The MoeGamer Awards 2018: The Old Flame Award

The MoeGamer Awards are a series of “alternative” awards that I’ve devised in collaboration with the community as an excuse to celebrate the games, experiences and fanbases that have left a particular impression on me in 2018. Find out more here, but you’re out of time to leave suggestions, I’m afraid!

One’s first love is a powerful thing. Often it influences the way you feel about all sorts of things for the rest of your life — sometimes without you realising it.

Rediscovering one’s first love can go in one of a few ways. You can find yourself wondering what on Earth you were thinking. You can recall exactly what caused you to fall in love in the first place. Or you can be delighted to find that your first love has actually been making something of themselves, and is ready to provide you with some all-new entertainment that is simultaneously fresh and familiar.

This metaphor is getting slightly tortured, but regardless, this latter option is what today’s award is all about.

And the winner is…

Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase

In retrospect, the fact I’m so enamoured with the moe aesthetic these days — and anime-style art in general — more than likely stems from my love for the game Rod-Land back in the early ’90s. Specifically, it stems from my love for main character Rit from that game, an adorable little fairy girl with long pink hair who I found absolutely irresistible for some reason.

Honestly speaking, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of how I felt about this character at the time. Back then, “cutesy” games were often mocked for being… well, cute. Rod-Land’s marketing in the UK literally claimed it was “so cute it’ll make you puke”, and I recall both my parents and brother being… not against cutesy games per se, but definitely feeling they were worthy of a certain amount of light-hearted derision. There was also a bit of an unspoken but nevertheless tangible feeling that cutesy games with adorable characters were somehow “for girls”, and that big strong boys such as me should be playing military flight simulators and science fiction shoot ’em ups instead.

Who am I kidding? I was never a big strong boy, though I was quite tall for my age for a while and I most definitely played military flight simulators and science fiction shoot ’em ups too. Regardless, I loved Rod-Land, or more accurately I loved the demo for Rod-Land, since I never actually owned a copy of the full game so had to content myself with the few levels that had been distributed on the cover-mounted floppy disk from an ST magazine of the era.

I didn’t think about Rod-Land for a good few years, although I still found myself attracted to games with colourful anime-style artwork — particularly role-playing games throughout the PS1 era. I spent a few years embracing the triple-A sector as the HD generations got underway before realising I was finding these more gritty, realistic games fundamentally unsatisfying somehow; I was pining for those colourful, delightful worlds I had explored for so many hours in years gone by.

So from about 2010 or so, I decided that review scores be damned, I was simply going to play things that looked appealing to me. The cuter the better. And fortunately, this decision coincided with both the popularisation of moe as a concept, and a wide variety of great moe-style games, particularly on PlayStation 3 and, later, Vita. Looking back on my gaming career as a whole, my attraction to cute anime-style girls with colourful hair is entirely down to that initial fascination I had with Rit from Rod-Land. But there was still no hide nor hair of anything to do with Rod-Land anywhere in the games industry — no rereleases in arcade compilations, no retro remakes, no downloadable versions.

It was early this year that I was reminded of Rod-Land and my love for Rit rather unexpectedly. I caught wind of a new puzzle game that was releasing for Switch. Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase was its name, and something about it looked familiar, stoking the fires of my memory. “That girl really looks like that girl from Rod-Land,” I found myself thinking. “I wonder if… no, it can’t possibly be…”

It turns out that indeed it could possibly be, and that said girl was most certainly the very same girl from Rod-Land with whom I had fallen in love with as a child. Soldam, it seemed, was a remake of an arcade game of the same name from 1992, which in turn was a sort-of sequel to Rod-Land. I say “sort-of sequel” because it was nothing like Rod-Land in terms of gameplay; Rod-Land was a single-screen “defeat all the enemies” affair in the Bubble Bobble mould, albeit with its own unique mechanics, while Soldam was a falling-block puzzler featuring mechanics inspired by the classic board game Reversi (or Othello, if you prefer).

I immediately picked up Soldam for Switch as soon as it became available for several reasons. Firstly, I was keen to get reacquainted with Rit; I found the visual style of her new design particularly appealing, with her rambunctious facial expressions and oddly attractive wrists (don’t ask, I don’t understand it either, but I know how I feel) poking me right in the heart as soon as I saw them.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly in the long term, I was excited to see an honest to goodness old-school puzzle game get a modern release at retail. For many years by this point, puzzle games had become almost exclusively the dominion of mobile gaming — and that, of course, meant that they’d become infested with advertising, microtransactions and pay-to-win. I’d always enjoyed puzzle games, but came away from any mobile puzzle game feeling dirty; they often felt deliberately unbalanced in order to push you in the direction of the aforementioned microtransactions, and having that knowledge in my mind made them completely unappealing to play.

Soldam, however, was a simple and pure game experience, without a trace of any of that bullshit. In terms of “content” one might think it quite limited compared to some other games — particularly its contemporary Puyo Puyo Tetris, which comes loaded with a variety of different game modes — but I actually rather like that simplicity. You simply fire it up and play it either as an endless “marathon” puzzler in which you attempt to score as many points as possible, or in “puzzle” mode, where you have specific limited pieces with which to accomplish various objectives.

There’s a metagame that involves collecting “Plumis” by accomplishing various things during gameplay, but these are purely cosmetic. The main way you “progress” in Soldam is simply by getting better and attaining higher scores; it’s a simple, distinctly arcadey approach to longevity and doubtless won’t be for every modern gamer — particularly those who expect rewards and unlocks simply for booting the game up on a regular basis — but for jaded, grizzled old veterans like me, it’s a real delight to have a simple “pick up and play” puzzler like this with which you can while away a few minutes or a few hours very easily indeed.

Now, since City Connection seemingly owns the rights to a variety of old Jaleco games… howsabout a nice remake of Rod-Land using Soldam’s art style next year? Pretty pleeeeeease?

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

Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.

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