hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Review: Cart Life

2:00 PM on 02.02.2013 // Allistair Pinsof

Bankrupt on selling

Cart Life's willingness to be mundane in an attempt to understand the mundane, without typical preconceptions, is its greatest strength as an empathetic work and its greatest failing as a game.

As people, we find tighter bonds among each other not in sharing the games we love but rather sharing the parts we love of games we don't like. Cart Life is likely to be one of those games for me, as it elicits emotions and realizations in an effective way.

However, it is a game best left unfinished.

Cart Life (Windows)
Developer: Richard Hofmeier
Publisher: Richard Hofmeier
Release: July 29, 2010 (original release) / August 9, 2012 (ver. 1.5)
MSRP: Free / $5 (w/ Vinny character) / $30 for limited physical edition

There is a moment early on in Cart Life where it became crystal clear what kind of game it is. Playing the role of a poor bagel stand operator, I spend the majority of an in-game day traveling to the grocery store, shopping, and returning home to cook a batch of bagels to sell the following day. Paying close attention to my recipe book, I add sugar, salt, yeast, and flour -- too much of it, unfortunately.

There in big text: "MORE" -- but where is the "LESS" button, I wonder. And with one careless mistake, my virtual chef scrapes the black gunk out of the pot and into the trash. I screwed up my last batch of bagels, I'm broke, and I'm starving; and all I really want right now is for Cart Life to resemble a videogame, one that caters to a player's familiarity with there always being ways to undo mistakes or take alternative actions. Stubborn in its focus, Cart Life never loses sight of its goal of simulating the life of a menial job. It's a remarkable learning experience until it makes for a practical joke on the player.

Creator Richard Hofmeier calls it "a retail simulation." I call it Sims purgatory, a place where those virtual pants-peeing munchkins are subjected to child custody, cramped fingers, rush hour traffic, and social isolation. At first, it felt like a parody of life's cruel realities. And why wouldn't it for me: White suburban 20-something who hasn't worked retail a day in his life.

Whether I started a game as bagel vendor Vinny, single parent Melanie, or Ukrainian immigrant Andrus, the story always became the same: I'm tired, bored, frustrated, broke, and with each day the reality of not making payments, not getting permits, and not making court dates becomes more grim. Worst of all, there are no plans for suicide DLC; like I said, Sims purgatory.

When I first heard of Cart Life, it made me laugh at its concept which sounds like a game that would appear in a Simpsons episode or SNL skit in the '90s. "Whoa, a game where you can hold a menial job, fight for your child's custody, and grind coffee beans for two straight hours? EXTREME!" Cart Life doesn't beg for self-parody because it never panders to the player. By occupying the game's world, it becomes apparent who the character is and what the character must do to survive. The rules of the game are learned by living in its world, leading to many sad tales of cart vendors who bought the wrong ingredients, mothers that lost custody of their child, and immigrants so overworked that they forgot to feed their cat for days. Cart Life suggests these things happen in life more than we care to acknowledge.

The world of Cart Life is strewn across neighborhood hubs on a city map. Each area has its own characteristics and denizens; distinguishing one from another is essential to financial success. Paying twice the amount for milk in the trendy, scenester grocer or trying to operate a high-end cart in the ghetto will not lead to retail victory. As it is with life, time is the greatest enemy in Cart Life. Each second represents a game minute and the clock never stops, so operating the cart as long and as early as possible is crucial. Each occupation has its own mini-game to represent the process of service: the bagel vendor summons a text box to retype a random phrase; the coffee vendor requires the player to perform finger gymnastics with the arrow keys; and the newspaper vendor, as do the others, must apply quick math to receive a great tip. Tip your hot dog vendor, people!

After a couple in-game days, which are always succeeded by character-specific nightmares, my fingers were cramped and I was mentally exhausted by the monotony, fruitless results, and lifeless environment -- a world that doesn't acknowledge player and that the player can only communicate with through service. Even family and neighbors hang around like ghosts, repeating the same sentences, never sleeping. Through dialog and design, Hofmeier has created a virtual pit of misery that informs the player on the reality of poverty in America. This is what it feels like.

When the same snot-nosed punk asks you for the fifteenth time if you really sell bagels for 40-cents (even though the sign says exactly that), I began to wonder if Hofmeier's depiction of retail is an insensitive exaggeration or a parody. Even miserable work often leads to friendship and connection, but there are no friends or connections to be made in Cart Life. Occasionally, a fellow vendor will stop at the cart, but then take off, like two ships passing in the night. Even in monotonous work, one can find meaning and happiness in life. Cart Life depicts the misery and monotony of retail without ever giving the slightest hint of anything else.

Hofmeier gives the player the freedom to trap themselves in the rat maze of low-income retail, but surrounds this with a world of distant figures for whom jobs don't exist and success has been tamed. While in shellshock from the burn of menial work and poverty, only the character and short term problems seem to exist. The figurative and literal connections Hofmeier makes between physical input and character action are profound and immediate, creating emotions that bleed into reality and beg for contemplation.

Eventually, the worker must look past their own problems and become a part of society. In Cart Life, there is no world to connect to. After personal discoveries are made through the game's mechanics -- which are unfortunately paired with a multitude of game crashes -- the player is left to repeat a virtual life of monotony and zero-sum progress. The most reasonable action is to do the thing that real life cart vendors can't: Turn your back on the job and go do something else.

Cart Life is short love with a long term divorce. The beginning speaks to the heart and intellect, but the rest recalls pain and boredom. It's worth experiencing, but go in knowing you may not be the right person for the job.



Cart Life - Reviewed by Allistair Pinsof
Amicable - A presentable but unmemorable time. Focusing on the bright spots helps, and I appreciate the effort, but I won't be playing this repeatedly.

See more reviews or the Destructoid score guide.

Allistair Pinsof,
 Follow Blog + disclosure DtoidAllistair

This blog submitted to our editor via our Community Blogs, and then it made it to the home page! You can follow community members and vote up their blogs - support each other so we can promote a more diverse and deep content mix on our home page.

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

 Add your impressions

Status updates from C-bloggers

Halflocke avatarHalflocke
Underhero a 2d side scrolling rpg on indie gogo
extatix avatarextatix
Heading off to Spiel in a bit. A whole lot of games there, just of the cardboard variety. I love me some board games.
absolutfreak avatarabsolutfreak
Finally finished The Witcher 3. Definitely one of the best games I've played in my 30 years or so of gaming. Now onward to Ground Zeroes/Phantom Pain.
Nathan D avatarNathan D
*playing an old ps1 game* "START and SELECT don't bring the menu up?! WELL WHAT THE FU-oh, it's Triangle..."
TheDefenestrator avatarTheDefenestrator
If anyone's playing Marvel Puzzle Quest (any platform) you should join my Alliance, RedRightHand, and help me kick some Galactus butt for their second anniversary event. (Please?)
Shinta avatarShinta
MGS Online Day 3. I have 3 character up to level 10 now, one in each class. They're all pretty handy, but I do miss the scout's mark speed the most on other classes.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
The SW: Battlefront is pretty and has great sound design, but the gameplay is so shallow and has seemingly no depth! If the full game is like this I will be disappointed.
Torchman avatarTorchman
*looks at Amazon preorder* This one's for you Chib'
CJ Andriessen avatarCJ Andriessen
Dear Playboy: Love your video game coverage, but how about you start making some topless unboxing videos? Seeing someone unwrap a copy of Call of Duty is boring. Seeing a topless Playmate unwrap a copy of anything is awesome!
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
In happier news, Level-5 is already talking Yo-Kai Watch 2's Western release, and better/worse yet, they're considering amiibo support for the series! And hey, if they can't get Jibanyan into Smash, that'd be one way to get the West's attention.
gajknight avatargajknight
I drank a glass of Ovaltine for the first time in years today. It was nice. Like drinking a glass of my childhood, complete with ignorance, embarrassing angst, tears (so many tears) and night terrors. Ah, the good 'ol days.
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
[img][/img] This is just depressing. Digital classics on consoles are such a great idea, but it's like not a single company wants to really go through with it.
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
My heart will always be yours, Papyrus #2spoopy4me
GoofierBrute avatarGoofierBrute
I recently beat Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow again, but this time I played on Hard mode from scratch. Outside of dying a few times due to me being an idiot, and enemies hitting harder, it was actually easy. Like really easy.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Today I replated bacteria that I made take up a plamid hopefully stitched onto the genes generatlight. Taken from other dead bacteria and put into a non glowing species, to make it glow. Fucking microbiology is the best.
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
It seems fairy farts are a fragrance, a soap, incense, a vaping liquid and a kind of nail polish. I'm clearly in the wrong line of work and need to eat more chili.
Cannibal Steven avatarCannibal Steven
"You gave the Lost Soul a big smile, like you remember she likes to do... For some reason she sort of wants to smile back..." I'm not crying. Not one bit.
ChrisHannard avatarChrisHannard
Just tried 'The Last Of Us' on PSNow Trial, only to be told... 'Something went wrong. Try again.' Game-appropriate error message or quickie plot-summary?
TheAngriestCarp avatarTheAngriestCarp
I hate when people say crap like "I admit that [thing] in games is problematic, but I still enjoy it" because it's an underhanded way of contradicting your own views while convincing yourself that you aren't a hypocrite.
ChillyBilly avatarChillyBilly
Well shit. I knew I was more than likely going to enjoy Star Wars Battlefront (cause you know, giant Star Wars nerd and all) but holy cow, the beta is fucking great! I need the full game like, now.
more quickposts


destructoid's previous coverage:
Cart Life

  May 18

Cart Life dev reveals new game, is humble and lovable

Get to know the people that make great videogames

  May 12

Sup Holmes works harder with Cart Life's Richard H.

Get to know the people that make great videogames

  Mar 28

Cart Life and FTL win big at the Indie Games Festival

I would have given all the awards to Kentucky Route Zero, but I guess this is fair too

  Mar 18

Cart Life now available on Steam

Easier than ever to feel miserable

View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:

Please contact Crave Online, thanks!


Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -