While education and gaming are not as far apart on the spectrum as some concerned parents’ groups would have you believe, they’re still not exactly cozy with one another at the best of times. As part of the generation that got some of the first “educational” games in primary school—which often seemed to have more emphasis on educational than game—I’m admittedly a bit suspicious of anything that tries to teach me through games. And admittedly, Sokobond doesn’t make that claim, but it does fall in that same arena.
Sokobond is a member of that strange genre of quasi-educational games; while it’s unlikely your teacher would plop you down in front of them Carmen San Diego or Oregon Trail style, the developers still expect you to have learned a little something through the experience. It’s a tricky goal for the best of games, I think.
Pushing too hard can make it come off as preachy or even worse, turn a fun experience into a surprise round of insert-your-worst-subject flashcards. It is, however, a balance Sokobond nails perfectly. While it plays as a cut-and-dry puzzle game, Sokobond’s development team has managed to seamlessly weave in chemistry as both elements of gameplay and bite-size facts at the end of each level.
Everything about Sokobond is deceptively simple looking, from the game’s minimalist flat-colour visuals to its ever-expanding level select menu and sparse text. There’s no guidance for what order to complete the 76 levels in, beyond which ones are accessible. After completing a level, all the ones adjacent to it unlock, and players can jump between them easily—a useful option when you’re stuck on one in particular.
This simplicity, however, hides what is at times seriously challenging gameplay. At the most basic level, players must bond all of the atoms into a single molecule in order to win, although the player is only allowed to move one atom and any others attached to it. This is complicated however, by the fact that levels are often physically small, and the trick becomes not so much bondingall the atoms as figuring out how to make a maneuverable shape. Completing a level ends with a reveal of the molecule you just made and a one-sentence a fact about it.
While the basic gameplay for every level is the same, levels are broken up into coloured sections that roughly correspond to new gameplay quirks: the ability to double-bond atoms’ electrons, break bonds, or simply flip the shape of your budding molecule. These sections unlock in a similar method as the individual levels: beat enough puzzles of one colour (or usually more) reveals another group of levels to peruse.
Perhaps my biggest issue with the game’s design is that it could, on occasion, stand to give players a little more feedback. While its minimalist approach to instructions gives players a chance to explore levels at their own pace, it can become aggravating when you’re stranded on a level where even a single hint would come in handy.
Sokobond’s audio is perhaps the most minimal I’ve ever encountered in a game. Background music is reduced to a quiet, new age white noise which more often than not I found myself forgetting about completely. In fact, the game’s main sounds are the chimes that occur every time atoms bond. While I’m normally pretty ambivalent to a game’s music—I notice it, but rarely have an opinion on it—I found the lack in Sokobond alternately pleasant and a little disorienting, depending on my mood.
But overall, its ‘at your own pace’ atmosphere and short level designs combine to make Sokobond a soothing pick up and play experience. The educational aspects fall more into the category of “interesting trivia” (did you know super-pure water can be as cold as -42°C before it freezes?) than beat you over the head memorization. The game builds basic chemistry principles into a challenging puzzle game with an amazing range of level designs and lovely minimalist graphics.
Sokobond (Reviewed on Windows 8)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Its ‘at your own pace’ atmosphere and short level designs combine to make Sokobond a soothing pick up and play experience. The educational aspects fall more into the category of “interesting trivia” than beat you over the head memorization. The game builds basic chemistry principles into a challenging puzzle game with an amazing range of level designs and lovely minimalist graphics.