This is the first part of The Ouroboros Sequence, a series on puzzle games.
It starts with Snakebird.
Snakebird (Noumenon Games, 2015) had been touted as the best puzzle game of all time since the last one. I took one look at it and thought, no sir. I could see Snakebird was a well-thought out variant of Sokoban and I didn’t like Sokoban. Don’t look at me like that. In Sokoban you push blocks around a grid to reach a target. The core of Snakebird is about pulling chains of blocks around a grid to reach a target.
But, you know, some of these Snakebird worshippers were high-profile developers. Jonathan Blow couldn’t be wrong. It just wouldn’t be right. He loved Snakebird so it was probably a smart game. Maybe I was not a smart man, but I knew what love was.
I took the plunge. During one quiet commute, I installed it on my phone and…
And, reader, I hated it.
Let me run you through Snakebird in a little more detail, in case it’s unfamiliar to you. In each level, you have to lead one or more snakebirds to the exit. The snakebirds can inch forward, left or right but they have no reverse gear. Gravity is also a thing: if a snakebird’s body is unsupported, it will drop. Not all of the mechanics are obvious, such as discovering snakebirds can push other snakebirds with their movements.
But I struggled to make head or tail of it. While I understood what the snakebirds could do and the components of each level, somehow the mental skills required to construct solutions escaped me. I only seemed to make progress through guesswork. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, this is good luck as bad luck. Lucky solutions mean you’ve learnt nothing. The more luck you have now, the more luck you’re going to need later.
I stopped playing but left Snakebird in stasis on the phone. Months later, I admitted to myself that I had no real intention of playing any further. I could draw you a few charts of frustration against time but the frustration would be off the charts.
But the rebound bugged me. I wanted to know why I could not grok Snakebird. For the right sort of player, Snakebird is a joy, the epitome of a serious puzzle game. For the wrong sort of player, it is a bloodbath.
To this end, I sought out more puzzle games, trying to figure out whether it was the Sokobanality of Snakebird that sunk me, its intricate complexity or something completely different. I hoped that I would uncover some grand insight, something to explain why Snakebird and I never stood a chance. I mean, we didn’t even get to first base.
Gradually, short essay ideas began to dribble out. Oh, I could write about this… I could write about that… In time, I was looking at a very long series of very short essays.
I kept putting off turning these sketches into Electron Dance posts because I never seemed to be done. The research was neverending. There was always one more game I hadn’t played that I should play, or one more game I’d started that I should finish. Hey, that’s a subtle shout out to Stephen’s Sausage Roll (Increpare Games, 2016) right there.
After a year where it was difficult to find the time and space to do any serious writing – newsletter subscribers have no doubt had enough of my oh-woe-is-my-life anecdotes – the arrival of 2018 spurred me into action. This is the year I put puzzle pen to puzzle paper. This is the year I share my puzzled thoughts and, more importantly, puzzling questions with the studio audience.
This is The Ouroboros Sequence.
Next: THE BOX IMPOSSIBLE
There is a series home page, but be warned the list is likely to change. And when I say “likely” I think there’s a possibility I probably mean “definitely”.