The Independent Games Festival (IGF) is a celebration of gaming's hidden gems. On March 27th, five games will compete to win the Seumas McNally Grand Prize. Every weekday until then, Shacknews will be highlighting a finalist, exploring what makes each game so unique.
This is one of the most humbling experiences I've seen in games. Richard Hofmeier's Cart Life tasks you with running a retail cart--albeit with a lot of personal baggage along the way. Whether you play as Melanie, a recent divorcee that lost her job, or Andrus, an immigrant in search of a new life, you'll have to overcome the struggles of everyday life as you try to scrape on by with your meager earnings.
Cart Life does a great job of conveying the stress of operating a cart, through timed exchanges, having to manually calculate and distribute change, and hilarious typing exercises that distill the banality of cart set-up. But, it's the human aspect that makes Cart Life so special.
As with all simulators, there is a certain addictive quality in maximizing profit, looking for growth opportunities, and operating the best business you can. But, don't forget that Melanie needs to pick up her daughter from school every day. Watch out for Andrus' cat, who must be hidden away from the motel operator. Don't forget to take care of your characters, as they must eat, sleep, and unwind with a drink and smoke (or two).
Although the cheerful chiptune music may mask it, Cart Life is an overwhelmingly heavy game that places a tremendous burden on your shoulders. There is hope for these characters, even if it means taking the bus, foregoing a meal, and worrying about paying your rent on time.