Puzzle games are a dime a dozen these days and standing out from the crowded marketplace can be a challenging prospect for newcomers to the genre. Developer Zeke Virant’s first foray into the world of puzzlers is a fascinating proposition: a self-assured marriage of simplistic, striking design transfused with a rhythmic, melodic, and an occasionally Zen-like gameplay loop that tickles as much as your brain as it does your hand-eye coordination. Unfortunately, as a whole, I found Soft Body to be an obtuse and frustrating game that actively pushed me away, even when I tried my best to get close enough to show it the respect and appreciation it demanded. To me, Soft Body is the definition of tough love, and it pains me to say this but Soft Body… I think we should see other people – or umm, games.
It’s a shame because I do appreciate what Soft Body is striving for: an artistic, meditative hybrid of puzzle game and bullet hell shooter that’ll get the art-house crowd fizzing at the proverbial bunghole. Sadly, it just doesn’t really excel at either. It’s very thoughtfully constructed, there’s no denying it, but it often feels like a vacant, forgettable experience and, following on from my fizzy wine analogy; it often feels like carbonated mineral water gallivanting stealthily as a carafe of expensive Krug champagne.
Soft Body tasks you with controlling a gooey snake-like entity in their bid to paint each intricately designed level with their bodies. Following a brief tutorial that slowly drip-feeds you the game’s simple and quite elegant rule-set you are thrown into a set of deviously designed, minimalist puzzles that will test your hand-eye coordination, peripheral vision and – if you’re anything like me – your patience. You will be controlling up to two controllable snake-like beings; one ghost snake that can ‘eat’ the enemies and one lead snake that needs to be protected. Many of the levels require you to combine the two snakes to perform various tasks that will unlock the next part of the puzzle. These tasks range from pushing dots along lines or painting certain shapes, all whilst avoiding a plethora of sneaky bullet-hell style projectiles.
I want to be upfront here: I’m no puzzle savant, and that may well be why I found this game to be so taxing on my skill-set. It’s a game that I feel demands a lot of investment from the player, which I do actually respect. However, here’s my major gripe with Soft Body: it’s just not very rewarding. Learning levels by rote is expected in Soft Body and that is the one aspect that really turned me off completely.
Aesthetically and mechanically, it reminds me a lot of an amalgamation of Everyday Shooter’s bullet-hell art-house charm and Flow’s meditative and serene, dream-like atmosphere and on paper that sounds great. However, in practice it often feels like two paradoxical styles that are utterly at odds with each other.
There’s room for interpretation. Maybe, Soft Body is a representation of the strife and challenges of life and how taking on challenges together is the true meaning of it all… wow, that sounded rather good. Where’s my beret? But in all honesty, I feel very differently. Read into it what you will, but my takeaway is this: this is a confoundingly average puzzler dressed up with all the trappings of a high art experience. For many the former interpretation may ring true. The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to interpret a game like Soft Body – despite what many people may tell you.
But the crux of the matter is this: Soft Body is a pretty standard, almost cookie-cutter puzzle experience dressed up stylishly as a high art game. Chewy mutton dressed as tender lamb. Honestly, with a little time and effort a game like this could be created in LittleBigPlanet. I don’t mean any disrespect to its creator as I genuinely think Zeke Virant does have the potential to create a great game, it’s just that I don’t think that Soft Body is it. Ultimately, it feels a little too superficial and throwaway for its own good.
Soft Body is a tough nut to crack as I do believe that some players will extract a lot of joy from this stylish, ‘less is more’ puzzler. Your mileage will vary depending on how patient and enthusiastic you are about rote puzzle mechanics, but the lack of depth and nuance and the hodgepodge-style welding of two very unlikely, conflicting genres just isn’t enough to get me too excited for Soft Body. There are glimpses of brilliance in Soft Body, but it is sadly eclipsed by its unrewarding, obtuse and frustrating delivery.
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