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Sokocat – Combo Review

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If we ever wake up in a room surrounded by crates, and only have the ability to shove them about, then we are set. We’ve lost count of the number of games where we’ve been taught the best way to push, instead of pull, boxes (never put a crate in the corner; be very careful about pushing one to a side). It’s a life skill that we’ll probably never get a benefit from. 

Sokocat – Combo is entirely, one-hundred percent about crate-pushing. It’s two Sokoban games – Sokocat Islands and Sokocat Dungeons – with one hundred levels total, and the only thing you can do within them (outside of tossing the odd boomerang) is nudge boxes. 

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If you’re still interested, then here’s our pitch: Sokocat – Combo is cute, sturdy as the boxes you push about, stacked with stuff and extremely welcoming. There’s a case for it being the pinnacle of box-pushing. The only downside is that it’s a Sokoban game. If you want more from life than pushing stuff, then Sokocat – Combo will do nothing for you. 

As mentioned, Sokocat – Combo is split in twain. The first game, Sokocat Islands, is the one you should probably start with, if only because it’s simpler and less gimmicky than Sokocat Dungeons. Like most Sokoban games, the premise is incredibly simple: you are given an island arena (a glorified grid to move about on), a number of boxes on that grid, and a cute Sokocat to control. Your cat pushes at the sides of boxes to move them, with the aim of nestling one box on each of the red lights that signify the goal of the level. If there are four red lights in the level, you will need to cover them with four crates. 

All of the usual Sokoban gentleman’s rules apply: crates can get stuck in corners and can even fall off islands, so you best not get in that situation. You should be careful nudging boxes together, as they might create unwinnable situations. Mostly, you should be thinking ahead about what you want to achieve, what might need to be circumnavigated to get there, and execute on it without getting stuck. It’s all far more difficult than it sounds. 

In basic presentation terms, Sokocat – Combo is adorable, if not high fidelity. The cat is cute, the levels bloom with colour and pixel-sharp clarity, and the view can be shifted around as much as you’d like with the bumpers. At no point were we confused about anything, or felt like an important obstacle was obscured. This is the perfect sandbox for a bit of pushing. 

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Levels start easy and waste no time in ramping up the challenge. By level ten of fifty on Sokocat Islands, we were tying ourselves in knots. We hit replay roughly five times per level up to level forty, and then about twenty times per level after that. For single-screen puzzles, there’s a high degree of intricacy. Sokocat – Combo makes fantastic use of bridges, lifts, two-tiers of height and drops. There’s nothing high-concept and overly complicated here – there are no portals or time-rewinds for example, which a lot of Sokobans dip their toes into – it’s just pure crate-pushing, with enough nobbles to keep things interesting for fifty levels. Lovely. 

Better still, Sokocat – Combo arrives with the most generous of features: a ghost-cat that appears with a press of the Y button. If you’re stuck on a puzzle, you can follow the cat, step by step, through the level as it teaches you how to complete it. It’s a great means of learning, too, as it employs some tactics you might not have considered. It shows you that often the best tactic is to move crates off of the final red lights, for example, rather than consider them ‘done’, to create additional space. 

The ghost cat is a ballsy addition. Devs often try to protect their games from being completed with ease or skipped outright. But Moraes Game Studio has enough confidence to hand you a cheat code, and trust you to not overdose on it. It’s not perfect – you can only use it at the very start of the puzzle, rather than partway through – but it’s supremely generous. 

That said, we would have taken an Undo button. Make a mistake and, more often than not, the entire puzzle will be scuppered. When a puzzle is something like fifty steps, the loss can be hard to swallow. A simple rewind feature, even taking the player back a single step, would have been welcome. It’s been done in plenty of other Sokobans, so it’s surprising that such a good example would omit it. 

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Moving over to Sokoban Dungeons, the puzzles don’t necessarily get harder, but they do get more convoluted and gimmicky. Spike traps rise and fall, requiring you to place blocks on corresponding switches to turn them off. Bolts fly out of crossbows. There’s a boomerang that you unlock early on that can be used to flip switches on or off. Since they add additional parameters, we found that the surrounding levels were less sprawling than the Sokocat Island levels. Probably wisely, Moraes Game Studio acknowledges that the extra mechanics might trip you up, so turns the difficulty dial down a touch.

Perhaps we were fatigued after the fifty Sokoban Island levels, but we weren’t as won over by Sokoban Dungeons. It’s probably a combination of the slightly drabber surroundings and the loss of Sokoban purity. There are perhaps too many additional things going on, and we preferred the simpler flavour of sokoban in Sokocat Islands. 

But that shouldn’t take anything away from what’s been achieved with Sokocat – Combo. For a game that’s all about box-pushing, Sokocat – Combo does a rather good job of box-ticking too: it’s got plenty of levels, all well designed, with toy-like presentation and a streak of accessibility running through it. Sure, it’s still a sokoban, so there’s a ceiling of how much enjoyment that you can get from it, but it’s probably the best example of crate-pushing on the Xbox. By a whisker.

You can buy Sokocat – Combo from the Xbox Store

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