The Player

'Love You to Bits' is all about robot love and letting go

Breakups are tough enough. The loneliness is compounded when your girlfriend is scattered around the galaxy.

"Love You to Bits," released late last month for iOS, is a cutesy but melancholic sci-fi romance, one where boy meets robot, boy falls in love with robot and boy loses robot. There are puzzles, many of them involving found objects or moving platforms around a maze-like setting, but at its core this is a game about friendship and devotion.

Sometimes, an alien just wants the perfect snowman. Other times, a boy can't get soft robot kisses out of his mind. In another instance, a space farmer just wants to hang with his pet cow without some other species trying to abduct the animal.

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There's no judging here. "Love You to Bits" is about companionship, first and foremost, and the joy that comes from a comfortable connection. But as each of its playful but sad levels is explored, it starts to feel like a game of letting go.

When we fight for love, are we doing it for the good of the relationship or our own selfish needs?

That's a lot of weight for a $3.99 mobile game to carry, and that perhaps says more about me than "Love You to Bits." But I'm grateful for the intergalactic cartoonish journey it sent me on. For "Love You to Bits," developed by two start-up game studios in Spain, is little but charming, simple but affecting.

I related to the boy Kosmo and his quest of attempting to stitch together a potentially lost relationship with his broken robot girlfriend, Nova. What if the answers aren't to his liking? And does it matter, if it's all part of the grief process that allows him to arrive at some sort of closure?

So as Kosmo traverses the universe trying to put Nova back together, "Love You to Bits" becomes more about Kosmo conquering his fear of being alone than the strength of their odd, inter-species (inter-object?) coupling.

And here's the thing: "Love You to Bits" isn't depressing despite the presence of mournful piano notes. For after a few levels, Nova is at times out of sight and out of mind. More immediately pressing are the aliens Kosmo meets along the way.

Sure, between puzzles, we see memories that boy and robot shared — the night in with a scary movie, or how a sock was transformed into a puppet — but as the challenges get tougher and the planets get darker (one is just a largely abandoned mine shaft), little Kosmo starts to feel less and less puppy-dog sad. He's learning to live on his own and creating ways to better interact with strangers. As I was playing, I wished that he could have popped out of the screen and given me advice.

Most of the characters Kosmo meets are missing something — a companion of their own or a particular object of affection. Usually, if Kosmo finds a way to make them happy, they'll in turn help Kosmo and return a piece of his missing girlfriend.

But not everyone is friendly. There is a playground bully, for instance, and a conniving, goblin-like dungeon creature. He insists Kosmo find him jewels but then tries to make a run for it without returning a piece of Kosmo's lost love. Then again, Kosmo is not above knocking someone unconscious with a boulder. This is accomplished not by action but by finding the correct lever to pull at just the right moment.

Each of the 20-plus worlds is tiny and easily traversed on one or two screens of a mobile phone. But they're all drastically different, and it feels as if Kosmo were dropping in and out of two dozen or so children's stories. There's a planet, for instance, that is a library in which each room seems to lead to a new dimension. Another is a suburban house, complete with a fireplace and a bouncy ball, only the inhabitants here are an insect-like family. Another combines "Star Wars"-like cantinas with a bachelor-pad coolness.

Each world has its own story for Kosmo to discover. The lovers caught in different planes of the library, for instance, or the mother who lost her own children in an apparent game of hide-and-seek. Sometimes a gelatinous purple alien only needs to be shown the joy of jumping in a pile of fall leaves. Problems are solved by touching an object and instructing Kosmo to interact with it; light trial and error will usually find the right combination.

Ultimately, Kosmo may be heartsick, but he channels his downtrodden energy as a force for good. He's no longer dependent on a robot gal; he's instead inspired by her. Kosmo takes a deep breath and decides to see the world, one planet at a time.

"Love You to Bits," without Kosmo even knowing it, slowly transforms from a tale of heartache to one of bold independence.

todd.martens@latimes.com

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'Love You to Bits'

Developers: Alike Studio/Pati

Platform: iOS (Coming soon to Android, PC and Mac)

Price: $3.99

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 15, 2016, in the Arts + Entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "`Love You to Bits' is all about robot love - Mobile game's light puzzles add up to surprising emotional weight - VIDEO GAMES" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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