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Video Game / Carto

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The people of this land are kind (kind of odd, hah!), and I know we'll find our way back to each other soon - it's in our blood. You're far from my body, but you'll never be far from my heart.
— The first letter from Carto's Granny

Carto is a Puzzle Game by Sunhead Games, available for Windows, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Carto is a young girl who is flying along with her grandmother in an airship as her grandmother demonstrates the ability of cartographers to move map tiles around. Carto decides to play with the tiles while her grandmother sleeps, and causes the airship to run into a storm, knocking her out of it.

She wakes up on a small island, where she finds that the map that fell with her lets her use the cartographer's ability to move map tiles around as desired as long as the edges line up properly. On the island, she finds the residents preparing for the coming-of-age ceremony of a fifteen-year-old girl named Shianan, where she will board a boat and sail off to find a new island to live on, never to return home. After helping get everything set up for it, Carto joins Shianan on her voyage as the first step toward finding her way back to her grandmother.

Tropes found in Carto include:

  • All Deserts Have Cacti: There's even an achievement for touching them enough times.
  • All There in the Manual: Some names are only available in the development sketches in the airship after you've found all secrets, such as Shianan's father's name (Taivo) and family name (Nuben), the names of the Grasslands teacher (Natig) and the children she's teaching (Er, De, and Ne), and the names of most of the desert characters.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: Zig-zagged — The ancestors of the icebergs left a litter of husky puppies inside a lost treasure chest for several years. A book that Carto reads in the Story Chalet mentions a drink called Neverwinter which puts the drinker into a deep and long hibernation, sleeping until the first light of Spring, which could explain why they lasted this long — but that doesn't justify the oxygen issues that would arise from several puppies inside a locked treasure chest.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comparison: During the ending, when Granny is talking to the bear about The Watcher, whom she knew when they were younger.
  • Beary Friendly: Cholmek's bear companion is surprisingly friendly, and it's even capable of hugging Carto without harming her.
  • Best Friend: Carto and Shianan refer to each other this way.
  • Blatant Lies: Carto tells Monkar and Ganga that she didn't see the ghost lily, when she rode it to the Wildwood and then gave it to Chirb.
  • Blow You Away: Carto is capable of creating a tornado by spinning the volcano map piece she's in when she's surrounded by lava in the volcano, this helps her escape the volcano alive. Later, she can also use this to create a fire tornado on the now-active volcano, this helps to boost the Palmers' business and earns Carto a secret map piece.
  • Catching Some Z's: Mo is speaking "ZZZzzz" when first met, due to sleeping from Counting Sheep.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The soil and toy boat from the Island, and the ghost lily and worm from the Grasslands.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: The volcano weather forecast says there won't be an eruption today, which surely means there won't be an eruption. That said, there would not have been an eruption until Pinko gets Carto to restart the machine within it to heat the hot springs, which causes the eruption.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Many of the characters, but some stand out more than others.
    • Gata on the island. At Shianan's send-off, he thinks he's at a dog show. He doesn't recognize Carto and Shianan when they return, thinking they're mermaids.
    • Auntie Tuyaa in the grasslands, who plays music for the plants.
  • Counting Sheep: The reason that Mo is always sleeping when you find him - he's a shepherd and has been counting his sheep. (All four of them.)
  • Deadly Dust Storm: Dust storms crop up frequently on the yellow sand tiles of the desert, causing major changes.
  • Elemental Motifs:
    • Carto and her grandmother have Air. Both of them traveled the world in an airship, Grandmother's method of communication is via paper planes, and Carto even creates a tornado at one point by spinning a map piece around. Finally, the two reunite at one of the highest points of the world.
    • The Island's motif is Water. The inhabitants have blue hair and their Rite of Passage involves sailing away and settling on another island, never to return. They also hold fishing competitions.
    • The Grasslands' is Plants. The inhabitants are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to flora and many of their quests involve finding certain plants.
    • The Forest's is Nature. The Messengers all have a Loyal Animal Companion, the area has a giant tree named Mother, and one of the area's puzzles involves Carto finding an Earthworm and helping to guide it.
    • The Desert's is Earth/Sand. The area's gimmick is a sandstorm that often alters the landscape.
    • The Volcano's is Fire. Carto has to help the inhabitants prepare food, heat the hot springs, and even venture into the volcano itself.
    • The Icebergs' is Ice. Much of the area is covered in snow with ice sliding puzzles as well as cold winds.
  • Emoticon: The primary way Carto expresses herself.
  • The Exile: A non-punitive example; see Rite of Passage. It later comes out that this is to help everyone's peace of mind - if the parents know that their child is never returning, they won't worry why they don't show up. Before this rule was put in place, there were cases where people shipwrecked while trying to visit home.
  • Fan Boy: The Storytender, for Granny; he's read all the books about her adventures, and asks her to sign his copy of her first issue.
  • Fantastic Flora: Several interesting species of plants are encountered, documented, or talked about:
    • Honey Fruit are very tasty fruits that grow on a single stem. These should not be confused with the poisonous Red Devil, a similar-looking plant that has multiple stems with a single fruit on each.
    • Lunar Lotus are flowers that bloom in the moonlight and burrow underground in the day.
    • Bee Bristle looks soft but packs a nasty sting.
    • Dancing Pines can move when there's enough wind.
    • Sour Potatoes can only grow within a square mile from each other, as they absorb the ambient sourness of all other plant life in that area.
    • Glow Leaf emits a pleasant aroma when burned, although it tastes terrible.
    • Ghost Lilies are very rare glowing flowers that only bloom at the source of a river. They're sapient and are very skittish, floating away at the first sign of loud noises.
    • Whisper Grass makes a "shhhhh..." sound when wind blows against it. Slumber Stalk emits a fragrance that makes people sleepy. Dozing Daisies nod slowly and make everyone around them feel tired. All three can make a person fall asleep, especially if they're put together.
    • The ending has Grandma talk about Sprawling Vulture Vines, Carnivorous Cacti, and Invisible Orchids.
  • Fishing Minigame: Downplayed, and a requirement to complete the game. You can control what you catch by controlling the map, and must catch four specific fish faster than anyone else, but you can Take Your Time.
  • Gasshole: Penelope the sheep, according to Mo.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: The Story Chalet. It's filled with books that write themselves due to events in the world.
  • Heroic Mime: Carto doesn't talk until the very end of the game, except for telling Shianan her name.
  • Hub Level:
    • The Story Chalet acts as this, with all the other worlds connecting into it.
    • On the glacier, the fort acts as a hub, able to connect into all the other pieces.
  • Instant Sedation: Upon bringing the three plants to Mo. Each one makes him sleepier, and all three together put him out like a light.
  • Job Title: Protagonist Title-type. The Story Chalet is full of the automatic data recorder type of Reality-Writing Book. One of them, called "The Little Cartographer", is about Carto.
  • Lava Is Boiling Kool-Aid: Repeatedly lampshaded in the volcano level.
    • On seeing the Lava Fountain: "Red hot magma! Why does it look so...delicious?"
    • A pamphlet in the drawer next to the bed in the guest room: "Lava: Nature's Spiciest Water"
    • "Oh boy, that hot lava is going to feel so good on my cold body...I assume."
  • Level-Map Display: The game's primary gimmick involves collecting pieces of a magical map whose pieces have been scattered and rearranging those pieces to solve puzzles and form the levels that you travel through.
  • Live Item: The earthworm that Carto finds in the Forest goes into her inventory. It helps her to break rocks in the roots of Mother, and later on also helps to point the way back to the island by shaping its body into clues.
  • The Lost Woods: Chapter 3 uses foggy forest tiles where you have to follow clues to find your way out and de-fog them.
  • No Antagonist: The primary conflict is Carto trying to get back to Granny; everyone she meets is helpful.
  • Now You Tell Me: Invoked and lampshaded with the sign beside the whirlpool, which isn't working yet when you first arrive, but which you would have had to walk through to get to the sign.
    Beware of whirlpool!
    (Apologies if you've seen this sign too late.)
    (We should probably move this sign.)
  • Pamphlet Shelf: The Story Chalet. The library has many books, none of which seem to have more than half a dozen lines of text.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Shianon puts on some leaves and a wooden helmet, calling herself Rhianon, when she goes back to visit her island.
  • Precious Puppy: The long-sought treasure of the icebergs is...six husky puppies.
  • Protagonist Title: The title refers to the little cartographer protagonist.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Carto, apparently. We never see or hear about her parents, only her Granny.
  • Reality-Writing Book: The Story Chalet is full of the automatic data recorder type. One of them, called "The Little Cartographer", is about Carto.
  • Rite of Passage: On the Island, when someone comes of age on their fifteenth birthday, a boat arrives on the north dock for them. They must sail away and never return, setting up a home on the first island they find.
  • Schmuck Bait: Not for the player, but for a Sand Rogue. They love shiny things, so Carto puts a gold coin on top of a rock and covers the rock in dirt. The sand rogue tries to tunnel under it, and runs headfirst into the rock.
  • Secret Level: Collecting all six secret puzzle pieces lets the player visit the Airship in an epilogue level, which includes a picture of the dev team and character sketches.
  • Stink Snub: Ganga. When you're trying to find him in the forest, one of the kids says you can smell that he's in there, and later refers to him as "Uncle Stinky".
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Many of Pinko's comments about the volcano hotel. "We'll also make sure that it contains an absolute minimum of lava-related injuries." "We've had minimal scaldings, I assure you!" "You won't believe how few get sick [from our food]!"
  • Take Your Time: Even when there may be some time pressure, such as during the fishing tournament or when Carto is surrounded by lava that's enclosing in on her in an erupting volcano, there is no penalty for going slowly.
  • Talking to Plants: One of the abilities of the Watcher. Lempa teaches Chirb how to do it.
  • Tastes Like Feet: Glow leaf "tastes like the river bed".
  • Theme Naming:
    • The Messengers all are named for anagrams of trees: Chirb (birch), Recad (cedar), Niep (pine), and Cholmek (Hemlock). The previous Watcher was Lempa (maple).
    • The Palmer children are all named for fingers, oldest (Thumbo) to youngest (Pinko).
  • Third-Person Person: Chirb often refers to Chirb in this way.
  • Towers of Hanoi: Three versions at the Story Chalet: a 2-box, a 4-box, and a 10-box. (The last one does not have to be solved normally, fortunately.)
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Each Messenger has a Loyal Animal Companion: Recad has a fox, Niep has a vulture, Cholmek has a bear, and Chirb has an owl. Lempa, before he became Watcher, had an earthworm. While Carto isn't a Messenger, she too gets an earthworm that is heavily hinted to be the offspring of Lempa's.
  • Well-Intentioned Replacement: Chirb has lost the sapling he is supposed to bring to the Mother. Carto gives him the ghost lily, which the Mother chooses as her successor.