- Developer: The Socially Awkward Studio
- Publisher: The Socially Awkward Studio
- Release Date: 12/03/2021
- Price: £4.49 / $5.99
- Review Code provided by The Socially Awkward Studio
Introducing: Sokodice Switch Review
Sokodice is an isometric puzzle game, and the premiere title of Canadian indie developer The Socially Awkward Studio. Sokodice is based on the Sokoban genre of puzzle games, but while the latter challenges the player with pushing boxes into their proper positions with limited space, Sokodice involves moving dice by rolling them one side at a time in four directions. The spatial possibilities of die sides interacting with a grid is used to its fullest potential in (at time of release) eleven worlds with twelve puzzles each.
Each world introduces a new color palette and a new gameplay element, an efficient and time-tested method of encouraging the player to keep moving forward. There are no cutscenes or dialogue or other context to set the stage, although there are bits of scenery (and sometimes tiny people inhabiting them) which change depending on the world theme. The art style is minimalist, using light pastel colors and untextured polygons for every background element. The dice are the only objects that buck this trend with their more advanced textures and particle effects, keeping them the focus of every scene. However, one important gameplay element, lines of wind, completely blends into darker backgrounds and makes it nigh impossible to judge where a die will slide without squinty manual surveying. There is also a button to make the dice transparent to show you what the floor tiles are, but strangely the heavy and clockwork dice just turn black and cannot be seen through. I thought the game could benefit from a high-contrast mode which would give the floor a proper grid and give objects visible outlines. There is an option called a “Simple Visual Mode” that changes some colors and adds dotted lines parallel to one direction on the grid, but it does not do what a high contrast mode would do. The music is well made and relaxing to listen to, yet it ramps up in energy when you reach the end.
The game uses flat islands made from blocks for every puzzle, and tasks the player with rolling one or more dice onto numbered floor tiles, with the number on top of the die matching the floor. A two-by-two or three-by-three grid can provide several opportunities to transmute the position of a die and managing the movements of multiple dice in highly limited space is where Sokoban’s influence shows. Every level has what appears to be a par amount of turns to aim for, most likely with the goal of creating two layers for every puzzle: the basic solution and the perfectionist solution. But some puzzles are easily doable in fewer turns than the par number, which confuses me and makes me wonder what the point of having an arbitrarily chosen goal like that even accomplishes. If the number is supposed to represent a broad goal to reach, then it should be like that for every puzzle. A better solution would be multiple tiers of success like those seen in mobile phone puzzle titles, to reward players who get incrementally better at each puzzle.
The control scheme works fine for this style of game, but it is also slightly unintuitive. The game is always displayed in a diagonal isometric view, and all dice can only be moved in four diagonal directions. The d-pad is unused outside of menus and all movement is handled by diagonal flicks of the left stick, which is easy to mess up. Rotating the camera with the right stick does not affect the direction you press. Thankfully, the Switch port also included the option to move dice with swipes on the touch screen. Y and X undo your last move and toggle dice transparency, respectively. Those buttons are close together and interchangeable and it is difficult to remember which one does what. ZL and ZR are completely unused, which I think was a missed opportunity to reduce guesswork by binding both actions to them. Overall, the controls are functional and make sense, but they could have been improved.
Other unique dice and floor tiles are gradually introduced, and they all serve their role in adding complexity to the basic rules and methods laid out from the start. The first world has the purpose of teaching the player every basic concept required to complete levels, escalating to two and three dice in play. Every world has that same cycle of introduction and iteration for all new elements and manages to flesh out many complex concepts for puzzles by the end. Sokodice provides excellent usage of antepieces, showing the player how a mechanic will function in a basic setting before reusing it with the addition of new elements. For example, the first world has a puzzle with one die and a floor shaped like two 2×2 squares connected by their corners to form a figure 8. The second world then tests you by having the same formation but with two dice and a slippery ice tile in the center. The final two levels challenge you with a set of six dice each, one of which has every floor type and die type in the game, and the other has only two free spaces, both reaching Rubix Cube levels of forward thinking required.
Mark the Point
Sokodice is an engaging, brain-tickling time sink selling for a fair price. The difficulty curve allows novices to conquer many puzzles, but the last few worlds are brutally challenging. The game looks and sounds appealing in its simplicity.
- Tightly constructed puzzles with a unique central mechanic
- Soft colors and lo-fi tunes
- Puzzle elements interlock perfectly and foster clever solutions
- Strangely lengthy boot up time
- Handful of bugs, a couple of which cannot be ignored
- Unoptimized control scheme