Review: A Good Snowman Is Hard to Build22 Jan 2016 0
Review: A Good Snowman Is Hard to Build
Released 09 Dec 2015
A hallmark of a truly great puzzle game is when they take up space in your mind even when you’re not playing them. You’ll be doing the dishes or some other menial task, and all of a sudden, the solution to that damned puzzle you’ve been stuck on for days becomes abundantly clear. It’s only happened to me with a select few games in recent memory, and A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build is one of those games.
A Good Snowman is a fresh take on the Sokoban style of puzzle game from developers Alan Hazelden (co-developer of Sokobond) and Benjamin Davis (developer of Sushi Snake). You control a humanoid monster that is trapped in a hedge garden and must build snowmen to progress through the garden and eventually leave. That bare-bones description makes the game sound much more pressing than it actually is; A Good Snowman is a game where you can choose to sit on a bench for as long as you’d like or press down on a completed snowman to give them a nice hug.
With a few simple rules, A Good Snowman creates a variety of puzzles that require you to engage with the rules in a number of ways, keeping you on your toes and making sure that no single strategy becomes over-used. Snowmen in the game are of the classic, three-tiered variety: a big base, a medium torso and a small head. Each room in the game has a multiple of three snowballs to make into snowmen. Pushing a snowball over a patch of snow will increase its size by one level and erase the patch of snow. Smaller snowballs can be rolled on top of larger ones, Tower of Hanoi style. The variety of levels created through these rules is impressive considering that there are “only” 30 of them. Now, you may have concerns about the length of the game. I’d say that I spent about three hours on the main game and another hour on the extra-difficult secret bonus levels. I don’t think I’d want it to be much longer. Puzzle games can sometimes get caught up in providing a large quantity of puzzles rather than a finely curated set, and I am thankful that I never got puzzle burnout while playing A Good Snowman. The difficulty curve is spot-on, too. The main levels are pleasantly difficult, with just enough bite to give you that puzzle buzz while never so frustrating that you’ll want to give up for more than a day. The unlimited undo button and the fact that there are usually other puzzles you can try help keep the frustration down, too. The bonus puzzles introduce a few twists that up the difficulty and possibly frustration, but after the main levels I felt up to the challenge. I won’t say much more about them than that, but they’re worth figuring out how to access after completing the main game.
Besides the puzzle design, the smartest thing about A Good Snowman is its control scheme. The obvious choice for a game like this would be swipe controls, or worse, an on-screen d-pad. However, swiping could get tedious with all the snowball maneuvering you have to do and a d-pad wouldn’t gel with the rest of the mostly interface-free game. Instead, you roll snowballs by pressing on them and drawing where you want them to roll. The game previews how the move will turn out and when you release your finger, the monster will perform the previewed move. Fine positioning is performed with a simple tap on the square you’d like to go to. The preview is so helpful in trying out different approaches to puzzles and visualizing your next move. I wish there was a way to get a feature like this in every similar puzzle game. I can only imagine that I’d be a lot farther in Snakebird if it had a “what-if” preview like A Good Snowman.
A Good Snowman hides its smart design under a layer of truly adorable, approachable art. The first time I realized you could hug a completed (and adorably decorated) snowman, I actually cooed in delight. The animation of the monster also shines, imbuing it with character despite not having any facial features to speak of. Ryan Roth’s excellent audio work creates an eerily peaceful and relaxing atmosphere in which to build some snowmen. A good pair of headphones will really enhance the experience here.
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build is a delightful little puzzle game. Don’t let the cute cute graphics or Sokobon trappings dissuade you; there is a razor-sharp puzzle game within. Perfectly-pitched difficulty, excellent controls and adorable atmosphere make this a perfect game to curl up with by the fireplace for a few evenings this winter.