since I did play a pre-release version of the game. But if they persist, they’re definitely something to be aware of as a player.
A Little to the Left is a charming, casual puzzle game – the stakes are low, and it isn’t particularly challenging. Still, it was a nice way to unwind at the end of the day; I can see myself playing the randomly generated mini-puzzle that the game calls your “Daily Clean” while on the train. But part of me wonders if it’s a little too casual, at least for the platform I’m using (PC). I feel like I would have gotten more chill enjoyment out of the game had I been able to play it on something portable like my phone (since, unfortunately, some of us cannot afford Steam Decks).
Again, this is the type of game you play while you’re waiting for the bus, not something you’re going to get absorbed into for hours at a time. And – don’t get me wrong – that’s fine, but I would advise setting your expectations accordingly. A Little to the Left doesn’t necessarily pretend to be more than what it is, so I didn’t feel robbed of my time by a game that promised more complexity than three hours of simple, pastel-coloured puzzles. But, then again, see how much money the publishers charge for those three hours of simple, pastel-coloured puzzles on launch and decide for yourself whether cleaning up is worth your hard-earned cash or not.
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