Sublime Games: Stephen’s Sausage Roll

Stephen’s Sausage Roll (homepage, Steam $30, Humble $30 – Increpare gets the most money if you buy it here, plus you get a Steam key)

This is the beginning of a series of reviews of sublime games. The sublime is, as described on Wikipedia, the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic. The term especially refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation. That’s a lot to live up to for a videogaem!

I’m using that term to describe games that feel like they stretch out your brain just by playing them. Usually this doesn’t mean by difficulty, although Stephen’s Sausage Roll has plenty of that, but by there being some special aspect of it. I think what I mean by that will become more evident as this series continues, but Stephen’s Sausage Roll is rather foundational. Both Jonathan Blow (Braid, The Witness) and Arvi Teikari (Baba Is You) have claimed it as inspirational. Sublime things tend to inspire people a lot.

It’s easy to miss the quality of Stephen’s Sausage Roll if you play it casually, because it’s not a game that really lends itself to casual play. SSR doesn’t ease you into its puzzles, right from the very start the game demands thorough knowledge of the consequences of its movement scheme, knowledge that can only come from failing at its puzzles many times. Stephen’s movement is reminiscent of the porter from Sokoban, but he’s got this dang fork sticking out of him, and every movement must take it into account. Steven can only move forward and backward without turning to the side, which rotates the fork around him.

Understanding how to move that fork around is essential to shoving around the sausages in each level. To solve a level, all of its two-tile-long sausages must be moved over grills exactly once in four locations: once on each tile of one side, and once on each tile of the other. Leaving a sausage on a space doesn’t overcook it, but you can’t move it so a cooked spot touches a grill again. One move for each sausage on each tile of each side! Burning a sausage, or dumping one in the water, immediately fails the level.

This playthrough of one early level demonstrates how it works:

This description is not all of Stephen’s Sausage Roll’s tricks, not by a metric mile, but it’ll stump most players for a good while. It starts out hard and gets harder.

There are no tutorials, not even instructions other than an early sign that tells to use the arrow keys to move, Z to Undo, and R to Restart a puzzle. (These hotkeys have become a bit traditional, and work in other games.) You can’t even read the sign until you realize you have to swing your fork around and walk alongside it. Stephen does have other moves, I have come to learn from reading pages about the game, but it’s impossible to activate them in early levels.

When I read writing about puzzle games, the writer often talks about how smart the game made them feel, sometimes in a paragraph that also mentions dopamine hits, like they were Skinner boxes that give players treats. I dislike game criticism that tries to reduce them to pop neurochemistry. Besides, these days dopamine is not in short supply. It’s available on every Steam corner, plus you could get it just as well from food, an interesting novel, a movie, or pornography for that matter. Difficult puzzle games make you work for it, and where is the fun in that?

The fact is, puzzle games are not interesting for being a dopamine administration mechanism. They are about improvement, about learning to overcome challenges on your own. Once you learn how to do Sokoban puzzles they lose their appeal, because solving puzzles isn’t as much fun as learning to solve them.

Stephen’s Sausage Roll does not make the player feel smart. It makes them feel perfectly stupid at first, but by the end of it they may feel smart. They may, because by completing it they may have become a little smarter. The improving aspects of playing video games is not often mentioned these days, but it is one of the main reasons that I enjoy them. Thinking through a difficult puzzle can help one learn to think a little better, and because of that these sausages are no mere empty calories.

But the difficulty, and the novel take on Sokoban rules, aren’t the only reasons I’m writing about this in a series about sublime games. Each of the game’s little puzzles is a small portion of a larger world. When you enter a level, most of the world sinks beneath the sea, leaving you with a tiny portion of it remaining. When you properly cook all of that level’s sausages, the world returns, but pink walls, where the sausages were, will be gone, allowing you progress. This means the very terrain of the overworld is made of the puzzles you’re solving, which is an unexpected elegance in a game about cooking sausages. And mirroring that fact, there is a deeper meaning to the sausages you’re cooking and eliminating from the world, one that is revealed slowly, as you solve each excruciating puzzle.

SSR is a game that makes a mockery of the very concept of review scores, as most sublime games do. The graphics are purposely done in a PS1 style, intentionally ugly by current standards, and the sounds are simple steps, swishes, and the occasional “ugh” that may have come from the game or the player. And it’s gameplay, while great, shows that play can be about subtracting, taking away all extraneous elements, rather than adding unnecessary new things. In what world does taking away things add points to a review score?

Stephen’s Sausage Roll is not an extremely popular game. While it inspired big hits like The Witness and Baba Is You, and is rated Overwhelmingly Positive on Steam, it hasn’t sold as well. But it hangs on, quietly enlightening new generations of players and designers. It may inspire you too, if you were to let it.

Hempuli’s itch.io Collection

I recently made a Metafilter post with the title Exploring the BABA IS YOUNIVERSE. Having used that pun here already I can’t well put it up again, but the links in the article are good ones, so I figured I’d present them here too, with a few extras. All of these, plus more, are on Hempuli’s (Arvi Teikari’s) itch.io page. Everything here is free and for Windows, unless otherwise noted.

Once in Space 2022
Stumblehill
  • The “gravity-changing platformer” Once In Space 2022, which gets pretty tricky pretty quickly.
  • Stumblehill is a platformer, with striking graphics, where the controls are purposely a little harder to master than your basic example of the form.
Baba Friend
  • Baba Friend is a little desktop buddy/toy who wanders around your computer’s screen while you do other things. It’s much like the classic computer amusement Neko!
  • Rude Chess is another Sokoban variant: some of the pieces you have to move are chess pieces, which shift according to their movement rules when pushed. The rude part applies because, if a piece has a choice of squares to move to, it always tries to pick one that doesn’t lead towards a destination square!
Rude Chess

There’s more too, that I only fail to list here because of time-related reasons, including some physical games and a screensaver. Go on and explore their itch page, it’s brilliant!

Hempuli’s itch.io software (mostly free, most for Windows)

Sudo Sweep

It’s not a command to delete temp files as root on a Unix-styled system! It’s a fun and free little game over at itch.io!

The board on the left is a Sudoku-like game; the board on the right is Minesweeper. The two boards match: the numbers on the Sudoku board are the number of mines in the matching area of the Minesweeper game. You use each to help you solve the other!

It’s not perfect, mind you. There’s currently no way to mark a square that definitely has a mine in it, just the question marks you see in the right-hand board above. There are still cases, familiar to players of standard Minesweeper, where you end up having to guess. And don’t click the “change size” button if you care about the current game: it doesn’t make the boards larger, it starts a new game with bigger Minesweeper and Sudoku boards!

Still though, I have to give creator Rianna Suen props for a cool idea! I found this through the “map obelisk” area during Roguelike Celebration, which is a pretty cool place to find things beloved of clever people!

Sudo Sweep (itch.io, free, playable by web)

Oldweb: DHTML Lemmings

The World Wide Web is now over thirty years old. In that time, more content has vanished from it than remains now, but some of it can still be dredged up from the shadowy archives of the Wayback Machine. This is the latest chapter in our never-ending search to find the cool gaming stuff that time forgot….

DHTML means “Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language.” The term is little-used now; it later got renamed AJAX, and now is pretty much just how websites are made if they have any interactive aspects. It was originally presented as an alternative to Flash applets, which were threatening to crowd out actual web pages at that time.

Lemmings, of course, is Psygnosis’ classic puzzle game where you grant members of a horde of suicidal rodent people specific skills to guide them to an exit while losing as few of them as possible to the hazards of their ridiculously dangerous world.

Back in 2004, DHTML Lemmings was a brilliant example of how much could be done with Javascript. Original Lemmings was released in 1991; we’re now further away from DHTML Lemming’s release than the original game was when it was published.

Its first home went away, although the server and even its page still exist. It says that the Lemmings page was taken down (and implies they did it to dodge legal liability), but promises something called The Pumpkins to replace it. It never did, but the promise survives. The game itself has been preserved, relocated as-was to a subpage of the site of Elizium, a dark rock band from the Netherlands.

Only the first ten levels of each difficulty, about one quarter of the original Amiga game, are presented. And this version has not survived the years unaltered: the distinctive sound effects and music appear to be missing. Still though, what’s here is playable, and fun. Enjoy, if you have the inclination and deliberation. And check out those requirements: IE 5.5 or better, or recent Firefox or Opera. And a 500 Mhz processor, wow!

DHTML Lemmings

Connections

The New York Times doesn’t add new games to its stable, alongside the daily crossword puzzle and Wordle, often. Spelling Bee is one I enjoy a fair bit when I think to look at it.

A newcomer to their game collection that’s in beta testing that seems interesting is Connections. It’s not a word game, at least not in the sense that a game involving manipulating letters is. It’s more a game of categorizing.

The puzzle from June 12, 2023

You’ve given a field of sixteen cells in a grid, each containing a word. The words relate to each other in four distinct groups, each containing four of the words. They’re all scrambled up so their positions in the grid don’t relate to their connections. To solve the puzzle, you must figure out which words connect with each other.

To help you, if you manage to pick four words that belong together and click the Submit button, the answer will be confirmed and the category identified, and the words will be removed from the grid, leaving only the words yet to be sorted, making it easier to deduce the remaining categories.

In the first puzzle I did, the words, mixed up here to preserve for you the opportunity to do it yourself, were:

OKLAHOMA HIP PACKER THEM

COWBOY ELBOW SPIRAL WRIST

AIRPLANE RAVEN MOTHER SHOULDER

SHELL KNEE BOWTIE BRONCO

There is only one solution to each puzzle, where every category has four members. Following is the solution and one way to arrive at it, so skip past this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled:

NFL players: BRONCO, COWBOY, PACKER, RAVEN

Pasta shapes: BOWTIE, ELBOW, SHELL, SPIRAL

Joints: HIP, KNEE, SHOULDER, WRIST

Movies with “!”: AIRPLANE, OKLAHOMA, MOTHER, THEM

The categories seem to be chosen so that some of the words could possibly be part of more than one, so you’ll have to use the fact that each only contains four to narrow them down. In this case, ELBOW is a joint and a pasta shape, but there are four other joints and only three pastas. If you don’t categorize clearly, you might figure that OKLAHOMA might fit in with the NFL players, but Oklahoma doesn’t have an NFL team, and anyway the category is composed of singular versions of sports team names that are plurals, and OKLAHOMA doesn’t fit that pattern. The hardest category here is Movies With “!”, which is very hard to get without eliminating the other categories first. This is what makes it a proper puzzle: solving one part of it helps narrow down the rest. If you got the other three categories correct first, the remaining one is handed to you. I got this one by first picking out the NFL players, which is pretty simple as there aren’t many ways to use the word BRONCO; then the pasta shapes; then from what remained the joints; then I was left with the movie titles with exclamation points.

If it’s like the others, the NYT will be making a new Connections puzzle available daily. I look forward to trying out more of them.

Connections (New York Times link, a subscription is probably necessary to play, alas)

Simon Tatham’s Puzzle Collection

This is Slant. I could tell you so much about Slant, but I think a lot of the fun of these puzzles is figuring out a good process for solving them yourself.
Loopy

I got a treat for you people today, a genuine treasure of the internet, a collection of forty computer-generated puzzles of wide-ranging types, from Sudoku (called “Solo” because of trademarks) to Minesweeper. And they’re not only all open source and free, they’re free for many platforms. Not all the puzzles are yet available for all platforms, but it’s continually being worked on, with new puzzles added from time to time. It has been for nineteen years; when it got started it only had five puzzle types. It’s one of the best things out there, and I’m amazed it’s not better known generally.

Galaxies

I can’t overstate what a wonder this collection is. All the puzzles are their own executable, if you don’t just play them on the web anyway. Each one of these puzzles offers many hours of happy puzzling. My own favorites are Loopy, Slant, Bridges, Dominosa, Galaxies, Net and Untangle. Most of the puzzles are of a type that should be familiar to fans of the Japanese puzzle magazine Nikoli, but they’re all randomly generated, and playable on multiple difficulty levels.

If the name Simon Tatham sounds familiar, he’s the guy who also created and maintains the popular networking tool PuTTY.

Here’s the links, all of these are free:

Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection main site, which has implementations for Java, Javascript and Windows

Here’s some other HTML implementations

Dominosa

For Android on the Play Store

For iOS on the Apple App Store

On the Windows Store

In the Debian and Ubuntu package repositories (and it should be available in your own distribution’s repository, too)

Flathub

And here it is for Windows again, but distributed through Chocolatey

Romhack Thursday: Simon Belmont in 8 Eyes

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

There aren’t many game series with the reputation that Castlevania has. While it’s always been very popular, the stature of the original game has only grown over the years, and it’s now seen as one of the very best games on the NES. We’ve talked about it here before, and about how badly the creator of one of the best-designed games ever made was treated by his company, but we’re not here to talk about sad things today.

You’d think Castlevania would have more imitators, but there aren’t as many as you’d think there would be? It has specific and definite ideas, some of them not obvious to a random player. Simon moves slowly and jumps stiffly, but it’s clear with repeated play that not only is the game designed around this, it’s even a better game for it! It’s a good example of how reducing a player’s abilities, relative to Mario-standard, can actually result in better play.

Some of the enemies were changed too. I don’t think this enemy was a skeleton in the original?

One of the few definite Castlevania clones that come to mind is Thinking Rabbit’s 8 Eyes. It could not be more obvious while playing it that its designer played a lot of Castlevania; its hero Orin’s movement is nearly an exact match for Simon Belmont, and it even has staircases that he can climb and hidden items buried in the walls.

It’s not as good a game as Castlevania, definitely, but it has its own ideas, and I respect it for adding some unique features. The player can determine what order the first eight levels are played in, and every time they finish one their attack power is upgraded. It has devious level designs that don’t always map cleanly on paper. It has a player-controlled drone character in the form of a falcon that can be deployed, and then flies around on its own, and can be commanded to attack and return and even has its own health. Most interesting of all, every level has hidden with it a clue, a piece of text that must be found and used at the end of the game to solve a logic puzzle to finally win.

Here’s one of those clues! Unlike the clue books in Castlevania II, every one of these is essential to solving the final puzzle.

There’s a lot of cool ideas in 8 Eyes. If it had some more design and development work put into it it could have been seen as a later highlight of the system. elbobelo has, for over fourteen years, been at work on a huge hack to put Simon Belmont into the game. In a forum thread they started long ago they mentioned that, while work has slowed, it’s still going. They haven’t issued a public release since an old beta in 2008, but there’s enough present in it to make one wonder how it’ll play when it’s finally released.

Here’s one of those clues. BTW, it’s not well known that 8 Eyes actually has eight quests. The game is mostly the same each time, but the logic puzzle is different!

Fortunately, the 2008 version of the hack keeps the cool ideas that 8 Eyes contributed, and it just adds features from Castlevania I and II. It keeps the falcon, the diabolical levels, and the clues and game-ending logic puzzle. Gone, however, is the player’s sword, replaced with Simon’s whip, which is a vast improvement. In addition to the falcon, Simon can find his usual subweapons, which don’t replace each other but can be switched between with the Select button. It doesn’t make the game too easy because 8 Eyes was a very difficult game. It just makes the challenge more reasonable.

Most levels have at least one puzzle that requires you to release the falcon somewhere on screen to fly around while you run to the door, so you can attack the switch with the bird then run in the door before it closes.

Best of all, it also keeps 8 Eyes’ weirdest aspect: after you beat each boss, you sit down and have tea with them! In the original the tea was brought by one of the boss’s flunkies, but in this hack one of the skeleton enemies brings it in. It’s surprisingly adorable!

8 Eyes – Playing as Simon Belmont (romhacking.net)

Many more games should show you having tea with the level boss after you beat them!

itch.io: Squirrelativity

You’d think there’d be more unique types of puzzle games than there are. For every genuinely new idea there’s a dozen Tetris-likes. Even genuinely unique puzzle games often have another game as a basis, like how Baba Is You starts from a foundation of Sokoban before launching off to the depths of Ridiculous Space at Ludicrous Speed.

I can’t claim to have comprehensive knowledge of all kinds of pre-existing puzzles, but Squirrelativity seems unique enough to be really interesting..

Made for Ludlum Dare 52, it’s a free game with only 15 levels, but they’ll have you mystified long before you reach the end.

One team of squirrels has a tree growing up from the bottom of the board, the other has a tree growing down from the top. How it grows, though, depends on how you draw their branches. The bottom tree’s branches can only go up, and the upper tree’s branches can only go down. Each set of squirrels can only broach their own branches.

In the middle of each board there are a number of green seeds. A color of fruit will grow out of the seed, depending on which tree touches it. However, each squirrel’s tree makes the fruit that the squirrels of the other tree likes. It also drops down according to that tree’s gravity. That is: the blue squirrels’ tree grows up, and produces red fruit that drop down, and the red squirrels’ tree grows down, and produces blue fruit that drops up. Got it?

The screenshot I took demonstrates how the fruit falls. Neither tree can grow branches through a space containing a branch from the other tree, and each level can only end if you both get all the seeds, and each team of squirrels get the same number of fruit as the other. The delicate balance of squirrel power must not be overturned!

Squrrelativity, by cassowary (itch.io, $0)

Kimimi on Korokoro Puzzle: Happy Panechu!

Kikimi the Game Eating She-Monster’s blog is on the short list of blogs we watch for interesting stuff, and she’s found a winner this time! Korokoro Puzzle: Happy Panechu! is a Japan-only GBA puzzle game that uses a similar kind of tilt sensor as found in Kirby Tilt N Tumble.

It’s a game that involves moving colored blog creatures around to connect them in groups of four or more to clear them out, which sounds pretty typical at first. But doing this also creates bombs that you can also connect, to make them into bigger bombs, and clear out larger fields of clutter as you do so, as voices proclaim things like “So happy!” and “Mega happy!”

The tilt sensor comes into play in that it allows you to determine from which side of the screen new objects enter from.

Korokoro Puzzle only got the one entry, but we have it from Kimimi’s that it hides a whole lot of gameplay within its little rectangular case.

Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster: Happy! So happy! Mega happy!

Cavern Sweeper

I’m a fan of the work of Finnish game creator Arvi Tekari, aka Hempuli. He burst on the scene three years ago with genuine indie hit Baba Is You, which somehow continues to receive updates. (If you have it and haven’t played it in a while, you might want to take a look. It just might have a lot more puzzles in it than you remember.) We’ve also linked to his Finnish translations of the Super Mario Bros. manual, and his parody game of his own work Baba Is You XTREME.

Somehow though, he keeps making interesting new things! Most recently there’s Babataire, a variant of Spider Solitaire that uses Baba characters for cards (it’s fun!), Babataire Ex, a variant of the variant that also uses Baba Is You’s rule-modification mechanic (and that, honestly, I can’t make much sense of), and Cavern Sweeper.

Cavern Sweeper is really good! It’s a generalization of Minesweeper where the mines not only have different values, casting varying amounts of danger into the adjacent squares, but where, on harder difficulties, different kinds of mines can even have differently-shaped danger zones.

In the easiest version, all monsters have a diamond-shaped peril region around them with a value from one to three. The number in a space is the sum of all the danger spread into them. Harder versions also add slimes, which have the traditional square-shaped Minesweeper danger zone, ghosts with plus-shaped areas, and optionally serpents with X-shaped zonas de peligro.

To make up for the added uncertainty, you’re granted two additional helps. First, as you mark spaces (you must select the proper kind of monster in the space for it to count), the numbers are subtracted from the nearby regions, decreasing the chaos around it, and any impossible situations are marked for you. And you’re allowed two extra misses before you’re actually in danger of losing the game.

Cavern Sweeper is a fine addition to the genre of Minesweeper variants, and I rather think I prefer it to the original.

Cavern Sweeper (itch.io, browser-playable, $0)

Remember EYEZMAZE and GROW?

There was a time when these short Flash games were the toast of the internet. There is very little cultural memory online for anything that isn’t absolutely huge (and almost no quality control over the things that become huge) so no one talks about GROW anymore, or its Japanese creator On, which is a tremendous shame.

EYEZMAZE took a tremendous blow when Flash shut down. I really hate how people generally accepted its demise as good and necessary when it obliterated so many great things, like Homestar Runner’s original website, that are only now sort of becoming available again. There were serious problems with Flash, it’s true, but not all the reasons it was shoved out the airlock were good ones. Fortunately On has converted many of his games to work with HTML5.

The art is great for its own sake, but the games, available by clicking on the icons at the top of the site, are the highlights, and foremost of those are the GROW series. I was going to link them individually here, but most of them are GROW in some form of other. You should probably start with the first.

The object is to figure out the best order to click on the various items to add to the GROW planet. Every time you add something, things that were already on the planet may “level up” depending on the other things that are with it there. Some things being added too early may harm the development of other things. Usually there’s one specific order that will result in a perfect score (and an animation that goes with it). Figuring it out, using the visual clues from your failed attempts, will usually take many tries, but a run through only takes a couple of minutes at most. All off the GROW games take this general form, although most of them aren’t as complex as the first.

Bitrot has not been kind to GROW. There was an Android version of Grow RPG that appears to have succumbed to Google’s awful app culling policy, where if something isn’t updated, for whatever reason, in a certain time they just delete it. (Not nearly enough has been said about his hostile this is to software preservation. It’s horrendous.)

On has had health struggles over the years, which have interfered with his creation of new amusements. He still seems to be up and active though, and we hope he continues creating both his games and his art for a while to come.

EYEZMAZE (some games may require Ruffle)

On’s Twitter feed

On’s Bilibili page (Bilibili is a Chinese video site)

Video: “Bub” Plays Pac-Attack

“Bub’s Broadcast” is a YouTube channel put out by Taito, mostly to promote various Taito properties in Japan. “Bub” is a mascot character based off of Bub, a.k.a. Bubblun, from Bubble Bobble. It’s low-key, yet entertaining, fare.

This particular video is of interest though because Bub steps outside his usual stomping grounds, and plays Namco’s Pac-Attack, that Tetris-style puzzle game where you have to create paths out of falling blocks to guide Pac-Man to eat ghosts.

It’s in Japanese, but there’s English subtitles, and of special interest is that Bub reveals some possibly-unknown codes for the game. If you point at Hyper difficulty and hold L and R down when selecting it, the game will begin at Level 300 instead of 100. And if you hold Down and Right on the control pad while also pressing L and R, you begin near the highest possible difficulty, at level 900! Also revealed is that, if you charge up the Fairy meter all the way and a fairy comes out, but you don’t wish to use her ghost-clearing power, you can hold Up and press B repeatedly to cancel it, causing her to fly away and giving you 10,000 bonus points. It’s always interesting when these unknown game elements are revealed long after the games release!