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Stephen’s Sausage Roll: I just don’t get the universal reverence for this game

Content of the article: "Stephen’s Sausage Roll: I just don’t get the universal reverence for this game"

So, I'm around 30 hours into this game and I think I've finally hit my limit on how much more of it I can stomach. But something is bugging me – and I swear what I'm about to express doesn't stem from sour grapes at the fact that I'm not good enough or patient enough to see this game through to the end! I will hold my hands up and admit that this game broke me due to its difficulty, which no puzzle game has managed before. The "Dark Souls" of puzzle games people say – an annoying tagline that has found itself attached to the game, but an accurate descriptor nevertheless.

What bugs me is the breathless reverence people have for this game as a "masterclass" in game design; I just can't believe that people can legitimately make this claim with a straight face. Jonathan Blow himself (creator of The Witness) was one of the first to shower it with this kind of undue praise, an event that probably lead to its status as the unexpected indie darling of 2016.

The issue I have with it is quite simple and I am genuinely surprised it has been overlooked by so many – it is the refusal of the game to allow the player to proceed through the game until they have overcome roadblocks that are placed there completely arbitrarily. You see, the game is split into blocks of puzzles, each of which is themed around interacting with the titular sausages in new and engaging ways. Most people refer to these as "Worlds": so, in order to access World 2, you need to solve all of the puzzles in World 1, that sort of thing.

Let's say there are around 10 puzzles or so in each world. What ends up happening, in my experience, is that you end up solving a solid chunk of these fairly quickly – maybe 6-7. A couple more are tricky beasties, that perhaps require a solid hour of experimenting before the lightbulb moment occurs. And then, there will be maybe a single puzzle left.

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Typically, solving this puzzle requires literally hours of experimentation and trial and error. The process of solving these puzzles is a complete drag on the player's time, patience and energy. The player will find themselves wishing they could just move on from this section of the game so that they can experiment with some new mechanics, enjoy some new puzzles, see a new part of the overworld, read some more lore, do anything but stare at the same scenery, maddeningly unchanging, and come up with nothing.

The only way to proceed is to either: spend hours experimenting with every permutation of possible configuration until the player happens upon a solution; or, to look up a solution. Either way, the puzzle is permanently ruined for the player, because neither brute force solutions done out of frustration nor cheating are emotionally satisfying resolutions to something of this nature.

It's not like the puzzles themselves represent distinct blocks where all puzzles are required before the player is adequately skilled up for the following stage of the game. The two most memorable instances of this particular experience, where I finally broke down after 3-4 hours of frustration spread across multiple play sessions, required extremely specific tricks that I neither came close to divining nor have ever since needed to solve any of the other 30-40 puzzles I 've encountered in their wake.

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It's such an obvious flaw, that I'm amazed that those putting it on the pedestal of game design "masterclass" never bring it up. There is nothing wrong with including hard-as-nails puzzles in games – those who find value in them will solve them regardless of whether you make them an aside or a requirement. But forcing them on the player is, in my view, an unequivocally poor design decision that is needlessly punitive and downright petty.

All of the above is such a shame, because the 20 or so hours of joy I had in this game (and when I was having fun, I was having so much fun) will forever be marred by association with 10 or so hours of frustrated misery that I never wanted to have forced upon me.

At this point, I think I'll just watch a let's play of the final few levels so I can appreciate what the game has left to offer without my negative feelings towards the game getting any stronger. I guess I've learnt from playing this game that I only have so much gas in the tank for bashing my head against the proverbial brick wall; and if you force me to burn through that through the normal course of a game for no good reason, then I'm going to be acutely aware of it and it's going to ruin the experience for me.

I can appreciate roadblocks in other games, where emotional pathos is involved – but in a puzzle game? What on earth is the point?

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So, uh, yeh, that's a spew of thoughts coming from an admittedly pretty frustrated perspective! Would be interested to hear if you have similar experiences in similar types of game and if you think this particular design decision has intrinsic value or is just elitist wankery on the part of the developer.


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