Developer: Alan Hazelden
Sokobond is a game about making molecules.
It's so simple. Controlling a single atom, you'll move around some 2D grids in cardinal directions to bump into other atoms, locking and bonding if you each happen to have a free electron. Like a Sokoban puzzle, only with molecular bonding. Geddit? Eventually you'll form a molecule and learn an interesting science fact, all while enjoying a soothing minimalist atmosphere and subconsciously improving your basic chemistry skills. A low-key idea, but so masterful in the execution that Sokobond became one of 2013's best puzzle games.
Time makes fools of us all, and I simply didn't have enough time to pick up and review Alan Hazelden's minimalist masterpiece at launch. Now that it's headed to Steam on July 21st, however, I finally have a perfect excuse to rave about it.
As mentioned, the basic premise is simple yet devastatingly effective, familiar if you've ever played a top-down 'block-pushing' puzzle in an isometric RPG. Initially starting out with a hydrogen atom, you'll move it across to an oxygen atom, bonding due to the free electron orbiting the two building blocks (all clearly displayed by the clean and uncluttered art direction). They then become an ion, seeking out the last hydrogen atom, at which point you've successfully created a water molecule and complete the level. Easy peasy.
"By mass, humans are about 60% water, most of it in our cells." How interesting. What's next?
A steady increase in both new gameplay elements, difficulty and head-desking frustration followed by emphatic 'Eureka' moments, that's what, as Sokobond gradually unfolds to reveal a veritable periodic table of puzzling. H2O was child's play, but what about NC2OH?!
As a logic and spatial puzzle, the shape of each level and placement of every atom is a key way of switching things up. Sometimes we'll have to dance around atoms to avoid bonding them into unsuitable shapes that can't pass through narrow gaps or circumnavigate tight corners. Often we'll need to bully inert helium atoms out of place, manually form double bonds or split existing bonds over several carefully-planned moves; reconfiguring our molecule until it's ready for a masterful coup de grace. Each level has a hook, a trap or a new way of thinking about the mechanics, all of which requiring several restarts and undos to circumvent.
Some of the stages really are ferociously tough, but they're never unfair. The answer is often staring you in the face; an odd asymmetry in the level layout, perhaps, or a counter-intuitive move that leads to a blindingly obvious solution. Thankfully the soothing sound design stops your blood pressure from boiling over with plinking chimes and tones, as does the calming mimimalistic aesthetic. Most importantly, though, the grid-based level select menu expands in multiple directions, meaning that there's usually a different puzzle to leap onto if you're stumped. As such, Sokobond is exceptionally addictive in a lightly edutaining kind of way.
Don't expect a totally convincing simulation of molecular bonding, mind you, as Sokobond makes numerous oversights and cuts several corners (yes, yes, it's literally two dimensional!) in the name of enjoyable gameplay. It's a Sokoban game first and chemistry lesson close second, a sacrifice that makes it a more effective piece of edutainment in my book, allowing my GCSE Chemistry to come back to me while still engaging with a fiercely compelling puzzle game.
And that's effectively all there is to say. Sokobond is a game about making molecules. If you like the idea, I literally can't fault it.
- A copious amount of elegant, superbly-designed and addictive puzzles
- Accessible gameplay and fun science facts
- Attractive uncluttered visuals and soothing sound design
- Can be frustrating in parts
- Chemistry buffs will moan about obvious cut corners/simplifications
- If you don't like block-pushing/Sokoban-style puzzles, steer clear
The Short Version: Sokobond is a smart, stylish and deeply elegant puzzler that might even teach you a thing or two. If you're a fan of brainteasers and missed it the first time around, be sure to grab this molecular masterpiece on Steam next week.