Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase


In a market full of puzzle gamers who have cut their teeth on Tetris for all of these years, and who are slowly warming up to Puyo Puyo after its being around off and on for years a new entrant in the puzzle gaming field has an uphill battle ahead of it. The challenge is obviously to possess some of the same addictive qualities of the others without also being accused of copying them or being derivative. While it took me a little while to really understand the way Soldam works, after having spent some time with it I’m pleased to say that it distinguishes itself from its competitors and offers a pretty deep strategic challenge as you get to higher levels.

In Soldam you will take control of falling pieces that consist of 4 colored orbs. Depending on the skill level you’re playing at the potential colors for these orbs will vary but ultimately your goal is to complete horizontal lines with all orbs being the same color. Where things get tricky is that when you put your piece in place the game will look to change the color of the orbs that are already in place based on a set of rules. It is easiest to think of it in terms of end points. If the piece you laid down has 2 red orbs on the bottom, those will turn orbs of any other color to red as long as there’s a red orb on the other side of them. The caveat to this rule of thumb is that it won’t do this going to the right, but that’s where it takes getting used to.


Getting the full hang of this system and these rules took me a while because the strategy behind how you’ll want to deal with certain types of pieces takes some time to grasp. In general what it boils down to is that once your baseline color is set (when you complete a line that color becomes the bottom line on the screen, automatically the easiest color to match generally) you’ll want to focus on completing lines in that color. Certainly as the game progresses and things get hectic you may need to switch colors because of the pieces you’re getting or the situation but this can be tricky. Juggling your priorities, making key decisions like this on what color you’re focusing on, and learning how to reflexively place pieces when they begin dropping more quickly is where the game really shines.

In addition to the standard and easy modes there’s also a pretty deep Challenge mode to push your skills with. These puzzles are actually a great indirect training for becoming better at the game as a whole so spending some time trying to figure out how to complete them is a great idea. While it starts out pretty easy the challenge ramps up in a hurry as you’ll need to work out how to complete more than 4 lines at once, requiring you to be careful not to complete lines too early but to instead set the stage for a massive line completion. Getting the hang of this can be tricky but, as I said, this is also very instructive if you’re looking to up your game and begin to see the bigger opportunities that are in front of you as you play the standard modes.


Finally there is a Versus mode that will allow you to match up with a friend locally or another player online. Each player gets their own color they’re going to use (red on the left, blue on the right) and though only 2 colors are involved it gets crazy much quicker than you’d think.. In general Versus play is what you’d expect though, with you and another player competing to stay alive while also trying to complicate the situation for each other. With the mechanics in this game the potential for completing many lines at once remains a constant threat so it can make for a very up and down, exciting experience with 2 experienced players. What really makes the mode work, though, is the fact that the next piece available will show in the middle… BUT… it goes to either player depending on who needs a piece next. This adds a major level of strategy, frustration, and fun to the way things work. You’ll want to avoid the pieces that have the other player’s color if you can, but strategically denying them pieces with all four orbs their color could foul up their plans to clean up their board. In many ways this mode is the highlight for the game! Unfortunately I can’t fully speak to the online experience as either the infrastructure for it isn’t yet in place or there simply aren’t enough people trying to play it at this stage but as long as the matchmaking and connections are decent it seems like it would help you find some competition to enjoy this mode if you don’t have anyone local to play with.

Soldam has really surprised me over the time I’ve played it for review. While I’d started out somewhat skeptical of its very different mechanics once I passed a certain point (assisted by the Challenge mode) I began to more clearly see what it was doing and am fairly impressed by the way it all works. Old puzzle gaming habits are difficult to break and in order to be successful in Soldam you’ll need to develop an entirely new set of tactics for how best to contend with things like garbage pieces specifically. The high-pressure moments as your stacks get closer to the top are where the game shines, and you’ll need to think quickly, adapt, and perhaps have a little luck on your side to get out of it. The good news is that with the color-changing mechanic it is very possible you’ll be able to complete many lines in quick succession with only a few pieces, meaning that you’re never truly sunk unless you just give up. With its very different approach, terrific Versus mode, and fresh strategic challenges Soldam is a worthy contender for puzzle fans!


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Forces you to throw out many things you thought you knew about all puzzle games
  • The Challenge mode is very helpful in forcing you to grasp the higher-level concepts for success
  • Availability of both local and online Versus modes are a nice bonus


Cons:
  • It can take some time to transition into the rules for how color-changing works and its nuance
  • It being different and a bit challenging to learn may scare some people off before they come to appreciate it
  • Compared on price to its competition it offers less variety and overall content


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