PuzzleScript is a wonderful tool. It gives just enough limits and direction to inspire doing something small and interesting. I haven’t made a single game using PuzzleScript yet because it’s hard to break out of habits of using more familiar, more complicated tools. That’s not a very good excuse.
In my opinion, some PuzzleScript games are among the best puzzles of the last few years - Heroes of Sokoban, Train Braining, Skipping Stones to Lonely Homes. They have great ideas, but suffer from the inevitable problem of puzzles - they are very niche games, enjoyed by a small crowd of enthusiasts. Other people react to these games by showing a mix of utter fear and complete disinterest. It’s only fair, considering that puzzles often provide no other gratification besides the joy of solving it.
Considering all that, it is a great joy to find a short, accessible puzzle game which is charming and interesting - Sokoboros. It has some very good ideas and communicates them to the player in an effective way. It takes only 10 - 20 minutes to beat it. Go play it now if getting the game totally spoiled in the next paragraphs sounds unappealing.
Sokoboros, the whole game, is a single puzzle. It is set inside interconnected series of rooms, with some branching and backtracking. There’s multiple smaller, trivial challenges along the way which deceive player into making false assumptions about what this game is about. However, the game design at the very beginning (going back and forth between rooms) is already hinting at the big reveal.
After solving the first few rooms and understanding “I have to press all N buttons at once to open the door!“, you encounter room with 4 buttons, which seem impossible to press. The snake is just one segment too short! Desperately exploring the map for an overlooked piece of food gives nothing. There is no more food and the snake is still too short. That was the moment I turned off Sokoboros.
The feeling at that time was quite familiar. In many puzzles I progress till the point of getting stuck, when “I’m just not getting it”. You can spend more time and push through it, but what I find most helpful is to step back and return to it the next day. This helped, without even having to start the game again. At some point a question popped into my head - “can the snake trigger buttons in multiple rooms at the same time?“. I had to try it out. It worked!
This was when the game shined. It perfectly framed the experience up to it, the confusion of not being able to progress further. The game forces you to literally “think outside the box”, to have this small moment of enlightement. After opening the four-button door, Sokoboros is almost mocking you. Ridiculous amounts of food are available now. When the feast is over, the goal becomes to wiggle the snake out through all the rooms. It is an appropriate over-the-top ending.
The thing is, Sokoboros is not a hard puzzle game. It is actually very easy. Yet, it delivers this powerful eureka moment. In more classic puzzle games there are many similar eureka moments, but they happen relatively frequently, are heavily diluted. And most importantly, the best of these moments are highly inaccessible - they hide somewhere in the depths of late game, which only a few players will reach.
Sokoboros acomplishes a lot with very little. It is a nice example of four act storytelling structure: introduction, development, twist and conclusion. This structure is more common in literature, but quite a few games are using it for their mechanics. It inspires me to think how I can make my games more structured and more accessible.