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

Further Watching

You can also watch me explain how Akurra plays in the video below.

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24 thoughts on “Puzzleworks, 3: Akurra

  1. I don’t want you to feel like your posts are unappreciated, so I thought I should let you know that I am absolutely slammed with preparation for the semester (where I will be teaching two of my classes remotely and I feel like I had some mistaken expectations about, for instance, whether I was going to get a camera to stream class from my office), so when I saw this post about a game that seems like possibly the most up-my-alley thing possible I immediately went to the download page and saw that it was Windows-only. (I don’t blame the dev for this, it seems like Big Apple has been steadily making things more and more unpleasant for developers?)

    Anyway, some personal news.

  2. Hey Matt, no worries! I wasn’t sure how much traction I’d get on this post anyway as I already covered Akurra in a stream and most of this article is very much Starseed Pilgrim-era “play this game it’s full of mystery” – i.e. a shocking lack of information 🙂 If comments were to flow it would likely be after people played the demo! And sadly, you cannot.

    AAAARGHHH MATT NO YOU CAN’T – How long have you being playing Cinco Paus before you finally got that?

  3. And I hit the SUBMIT button on that comment before I added a note on good luck for the new semester. This coming educational year is going to be stranger and possibly more stressful than most.

  4. I usually avoid sokobanlikes as I would the plaguelikes… but I decided to give this one a go after reading your writeup. It seems to lean less on the fiddly-block-pushing and more on exploration, lock-and-key, unlockable upgrades, and secrets. And that’s good for me, because the fiddly-block-pushing is the bit I can’t stand. But exploring and finding secrets is my jam. Locks and keys… well, I can put up with them. I did enjoy the demo, enough to get to 100% in two sessions totalling 2h 26m:

    My biggest problem with the demo was not being able to remember what was where. Very late into my second session—in fact after I’d already reached the demo’s ending, but before 100% completion—I noticed that the map showed me something of what was in each room if I cursored over them; up to that point I’d just been using it to navigate, so hadn’t moved the cursor! That’s at least something, but (a) it doesn’t show you what locks are in each room, and (b) you can’t see the map for an island—or part of an island—unless you’re already there, so I spent a good while just going back and forth between all the islands and rooms on them trying to remember where I’d seen such-and-such-a-lock. That was my biggest problem with the game, and it’s really pretty small; if I’d been less lazy I’d have taken notes and this wouldn’t have been a problem at all.

    I did end up needing one hint though. I got stuck on that same puzzle in your second screenshot. Turns out, so did a great many people: the discord is full of people asking how to get that star. And the developer is handing out (presumably) the same hint each time. Once I’d read the hint, I knew exactly what it was referring to, and got that final star; but it wasn’t a satisfying puzzle to solve—or a satisfying type of puzzle even. A slight downer ending to an otherwise very enjoyable demo!

  5. Congrats, I’m glad you found it to your liking Andy! I think I also had problems with remembering where everything was and I didn’t even notice there was a map until the game was done.

    Yes I’m not sure *I* found the solution to that puzzle satisfying either. But, as you said, I’d had such a good time that it didn’t bother me that much. It fires on a lot of the usual endorphin mechanics – climbing numbers, unlocks and discovery – which gives the game such propulsion. None of the puzzles (aside from THAT one) kept me stuck for long.

  6. So it looks like I got Cinco Paus back in last October. I haven’t played it completely continuously since then but put in some good stretches. I think there were two streaks before this where I got into the twenties (I may have mentioned that the app completely resets when I close and reopen it–down to the RNG, it always starts in the same configuration, I could perhaps exploit this for a tool-assisted speedrun–so anyway, I don’t have a persistent high score list.)

    There were many ways in which I got lucky in this run! I don’t know if you want to totally avoid spoilers, but there’s one mechanic I know you’ve encountered, where enemies get special powers that persist into the next game. I can say that: (1) there were a couple of powers that will mess you right up and (2) I managed to completely avoid those powers. Also I played pretty cautiously at the end of the run. I was supposed to be prepping classes last Sunday and I thought I was anxious about the Brave New World of Online Teaching where I Don’t Have The Excuse That I Had To Switch Over In The Middle Of The Term but I realized that I was also anxious because I was 44 games into my Cinco Paus streak and I wasn’t going to be able to focus on anything else until I finished. Especially because I would be completely hosed if I had to restart the computer in the middle, because of the app losing track of state.

    …since I was modest about getting a lot of good luck in the run, I will mention that I did the whole thing without writing down any notes about e.g. “I tried this wand and didn’t get this effect, so it doesn’t have it.” Some people have worked out (or sourcedove) constraints on how things work so they can shoot a wand, discover one effect, and rule out half the others, it’s like that Sudoku where the guy was able to fill it in from two numbers.

  7. I played again, with the configuration that I always start in, and lost on the first Jogo. I had two polymorph wands and everything turned into a rooster!

  8. Speaking of crosses between Sokoban, Legend of Zelda and [[OTHER GAME]], anyone played Ittle Dew?

  9. Looks like the lack of a Mac demo is indeed due to Apple being jackasses! tbc not that they are jackasses in this specific case, but that they are jackasses in wanting to make it very difficult for people to write software for their platform, which I presume is because they want to get money out of them (based on the whole 30% App Store kerfuffle). Looking forward to playing the demo when and if that gets sorted out!

    OTOH after taking ten minutes to figure out how to empty the Recycle Bin on my son’s PC, I can’t really switch to windows either. (The reason I thought I needed to empty the bin seems to have been some amazing obtuseness by HP; they partitioned the hard drive so that there were 900 GB on a D drive, and whenever anyone asked “My C drive is filled up, can I use the D drive?” their support forums were like “No! No! Don’t touch the D drive! That’s the recovery drive!” But it seems as though, when they partition the hard drive to put most of the space in D, they have the recovery drive in E, and that’s probably what you shouldn’t touch? But none of the support people were able to figure that out? I have now Complained In Public about this.)

  10. Hey Matt, sorry about leaving this for while. I seem to fall into periods of playing Cinco Paus without end – it’s so easy to just fire it up and play. I think the most dangerous zone is the first one: a ton of low-powered enemies, few walls and five wands that are a complete mystery. I think I win/lose most times based on my performance on this level and I still don’t have a great strategy. So many times I’ve accidentally polymorphed a shit-ton of critters into frogs and chickens on the first level.

    Christ, I think I’d lose my mind if Cinco Paus lost state like yours. You had to play a 50 jogo match in a single session! What dedication. And slightly scary.

    I think there are definite situations where death will come at you more than others. I had a bunch of really crappy wands in one jogo, where they were all “move the exit” or “make treasure” or teleport you across the playfield and very few useful, offensive powers.

CA – I haven’t played Ittle Dew I’m afraid.

  11. I didn’t play it in a single session, I just left the app open the whole time and didn’t restart my computer! Took me a week or two I think. I would in fact have lost my mind if I had had to play it straight through. Or more to the point, lost the game.

    It is possible to get wrecked really badly on the first level, particularly when the game dumps you in the open. I think I mentioned that what defines a roguelike for me is that you have to back into corridors to avoid getting mobbed, and Cinco Paus certainly qualified. One critical thing in my run was something that helped me be pretty save in zone one, but I won’t tell you because Spoilers.

    (btw I happened to be looking through old comments and I saw that my previous high streak was 33 jogos and I lost it goofing around on the last level when I could’ve walked out the exit.)

    (also I’m currently talking up your comments on Monster’s Expedition chez Carl Muckenhoupt)

  12. How many times do we get killed in Cinco Paus just goofing around instead of heading for the exit? LIFE or GOOF, you decide, player. I’m taking a break from Cinco Paus again. I don’t know whether it’s worth writing something about it “right now” or, er, when I finish it with a 50 jogo victory. Ha, look forward to my Cinco Paus article in 2022.

    Monster’s Expedition is pretty compulsive. I’m rarely stuck for long – there are definitely difficult challenges in there but I find my momentum at this juncture is unstoppable. What keeps me busy is the awareness there’s “something else to be done here” and I stare at it for a long time, wondering how that something else is to be done.

  13. With Monster’s Expedition, Baba Is You (which I’ve been revisiting via an LP for the past few weeks) and Akurra all swirling around in my head, I think I’ve realised one specific aspect of why it is I don’t usually get on with sokobanlikes: they usually require me to not only be careful about how and when and where I push the blocks to form a solution, but also how and when and where I move my character in order to do so. It’s almost a disguised form of the multiple-simultaneous-character mechanic that I dislike because I can never wrap my head around (sorry, Tony). I just struggle managing both things together. The multiple-Babas levels were my least favourite (and incidentally the person whose LP I’m watching has the same trouble). Split focus is hard and not fun?

    And so I’m sure one reason why I enjoyed the Akurra demo is that it doesn’t lean on that aspect. And in fact its mechanic where you can push a block without moving into the space it occupied feels like an explicit rejection of that aspect. That mechanic is a delight to me, simply the best thing.

  14. I’m going to play this demo. Sokoban leaves me cold but this does look and sound lovely. I appreciate the spoiler-free full-blooded endorsement (as well as Andy’s Sokoban-averse enthusiasm for it)!

  15. Oops, I did it again! Pulled off another Conclusao in Cinco Paus. This time it was particularly nerve-wracking because I did have to almost pull it off in one session–my computer issued a mysterious notification which the IT people explained meant that it had finished encyrpting my disk, and I needed to restart. And I was like, “But I have a really good Cinco Paus streak going!” The notification kept popping up every fifteen minutes so I did wind up having to chew through a lot of it in several sittings.

    Also it was nerve-wracking because I got a lot less lucky with monster upgrades this time, so I was tiptoeing through minefields most of the time. I played like an absolute coward near the end, just dashing through the door whenever I could. Wound up with a total score of 1383 with a lot of treasure left lying around over the last few jogos. Details are rot13ed but this game thinks of a lot more stuff to throw at you over time.

    Va zl svefg eha gur sebtf npdhverq urnyvat enlf, juvpu qbrfa’g uryc gur rarzl gung zhpu fvapr sebtf’ nyyvrf graq gb unir bar uvg cbvag naq ol gur gvzr gung’f abg gehr lbh bsgra unir vafgnxvyy rssrpgf. Ohg V unq gnxra gur sebt fgnghr naq chg qhcyvpngvba naq gvzr geniry rssrpgf ba vg, juvpu zrnag gung V pbhyq trg zhygvcyr nyyvrf gung urnyrq zr, naq vs V tbg guebhtu gur wbtb jvgubhg hfvat vg, ol hfvat vg naq gura gur erpunetr obk V pbhyq fraq gjb urnyvat sebtf gb gur svefg yriry bs gur arkg wbtb.

    Guvf gvzr V cerggl rneyl ba tbg gvzvq fuevzc, juvpu zrnaf gung gurl jba’g zbir arkg gb lbh, juvpu gheaf gur svefg yriry vagb Fzneg Xbobyqf–gurer ner nyy gurfr fuevzc unatvat bhg jnvgvat gb qb lbh 1 UC qnzntr orsber lbh pna uvg gurz, naq lbh pna trg nofbyhgryl oehgnyvmrq vs lbh qba’g qvfpbire n qrprag jnaq. Naq tubfgf qrirybcrq n qnzntr enl naq riraghnyyl n 2UC nggnpx, naq yvmneqf fgnegrq fcnjavat tubfgf ba qrngu, fb gur rneyl tnzr pbhyq ernyyl zrff zr hc. Bsgra jura V qvq fhpprrq va fraqvat na nyyvrq sebt gb gur ortvaavat yriry vg jbhyq trg phg gb fuerqf vafgnagyl.

    Rira fb V znantrq gb nibvq rvgure bs gur rarzl hctenqrf gung unir vafgnqrfgeblrq zr rirel gvzr, fyrrc naq oyrrqvat. Gur gvzr V gubhtug V jnf nofbyhgryl qbar sbe jnf va wbtb 47 jura n ebbfgre qvfpunetrq na negvsnpg V unq orra nobhg gb hfr gb xvyy vg naq rfpncr, yrnivat zr genccrq oruvaq n tubfg, ohg V hfrq gur sebt fgnghr (juvpu V guvax unq vafgnagnarbhf rssrpg) gb fcnja n qhcyvpngrq sebt nyyl gung genccrq gur tubfg jurer V pbhyq chapu vg jvgubhg zbivat vagb gur ebbfgre’f enatr, naq gura znlor gur sebt gbbx gur ebbfgre bhg, be V unq nabgure jnl bs unaqvat vg.

  16. shouting “it’s over for you bitches” as I push a log that proceeds to roll across the log that I have already placed lengthwise in the water instead of making a raft like it was supposed to

  17. About the puzzle in the screenshot (assuming you’re talking about the one with the rock with nine dots on): I wonder if that dissatisfaction is because of the demo context. There is information available to solve that puzzle, but it’s not very well signposted. It seemed to me from the hint’s location that the full game would introduce the relevant mechanic in its own area, which would make that isolated puzzle easier — changing it from “what do I even do?” to “what’s the specific configuration I need here?” I’m guessing of course, and I played it only a couple of weeks ago so it’s possible the demo has changed since this article.

    I backed the KS already and almost wish I hadn’t played the demo since then, as now I know what I’m missing as I wait for release!

  18. Ding ding ding, Steve. That’s exactly the puzzle. You may be right, we won’t know until final release… because there is ONE OTHER ROCK which has a similar appearence…!

    It’s an almost too-lovely demo! Did you find the secret room which shows you all the good stuff that will be in the full game? That room was brilliant.

  19. It was surprisingly long for a demo, and pleasingly complete: everything that could be seen could be completed, and all of the main collectibles (stars and keys) were used. If it weren’t for the so-far-unused collectibles, it could have been a complete game.

    I didn’t find any secret room although my save file did claim I’d got 100%. I wonder if it’s changed, or if I missed it (I’d be surprised as I thought I was pretty thorough).

  20. The “secret room” isn’t counted as a secret, I think, because you can’t quite enter the room – a comment that would only make sense if you knew the room 🙂 I could probably point you in the right direction, I took a screenshot of it but, of course, couldn’t possibly publish it.

  21. I’d be interested in a pointer, thanks. It’s possible it’s no longer there in fact; I’ve just watched Alex Diener’s Let’s Play of the demo and the hint to the nine dots in that version (March 2020) was much harder to spot. The more recent demo had a much clearer hint as to context.

    I see there’s some Monster’s Expedition chat above too, which I’m enjoying very much indeed. I skipped through much of your twitter thread Joel for fear of spoilers, but having completed the main game now I’ve revisited and can see you’ve kindly censored some mechanics. The many subtle ways that the very few moves and atomic states interact is really something — and the fact that the “later” mechanics can be used throughout to find secrets is very satisfying (a Metroidvania where the upgrades are in your head, not unlike The Witness in that respect).

  22. Monster’s Expedition: I was definitely trying to keep the mechanics under wraps although the more recent tweets are less guarded. I’m still “playing” the game but it’s unusual for me to solve any puzzles right now, just got all my blockers left.

    Glad you found the Akurra secret – one way or another!

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