There’s nothing more catastrophic than a burnt sausage. This is the premise of puzzler game Stephen’s Sausage Roll. Somehow, however, developers Increpare Games have created an experience that makes grilling a relaxing, thoughtful experience instead of the tense family BBQ memories we all have.
Initially I was suspicious of this title, as I’m sure many others are. After all, how fun can a game about grilling sausages be. It turns out grilling sausages is now one of my favorite hobbies. Set over four worlds, players must complete puzzles by cooking sausages perfectly, using a comically large poker to shove them around the level and onto grills. Beware though, there’s a considerable amount of thought required to master these puzzles. Each portion of the sausage can only touch the grill once, after a second turn on the heat it’s burnt, and there’s nothing more catastrophic than a burnt sausage.
It would be a gross misjudgment to think this game easy; it’s fiendishly difficult. And yet it finds a way to make difficulty engaging, even encouraging. Employing restart and undo move functions at the touch of a button, even after you’ve failed a level, makes each experience feel like a learning process. The game feels like a professor telling you that they’re not trying to catch you out on a test, wanting you to learn how to master rather than punishing you for failing.
You can undo your wrongs, restart whenever you feel lost, and even leave the level for later if truly stumped. The non-linear layout of puzzles means that every time you start up the game, you can try something new. It doesn’t lock you into a frustrating spiral with the same problematic area. It’s a freeing experience, a light and breezy learning process.
One effect of this laid-back approach that I didn’t initially consider while playing – but soon became incredibly apparent – is that much of the game actually takes place in your mind. Rather than employing in-game achievements, skills, or rewards, the design has managed to ensure that you learn skills in early puzzles that will become a necessity later in the game. Even better, it makes you think you worked this out on your own. It’s an example of a brilliantly designed hands off approach that promotes player experience over unnecessarily flashy production value.
Each world is a colorful array of pixels and blocks, with an adorably stumpy protagonist (made even cuter by the relative size of the poker he uses). There’s not much graphical engineering at work here, it’s blocks of color and pixels galore but it works against the simplistic gameplay mechanic it serves. On top of that, a gloriously soothing soundtrack accompanies you on your meaty voyage, with simple melodies dropping in and out of your experience.
Controls take some getting used to. Using only directional arrow buttons, there are often some frustrations regarding turning and moving. Pressing the down arrow for example, would normally move a character backwards however in this game moving backwards is relative to the position of your protagonist, so if you’re character is facing left, walking backwards would be pressing the right directional button. It’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things, but still requires a certain amount of remapping some pretty hardwired control instincts.
Stephen’s Sausage Roll might seem silly at first, but it a surprisingly challenging and entertaining puzzle game. There’s also a pretty down to earth storyline for those who seek it out from the inscribed stones around the world. In the interest of spoilers, I’ll leave out the details as part of the story’s majesty is the way it’s pieced together into a surprisingly pragmatic narrative, meshed brilliantly into a bizarre game world. If you liked playing with your food as a child (or even as an adult), you’ll enjoy chewing on these puzzles.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Many sausages were harmed in the making of this review
Gameplay - 8/10
Plot - 7/10
Design - 7/10
Stephen's Sausage Roll is a rare piece of game design that flawlessly integrates player learning with game world activities, all in a way that feels organic and natural. Through its complex puzzles and objectives, a strange serenity becomes apparent. Learning how the game works - and how to best it - becomes an experience in itself as players find themselves spending a significant amount of game time deep in thought (and pixels).