Review by Atombender
Reviewed: 03/23/03 | Updated: 05/02/04
Been pushed around too much in the past? It's payback time!
Soukoban, also known (and mistranslated) as Sokoban, is a classic style puzzle game in the tradition of Shanghai (an early Mah Jongg computer release) and the later developed Tetris. The game itself was invented in 1982 by Hiroyuki Imabayashi, president of a company named Thinking Rabbit Inc. The name Soukoban means warehouse keeper, and if you look at the protagonist sprite (in the original MS-DOS version by Spectrum Holobyte/Mirrorsoft, at least), you might or might not agree that he resembles a Japanese construction worker, or maybe a westerner might expect a Japanese construction worker to look like. Either way, the guy is currently (and seemingly) the only one working for a warehouse company and he needs to figure out how to clean up the mess his colleagues left behind.
The ''mess'' are a couple of crates, apparently randomly scattered in each of the altogether 50 warehouses, being watched from a top-view. The order of the day is that they need to be moved to their correct position in the room, indicated by a mark on the floor. The drawback is that our friend is not strong enough to lift one crate over another and he isn't strong enough to pull them either. He can only push one crate at a time, two crates at once are already too heavy. As if this isn't enough, a passage is just as narrow as a crate, so if a crate is blocking a path, you cannot go ''around'' it just by squeezing yourself through between the crate and the wall, you'll need to find an clear path to reach the other side. And of course, you cannot climb over it, either. You'll need to help our little friend to find the right way through the labyrinth of walls and crates and move all the crates to the intended target spot in the warehouse in order to proceed to the next level/warehouse (don´t even bother thinking about how the guy can escape a room with no doors/exits, computer and video games are illogical).
After a level is completed, you are able to save your progress and you'll receive a scoring based on how many pushes and moves you needed for solving the level as well as passed time, and all these figures are saved in respective high-score lists for each level. Additionally, for those who have become bored with the pre-designed levels, the game features an easy to handle construction kit. People who have mastered the first 50 levels and are looking for some new challenges, may be pleased with the opportunity to design and save 50 new levels, each with the same features as the previous levels, including the various high-score lists.
The controls in the game couldn't be any simpler; All you need to move our hero around the place are the four cursor keys, no fire button required. People who have played Boulder Dash before, should be familiar with the short delay after each movement, which also effectively prevents the player from making a double-move too often. Still, it happens and you wind up in building yourself a nice little dead end or jamming a crate into a corner, where it cannot be moved out anymore (which will happen often enough on a regular basis, without giving the controls the fault). But, unlike as in real life, you still have the option to take your last, and only your last, move back, a feature I haven't used on a regular basis, rather I found myself starting the entire level again far more often, due to impatience.
As with many logic games, the graphical presentation is very basic and limited to what is absolutely necessary. The only animated object (sprite) is the worker and the fairly well-drawn other objects and structures of the rooms (crates and walls) appear in a slightly 3-dimensional view. Details are scarce, the hi-score list however is really beautifully made-up and literally rewards for the hassle the player has to go through and escaping the tristesse of the level design. You also need to consider the fact that the game made it to PC in 1987, a time where terms like Anti-Aliasing and Shading were completely unknown. If you were lucky, your PC had a EGA-card installed (16 colors at the same time, at a resolution of 640x480), if not, you had to deal with a CGA (4 colors) or even Hercules Card (b/w). Those were the pre-VGA days...
Not much to say here. There is some sound you can hear when moving crates around and these rudimentary noises coming out of your PC speakers are the only reasons why the game doesn't receive a 0 in this very category. Background or any other form of music doesn't exist and neither you'll ever hear some other sort of fancy effects.
However, the shortcomings in both the Graphic and Sound sections do not detract from the genuine game principle in the slightest. So simple in the presentation and the rules, yet so addicting, from the first level on, this game has caused a lot of sleepless nights for me. Either pondering over a level and trying the same strategy for the 100th time (and failing in developing an alternate route), pushing a crate into the corner for the 1000th time or going to bed with a level left unsolved and not finding any sleep. Additionally, even if you happen to beat the first 50 levels, there's still the option to ''master'' them, from the least possible moves and pushes required to the fastest walkthrough and the highest score for each level. And of course, for the creative people, 50 new levels are waiting to be designed, as long as they are actually solvable, of course.
The only real critics the game deserves, aside from the basic technical presentation, are some options the programmers didn't include, like a tournament mode, multiplayer mode or any similar features, which eventually prevented me from giving the game an even higher score, though according to some sources from the company who originally brought the game to PC, Mirrorsoft, an advanced version of the game has been released, with just said Tournament modus involving 4 competitors playing one after another and a time limit for each player. Neither of these features have been implemented in the game version this review is based on. Even without it and seen as a stand-alone game, the innovative principle itself cannot be beaten that easily, again proving the fact that the most simple ideas are often the best ones. If you are a fan of puzzle and logic games and you happen to come across this brainkiller, get it and you'll eventually regret it, based on the time you'll spent playing it. Whether you're planning a quick game while at work or a lengthy session at home, this pearl can be recommended without any restrictions.
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