A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build lives up to its name, but you wouldn't know it at first glance. In fact, it looks positively adorable.
Sokobond designer Alan Hazelden and Game Jam veteran Benjamin Davis have conspired to create something truly lovely; a soft, warm and decidedly festive little puzzler starring a loveable lonely monster. All it wants in life is to create snowmen by rolling up snowballs, which become new friends to hang out with and cuddle, like Tanya above. Cuddling is already directly coded into the game -- just flick the stick to initiate a big old bear hug. Playing it is therefore much like drinking a great big mug of Horlicks on a bitterly cold day, making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
"It's a puzzle game about being a monster and making snowmen," Davis told me at the Develop Conference last week, lulling me into a false sense of security with the simple pitch. Right before A Good Snowman started spanking my brainpan.
Like most successful puzzlers, A Good Snowman is build around some nice basic mechanics to settle into. As the monster, we'll push three snowballs around a square grid, with the objective of placing them on top of each other in order of decreasing size. Then cuddle the resulting snowman.
That's it. Behold:
Easy enough, after all, we've experienced similar gameplay in plenty of top-down RPGs over the years. If you've ever pushed a block, chances are you'll be well away here, but it doesn't take long to realise that A Good Snowman really is hard to build. Snowballs become larger when pushed over a snowy surface, meaning that the ball you'd designated as the 'head' suddenly becomes too big to fit and everything is ruined again damnit DAMN IT. Mundane objects become nasty barriers to progression, birdbaths and benches become your cruelly-placed nemeses, while you might find yourself cursing the shape of the ground itself from time to time.
Before incessantly hitting Y to try again. And again. Fiendish.
It's tough, but like any good puzzler, there are plenty of 'Eureka moments' where everything clicks and you realise the right sequence of moves to pull it off. Not to mention the occasional 'why the hell didn't I think of that before?' facepalm incident.
The only remaining question is whether the concept has legs for several hours of puzzling, or at least several dozen challenge rooms. Having played Sokobond, we suspect that it will, and that 'little and often' will be the best way to approach it when the collaborative game finally releases on... well, what exactly?
"So first of all, PC/Mac/Linux," Davis told me. "then a couple of months later we can port it to mobile." With luck A Good Snowman will be out in time for Christmas, where it could well be one of the feel-good hits of the winter. At least, if there isn't a tricky little story sting in the tail...
Special thanks to Benjamin Davis for talking us through A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, and Bastion PR for organising entry to the Develop Conference.