Sokodice (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Dice puzzles are an interesting one. And yet… Minimalist just doesn’t feel right for it. But that’s what Sokodice went for: Simple, ambient, clean… A little sterile. And it doesn’t help that it feels like the keyboard controls change every now and again in terms of directions.

Insert ambient music.

Anyway, yes, Sokodice. The general idea is to push one or more dice to a specific point, with a specific number on it, face by face. If the number you need is on top, congratulations, you pass! If not, well, you’ll get it eventually. Or you’ll restart it over and over again until you hit par. Depends how much you want that, or just to screw around with it. So, for example, if you have a 6 at the “front” of your move, and a two on top, one direction would end with a 3, another with 1, another with 4, and one, obviously, would end in 6. So the opposing top would take two moves in any direction.

I suck at these things, by the way. But it’s not the difficulty (It’s a puzzle involving space, your mileage will vary) that I find somewhat dull. After all, it adds little wrinkles, things to watch out for, as a good puzzle game does.

It’s a little difficult to differentiate the ice from the snow, so it’s something to watch colourblindness wise. Still, nicer than clean, sterile white.

It’s the presentation. And the control weirdness. In essence, it’s better to play with the mouse then the keyboard, because it gets rid of “Which axis am I moving on again?” There is an undo, but save yourself the frustration if you get it.

No, it’s simply that this minimalism feels more workmanlike than an aesthetic decision. It feels lacking in character. Maybe I’m spoiled on that front, but still… Even when it gets into more colourful designs and tunes, it feels, as I’ve noted, sterile. Lacking feeling.

In any case, Sokodice is less than £5, so if puzzle enthusiasts want to give it a go, then it’s not a big investment, although I would say that dice puzzles are not a beginner puzzle set, so people getting into puzzle games may find only frustration. Personally… It just didn’t grab me.

The Mad Welshman is always sad when something doesn’t grab him, because the devs put in hard work to make their cool stuff. But… Can’t be helped.

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Cloud Gardens (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £5.19
Where To Get It: Steam

Sooner or later, everything falls to ruin. Everything returns to nature. And Cloud Gardens, as much an experience as a puzzle game, is all about that. All about making it happen. And, in its sandbox mode, all about making something that will look all the more… Bleakly beautiful, once it’s been overgrown, nature triumphing over the works of man.

The steel may be rusted, but the plants, the plants are always verdant, the colours of life steel cannot match.

Yes, that’s a very poetic way of putting things. It’s that kind of game, even though there’s not a single word spoken. Like how a cactus in a corner, with bricks around it, and the fact that candles were my items for the majority of it… Led to a sort of shrine. It’s meditative. It’s quiet. And the only sounds are the ambient music, the light thuds as you place items near your plants (in order to make them grow), the rustle of growth, and the gentle, echoing drips as you replenish water from harvesting seeds, to make new plants.

This game isn’t perfect. It tutorialises well, but some of its areas are tricky as hell (especially the overpass signs early on), and it’s sometimes hard to see elements, leading to confusion as to why you aren’t either losing because you haven’t overgrown the world enough, or being given more stuff.

Who knows why those chairs are there. Maybe they sat, to witness the end. Maybe they were forgotten, the remains of a picnic. Their story may never be known.

But overall… Cloud Gardens is an interesting puzzle experience, with a good aesthetic to it, and simple, yet gripping play. Although the theme might make some folks depressed.

The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day…

The Mad Welshman isn’t sure whether to call this calming, or depressing. Probably both.

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Family (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: Donationware
Where To Get It: Itch-IO

I loved Return of the Obra-Dinn. Its detective stylings, where you felt clever because you were actually putting together clues. And I love music, especially of the 80s to the mid 90s. So when a friend recommended Family to me, I was extremely on board.

It’s a shorter experience, to be sure… But no less cool. In fact, it makes up for its length in cool factor, specifically… Its soundtrack.

A fictional London pop scene. But a believable one.

You see, Family is a game about looking back at the history of a fictional 80s London Scene. And each of the nine bands has a representative song. Along with some very believable lore about said scene.

Anyway, for those unfamiliar, Family goes like this: You use various clues, such as articles, roadie notes, and even the game’s Sussex Radio, to determine, essentially, who played in what band. Who moved, and whether they changed instruments (because some do.) And while you certainly won’t get all the drama from piecing things together, you can certainly imagine some of it. The failures along the way. The arguments. The losses. Deduce a certain number right, and you get more clues to work from, until finally… You have all the artists placed. And the character who’s seen it all, Ella Neil, gives one last, bittersweet song to let you go with.

What, did you think I was going to give you a screenshot telling you even part of the puzzle? Haha no.

Aesthetically, it’s very minimalist, and the tutorial “cutscenes” are, unfortunately, a little janky, with some obvious tearing… But that minimalism works for it, and makes everything more clear. Whenever in doubt, click on a thing. Play a song. Listen to the radio, and the snippets of interview. Click someone’s face to set a name.

I ended up being confused by one last one… But it clicked when a friend gave me a subtle hint, and the clues are all there. If you like music, and if you like games of deduction, Family gives you that radio feeling while also being a good, tight puzzler. Definitely recommend this one.

The Mad Welshman loves a good tune. And damn, these are some good tunes…

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GNOG (Going Back)

Source: Bundle
Price: £7.19 (With option to donate more on Itch.IO)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

I love puzzle boxes. Hell, I enjoy puzzles overall. But I do love puzzle boxes. So, when asked “Would you enjoy puzzle boxes, but they’re a computer game?”

The answer is very obviously yes. And, after playing it, the answer is “More please!”

Don’t worry lil’ buddy, I’ll get your supplies back, thank god you still have oxygen, right?

So, GNOG, as you might have figured, is a game about puzzle boxes, those containers where the goal is to go through a series of steps that may or may not be clear, in order to open the box. That’s… Not strictly what happens here, but the goal is to open the box’s mouth, so we’ll count it as that, mmm?

And there’s a whole variety of them, such as submarines, giant frogs, a cartoonish tenement complex, all in this well put together, 3d mini-world. And there’s nearly always something moving, whether under its own power, or asking yourself “What does this [knob/button/switch/dial/OTHER] do?”

The puzzle home, splitting apart. And it’s our job to put it together again.

Aesthetically, it’s great. Bright, contrasting colours, clear differentiation, beautiful music, my only real gripes are that one puzzle in particular’s signposting is… Not great (HOM-3’s security floor), and that some of the interactions, even with mouse, are somewhat fiddly. But the storytelling through showing in each area is pleasant, from the simple “What does animal/person want, and what stops them”, to the subtle overarch of “Let’s piece together the things this boy loves in life, to reassemble the home wot we broke in the first puzzle.”, the music is fitting to each area, and fittingly uplifting as the puzzle boxes groan-sing in joy as they’re awakened, and the sound is good.

Ah, that wonderful bass fits FR-0G the best…

Essentially, if you like puzzles with cool, low-poly aesthetics, then GNOG is good. If you like puzzle boxes, GNOG is cool. And, since I like all of these things, I recommend GNOG. It’s as simple as that.

The Mad Welshman Starts singing tenor if you gently boop his nose, tickle under the ear, and headpat him. True facts!

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Salad Fields (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £11.39 (£3.99 soundtrack)
Where to Get It: Steam

“It’s a leather mouse recipe… It was handed down to me by my leather daddy.”

I see what you did there, Salad Fields, and I thoroughly approve.

Heh… Skulls are cool…

So yes, Salad Fields, a block pushing puzzle game with a surreal, wildly contrasting set of aesthetics, dialogue and characters who toe the line between “Barely subtextually queer” and “Holy shit”, is… A game. Bear with me, I’m still blinking and staring into space contemplatively. Surreal queer retropunk games, relatively rare as they are, can do that to you.

Apart from the block pushing puzzles’ mechanics, which are pretty understandable (if having quite the variable difficulty curve), it’s… Well, I’ve described it above, but there’s a lot to potentially unpack. Like the depressed snake whose birthday apparently sucks. Or the bird who’s into self bondage, teleporting elsewhere if they get unbound to do it again.

God, saaaaaaame…

Okay, maybe there’s not a lot to unpack there. They like tying themselves up. But there’s others, like the computer who’s terrified of Y2K… Look, it’s got characters, and they’re characterful, even if they’re surreal at times. The contrasting aesthetic elements fit with this strange, broken world, in need of a whole load of vegetables and a helping, comforting hand from your furry protagonist.

Well, except the magical boyfriends, they seem to be alright (Indeed, between the first chapter and the second, they talk about how well you’re doing, and chat about thrifting and the other’s cool t-shirt.) But there is, for example, the aforementioned computer, or an ampersand who never wanted to be fancy, but was pressured into it. There’s characters who are run down, depressed, or don’t have the spoons to deal with you right now, and… Well, you don’t see that too often, it must be said.

I could have put another puzzle here, for you to pre-emptively figure out or something. But nah, magical furry boyfriend time.

There’s some fine music, the sounds aren’t bad, and the aesthetics of each area are unique and interesting, although your mileage will vary depending on how you like Windows 95 era 3D and sprites. My only real crit is that movement is smooth enough that holding down a movement button for fiddlier stuff is a really bad idea, as you may have to restart from pushing something a space… Too far. Edging against boundaries you already know about sorta thing.

Anyway, I like it, queerphobic people will probably be, at best, confused, and queer folks into puzzles might find a character who they react to with “God, saaaaaame…” And… Well, I’m going to continue staring into space and blinking.

I like how this game is simultaneously “Big mood”, “ARGH”, and “wat.” Nothing pithy here, just an extra observation.

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