In April, good Electron Dance friend Maurycy Zarzycki, who designed the short, free puzzle game Machine at the Heart of the World (Evidently Cube, 2018), tweeted this right at my face: “You should check the demo of Akurra if you haven’t yet heard about it. It’s a bit of a cross between Sokoban, Legend of Zelda and The Witness – a freeroam puzzle game by [Jason Newman]. Something tells me you’ll like it.”
Come on, you can’t namedrop The Witness carelessly like that in a tweet. That’s like saying “if you like Citizen Kane, you might enjoy this film.” Bwahahaha. Anyway joke’s on me because I had far too much fun with Akurra.
Nutshell: Open-world Sokoban-variant rife with secrets to discover, still in development.
Although I’ve come around to the idea that pushing blocks can be fun, I still seem to operate from a default position of “what, Sokoban again?” every time I fire up a blockpusher. But not to worry as I’m receiving electro-shock therapy for this common condition. Anyway, while much of Akurra is block pushing, the experience was so engrossing that it completely bulldozed over my irrational Sokoban-phobia: we ploughed through the whole demo without a break.
Akurra has no wordy tutorial which I assume isn’t just a quirk but a design choice. I know the modern puzzle game opts for implicit tutorials but the reason that Akurra ends up Witnessy is because you are free to journey wherever you wish, more or less, which means you keep wading into new, unfamiliar mechanics.
There is some gating which makes the ride smoother than The Witness but there are so many concepts on show here that it becomes a game of constant discovery. The demo offers some recontextualising of what you have seen before although this aspect isn’t as pervasive as it is in, say, The Witness or one of my older favourites, Full Bore (Whole Hog Games, 2013). In fact, Akurra reminds me very much of my beloved Full Bore.
To keep the experience as fresh as possible for newcomers, I’m not going to talk about any of the mechanics you encounter although if you’re curious, I stepped through some of the early ones in at the bottom of this post and stopped just after Akurra‘s “important reveal”.
Don’t be fooled by the demo’s ending because you’re unlikely to have fully excavated the demo when you reach it. Just open up your save game and go back in. Keep exploring. It’s larger than you might expect from a demo and Akurra took me a couple of hours to feel I was done with it. You’ll find teasing glimpses of locations that demand to be explored… but remain inaccessible for now.
Most of Akurra‘s demo is of moderate difficulty and I was rarely challenged; we’re not talking the advanced masterclass of Stephen’s Sausage Roll (Increpare Games, 2016). But the sense of constant discovery is profound as Akurra‘s world is saturated with secrets, some of which flaunt their presence and others… less so. You’ll need to push back against the game to find some of them.
In a demo, it’s difficult to make the call about whether a puzzle is solveable because, who knows, Akurra might just be messaging “great content coming soon to a Steam release near you!” But the demo’s convention seemed to be if you could get access to a puzzle then it was solveable. The room in the above screenshot was sorta secret so I wasn’t confident this was meant to be beaten. I went to Jason Newman, the developer, to check whether it was actually possible… and he said yes. (He also sent me a elephant-sized hint which I am not sharing with you. TMI.)
Akurra was successfully Kickstartered and according to current scientific theory it will be released next year. Until then, you can go play the Windows demo on Steam or itch to check it out yourself. I’m excited to see this one finished.
Previous Puzzlework: Tametsi
Next Puzzlework: Secure
You can also watch me explain how Akurra plays in the video below.