Back in 2011-2012, I was reading an article that was about games the author wanted to see on the Wii E-Shop (not Wii U, this was before then). I don’t remember too much about the article itself, only that the website background was green and that all of the games were ones I recognized and either already planned on playing or had no interest in. However, when I read the comments, one user mentioned a game I had never heard of, so I looked it up, and that’s how I found out about what might just be MY FAVORITE GAME OF ALL TIME (and if you’ve read some of my posts, you know that isn’t something I say lightly). I’m not even kidding.
Seriously, if you’ve ever wondered why I’m so harsh on the games I post about, it’s because games like this exist.
This is Sutte Hakkun, and it’s a puzzle platformer, but…well, you know how the “action” label for games actually contains multiple fully-fledged genres (platfomer, beat ‘em up, shooters, etc.)? I’ve found out that “puzzle” games are the same way, and before I can adequately describe why I like this game so much, I have to distinguish the puzzle genres from each other:
TL;DR: What separates this game from most other puzzle games is that it manages to have a difficulty curve and really challenging puzzles without ever being obtuse. If you can’t figure out the solution, you know that it’s your fault, not the game’s. You will never be stumped on a puzzle as a result of the game not telling you something because the game tells you what every object in the game does and how exactly every object in the game can be used.
However, what puts this game above other placement-based puzzle games like Toki Tori 1 (which I also recommend) is that Toki Tori 1 introduces new items for each world, but Sutte Hakkun manages to be much less gimmicky. This will take a bit of explaining….
Here’s how the game works: there are 10 worlds with 10 stages each, and you have access to the first 30 at the beginning of the game. Clear 25 stages and you unlock the next 30; clear 50 and you unlock the next 30, and at 75 cleared stages, you unlock the final 10. Clear all stages and you beat the game (and unlock 10 “EXTRA” stages that I haven’t cleared yet). Your character’s size is two units by two units, and you can jump three units high (
plus one pixel EDIT: Nope; three units exactly). The goal of each level is to collect all of the rainbow crystals (though most levels only have one, and no level has more than three IIRC); collect all the rainbow crystals in a stage and you’ve cleared the level. Each level can contain any amount (including none) of the following items: ink jars (each contains 1 of 3 different colors), movable blocks, dogs, rocks, glass panes, color switches, arrow tiles (only allow through-movement in the direction they point) and…one other thing that I’ll bring up later. You can absorb ink, blocks, dogs, and rocks, and place them in front of you anywhere (except rocks and dogs can’t be placed inside solid tiles). However, ink can only be placed inside blocks and dogs; releasing ink anywhere else will just have it fall off the stage, and you have to go back to an ink jar if you want ink again (assuming there’s even one in the stage). There’s also a little trick you can do with blocks where if you hold the release-object button while releasing a block, you can press up to lift the block up by a unit. Colorless blocks and dogs will stay still (though dogs are affected by gravity while blocks aren’t), but if you color them, their behavior changes: red blocks repeatedly move up 4 units and down 4 units; blue blocks repeatedly move forward 4 units and backward 4 units (“forward” depends on the direction you’re facing when you color the block); yellow blocks move diagonally up-and-forward 4 units each and down-and-backward 4 units each; red dogs become springboards, effectively giving you an extra unit of height to your jump (technically two units, but it shrinks by one unit when you stand on it for the springboard effect to be visualized); blue dogs walk back and forth, turning around at cliffs and walls; yellow dogs pound the ground repeatedly and are really only useful when placed over a color switch (which changes the ink color inside the ink jars when jumped on top of or pounded; nothing happens when they’re hit from the side or from below). Be careful, though, because if you press the absorb button next to a colored block or dog, you absorb the color, not the object. Rocks decrease your jump height by one unit while absorbed (while also limiting your horizontal movement in mid-air), and if one is dropped on glass panes from 3 units above or higher (whether by themselves or absorbed by you), they break the glass and fall through. Lastly, you can walk through blocks and ink jars, but not rocks, dogs, or glass.
EDIT: Dang, I almost forgot: if an object affected by gravity is dropped onto another object affected by gravity, it deletes said object and continues to fall.
Oh, there are also spikes and pitfalls, but I think it’s obvious what those do.
Did you read that entire paragraph? Congratulations, you now have the knowledge to solve literally every puzzle in the entire game (with the exception of levels with that other item, which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs). Now, all of that may seem complex in text form, but even though there’s an in-game tutorial in the protagonist’s hut, the game is really good about teaching the player all of those mechanics through level design alone, so you can still figure out how to play even if you don’t speak Japanese; the only exception is stage 1-8, which does a terrible job of teaching the player about that “hold up to raise the block by one unit after releasing it” trick. I solved around half of the game’s puzzles before finally looking up a walkthrough. However, about a year ago, a fan-made English translation was released, so not only does that address the problem with 1-8, it also means there hasn’t been a better time to check this game out.
But anyway, onto why this game is better than Toki Tori. As stated before, Toki Tori introduces at least one new item in each of its four worlds, with certain items being exclusive to certain worlds. You may recognize this as an example of the “add new things to keep gameplay fresh” philosophy, but that philosophy is garbage propogated by people who suck at level design, and Sutte Hakkun is proof that those people are full of crap. Blocks and red ink are both introduced in the first level; blue ink is introduced in the fourth; yellow the seventh; color switches the tenth; dogs (all colors) are introduced in 3-2; rocks and glass are introduced in 3-3; heck, even arrow-tiles and that-which-must-not-be-named are introduced
in 4-1 EDIT: before 4-1; I didn’t double-check the levels very well (some of the dogs show up before 3-2 as well IIRC). That’s over half of the game without any new objects being introduced, and the game STILL MANAGES TO CREATE CHALLENGING, NON-OBTUSE PUZZLES! Sure, the beginning of the game is easy, but that’s to get new players used to how the game controls and how everything works, which is what a difficulty curve is supposed to do (EDIT: that and provide decent challenges afterward, which this game also does). Toki Tori 1 had two really challenging levels in its main game, both in the last world (with one being the final level), but Sutte Hakkun’s late-game manages to have consistenly-challenging puzzles (plus or minus a few levels in worlds 8, 9, and 10, and one in world 6, but when one of the game’s only problems is a slightly inconsistent difficulty curve, I can forgive it considering how many other GOTYs don’t have one in the first place). Honestly, the only time besides 1-8 where I felt I had to do something the game didn’t tell me was in 7-3; I’m pretty sure the only way to beat that level is by jumping immediately after breaking a glass pane while you have a rock absorbed. Considering how no other level makes you do something not covered in the in-game tutorial, I wouldn’t be surprised if I just sequence-broke the puzzle, but I’m still counting it as a flaw (but even then, that’s only 1% of all the levels; the rest of the game manages to be challenging without having to resort to less-than-intuitive tactics).
EDIT: I thought about it, then I went back and played it; turns out, you just have a small window of time to let go of the rock, then you have to jump again from the ledge to get the height needed to break the glass. Ignore all of my issues with 7-3.
The game even has a unique compromise for a way to reward skilled players without resorting to a time limit. Rather than have a timer ticking down, (though you do unlock a timer ticking up when you clear all 100 levels) you start with 1000 points for each of the first 30 levels, 2000 points for each of the second 30 levels, and 3000 points for each of the last 40 levels, and each action you perform reduces your point total by a certain amount (walking for a second deducts one point, jumping deducts three, absorbing and releasing deduct five each, and quick-saving deducts 20). That way, you’re not punished for sitting there trying to figure out what to do next, allowing for the game to have what challenging puzzles it has. I never ran out of points, so I don’t know if that triggers a fail-state, but if you ever get stuck in a level, you can always reset the level or load a quick-save from the pause menu.
Speaking of quick-saves, I have to admit that the game isn’t a pure puzzler; movement is pixel-based rather than unit-based (although limitations on movement are unit-based, as mentioned previously), and this knowledge is crucial for solving quite a few puzzles, even though there are no moving hazards. There will be quite a few times where you’ll have to get dangerously close to a pitfall so you can, say, jump up into the vertical shaft above it, but even if those parts give you trouble (especially when combined with the game’s challenging puzzles, which can be a bit lengthy even when you know the solution), you can always use the in-game save-states mentioned previously, so dying will put you right back to your last save-state (though you can only hold one at a time, and it resets if you exit the level).
With all that said, the game has one major flaw that even I can’t reconcile. Imagine you’re playing the game, and you think you’ve solved the puzzle, so you’re putting your solution into motion, when suddenly, you reach what was to be a crucial block or ink jar in your plan…
…you step right next to it, and you see…
Yup, that last of the object types I didn’t mention earlier are doppelgangers. They’re affected by gravity and block your movement just like rocks, but unlike rocks, they can’t be absorbed, merely moving forward two units when you try (unless there’s a wall there, at which point they just stay where they are). Oh, and there’s also the little detail that THEY ONLY EXIST TO BE RED HERRINGS! Sure, there’s a few times where they’re part of a puzzle’s solution, but if they weren’t intentionally designed to screw players over, most of them wouldn’t be surrounded by solid tiles like the red ink jar above, and more importantly, they would be given a unique sprite. Oh, and they can screw with your color radar as well; even if the only blue ink jar is a doppelganger, your color radar still tells you there’s a blue ink jar in the level. The only way you can tell what they are before getting next to them are two additional black hyphens that you won’t even notice if you’re not paying close attention (try to find them in that first screenshot). There are a few levels where other objects are used as red herrings, but at least with them, you can think about it a bit to figure out you won’t need them (“sure, I could hit the color switch to get blue ink, but if I’m in range of the color switch in the first place, I can just get the rainbow crystal and beat the level”). This game was SO CLOSE to being literally perfect, and then those things had to show up. It’s tragic, really.
So, there you have it. At worst, this game only has three flaws (inconsistent difficulty curve, one unintuitive level if you count the language barrier, and the doppelgangers). ONLY three flaws, and they aren’t even that big of a deal (besides the language barrier, maybe). Sometimes, a game will have so many flaws that I’ll forget to mention some in favor of the more egregious ones, but for this game, I’ve mentioned all of its worst qualities, so you should be able to figure out if it’s worth getting for yourself or not.
Overall, if you consider yourself a fan of puzzle games, I highly recommend this game. I would even go as far as to say you owe it to yourself to play this game, but I don’t know you. Seriously, aside from the three issues mentioned previously, it does everything right. Also, if you play it and you don’t like it, I would honestly like to know why; that statement isn’t rhetorical or anything.
Game of the Year 1997