Puzzler Essentials: Soldam

Want my money? Release a game in a niche genre like puzzler or shoot ’em up at retail rather than digital-only. Increase your chances further by making my first ever waifu one of its mascots.

That was seriously all it took to get me interested in Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase, a puzzle game from City Connection and Dispatch Games for Nintendo Switch. So it’s kind of fortunate that the game actually turned out to be highly enjoyable, too.

If your life has been sadly lacking in fruit-popping fairies lately, then this is one you’ll want to add to your library.

Although this shiny new high-definition version for Switch is a relatively new release at the time of writing, Soldam itself is quite an old game. Originally released by Jaleco in 1992, it acted as a quasi-sequel to Rod-Land, albeit adopting a completely different gameplay style to its action-platformer predecessor.

The game takes the form of a falling-blocks puzzler in which you’re tasked with clearing lines of like-coloured fruit from the screen. Soldam’s unique twist is a Reversi/Othello-style mechanic whereby if you flank a series of fruits with two of the same colour either side — horizontally, vertically or diagonally — you’ll change the colour of all the fruits in between the flanking pieces. In this way, you can manipulate the colour of the fruits on the board to your advantage, and indeed this is an essential technique to master whether you just want to create any lines whatsoever or set up an enormous chain reaction of simultaneous line clears.

There are some other interesting variations on the standard puzzle game formula, too. All of Soldam’s falling blocks are 2×2 in size and can only be moved in two-tile increments from side to side rather than the more commonly seen one-tile increment. This means that you can’t be left with an orphaned empty column at either side of the screen, but also means that in order to flank certain arrangements, you’ll need to rotate the pieces.

Clear a line and that row becomes the “Clear Soldam” line at the bottom of the screen, which can be used to flank pieces from above, but note if you create another line of a different colour (whether accidentally or deliberately) the “Clear Soldam” line will immediately change to that colour, potentially making vertical flank manoeuvres very difficult if you’ve been focusing too much on a single colour!

The game begins with just two different colours of fruit for you to worry about and gradually increases this to a maximum of four as you progress through the levels by clearing lines, an event known as a “Change” and marked in a game’s early stages by a change in background music as well as Rit or Tam’s pose in the corner of the screen. The overall progression curve throughout a single game is somewhat similar to that found in the single-player modes of Puyo Puyo games, particularly Puyo Puyo Tetris, in that the game gradually accelerates over the course of every ten levels, but then slows down again on every multiple of ten, albeit with a higher base speed. In other words, the game’s pace ebbs and flows somewhat, giving you occasional periods of respite after intense moments, but there is an overall trend upwards you’re going to have to learn to deal with if you want to make it to the higher tiers.

The main single-player “Soldam” mode, which just continues until you fill the screen, is complemented by an easy mode in which the pieces don’t fall so you have more time to make your decisions, and a “Challenge Mode”, which provides you with predefined layouts of fruits and a set sequence of upcoming pieces before challenging you to meet a particular condition — perhaps “clear five lines simultaneously” or the seemingly more lenient “clear six lines in total using all these pieces”.

There’s also a competitive Versus mode in which two players can square off against one another, though the rules are slightly different. Here, each player can only clear lines of a specific colour — red for Rit, blue for Tam — and their entire play area is surrounded by fruits of their colour. This means that you can flank pieces using the walls and floor at all times, making for a much faster-paced game than the single-player mode, and of course making big matches sends pieces your opponent’s way just to make life difficult for them.

What’s nice about Soldam in comparison to a lot of other arcade-style puzzle games out there is the fact that it doesn’t feel like it fixates too heavily on the versus side of things. In fact, in sharp contrast to highly competitive games like Puyo Puyo Tetristhe Magical Drop series and Baku Baku Animalthe main attraction of Soldam is very much its single-player mode. It conjures up the same feelings and emotions that the original Tetris did back in the day — that desire to get just a little further each time; that sense that it can’t be possible for a human to play effectively at the speeds the game reaches at its higher tiers; that elusive, addictive quality that brings you back time after time in pursuit of a slightly higher score or level than your last go.

It might not seem like the game has a whole lot of content to it when you first play it. But this is a game designed in the traditional style: it’s a game designed to be inherently rewarding just to play, rather than incentivising the player to come back with endless unlocks, level ups and suchlike. There is an overall metagame where you unlock “Plumis” (actually the various enemies from Rod-Land) but this has little impact on how the game plays — it’s just something extra to do. Soldam’s simplicity is part of its appeal, and it’s certainly a great complement to the other puzzlers on the Switch with its single player-centric design and challenging mechanics.

Also Rit is in it and she’s still cute. I guess you never forget your first love, huh?

More about Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase
More about Rod-Land

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