Cat Sokoban

Cat Sokoban, by sylvie (2014)

Sokoban is arguably the great puzzle game genre of the 21st century (or at least the one that isn’t match-three a la Candy Crush). The genre’s been with us since the 1980s, but particularly in the space of free indie games it’s blossomed in the last . This has been helped, in no small part, by the incomparable Increpare’s open source 2013* PuzzleScript engine, which makes the design of low-resolution, browser-playable sokoban-type puzzle games accessible. (One can make other types of puzzle games in PuzzleScript, but the engine seem particularly optimized for this genre.)

Cat Sokoban (not made in PuzzleScript) does not feature the most complicated or sophisticated puzzle design you’ll ever encounter in a sokoban game. However, instead of pushing around boxes or balls, you find yourself, quite literally, herding cats. Living, curious, wandering cats. There’s a good chance that that information alone is enough to make you want to go play it, so feel free to skip the rest of this review and herd some cats right meow.

Author sylvie’s characteristically adorable pixel art really makes the game come to life. You also get a randomized assortment of cat colors with each stage try. And cats–as cats are wont to do–will fall asleep. If they fall asleep at their destination, this is good news for the harried cat-herder. However, if they fall asleep anywhere else, it becomes impossible to move them while they doze and their nap time makes it that much less likely that cats you’ve secured in place will remain there. The fact that these cats have minds of their own means that sylvie can set up situations that would be impossible in normal sokoban games.

These cats can be frustrating, to be sure, but if their cute little mews fail to melt your heart, their precious little faces while they sleep just might.

Who can stay mad at that?

Cat Sokoban is available to play for free on the author’s website.

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*Of note is that 2013 is also the year that Increpare released one of the highlights of the entire genre, English Country Tune.

Daddy!, Don’t Explode Me

Daddy!, Don’t Explode Me, by Fi Silva (2015)

I should let readers of this blog know from early on that I have an incredible fondness for and fascination with Lemmings (DMA Design, 1991), which I’m sure will continue to come through in my posts. In my own game design, this fascination with has resulted in two decades of games that try to build on or reinvent the Lemmings formula. One of the difficulties of making a good game in a Lemmings vein is that even DMA struggled to improve on the mechanics of their own formula, only really blossoming in levels that explored those mechanics well. The eight abilities from the original Lemmings are ingeniously simple and actually quite comprehensive for navigating two-dimensional, side-view space. As you can see from numerous games that followed in Lemmings’s wake, reworking–rather than just remaking–Lemmings is a challenge that partly owes to difficulty in imagining around the original set of abilities.

Made for 2015’s Ludum Dare 33 competition, Daddy!, Don’t Explode Me reimagines its little walkers as eager-to-please minions of a faceless villain and further reinterprets two of these abilities–the blocker and the exploder–into three abilities with an added elemental theming. The blocker turns into a block of ice, while fire can melt ice blocks. In addition to turning your little demons into ice blocks, there are ice blocks in the stages themselves. This twist allows for a different approach to the game’s physical spaces, producing a distinctive iteration of an old formula. (And the adoring little demonic minions are kind of adorable.)

The bombs, mercifully, are less demanding of precise, anticipatory timing than their Lemmings counterparts since they detonate right where you click your demon. However, the timing of where to light them on fire proves more fussy, fidgety, and hard to hit precisely, leading to some frustration. Compounding the frustration, the game soon gives you very little or no wiggle room to meet the minimum number of demons that need to reach the goal of each stage (little houses they set on fire). On the whole, though, this is an incredibly charming, clever take in a genre that needs charming, clever takes.

Download for free from itch.io (Windows).