Consider Isles of Sea and Sky, the only sokoban game I’ve ever enjoyed

It’s Sokoban! A game whose name I recognise as shorthand for this type of puzzle, and yet have never seen. It’s also a genre I’m not overly fond of, preferring puzzles I can sometimes get through by intuition (Spring Falls), brute force (every switch-the-lights puzzle ever), or entering chaos mode (real life).

But I like Isles of Sea and Sky. From starting it almost on a whim, I was playing and figuring things out with zero fuss and no overt tutorialising pretty much immediately, and from there suddenly found that several hours had breezed by without frustration or boredom.

Your wee island person washes up on a beach, and naturally starts pushing stuff around so he can collect keys that open up more screens full of stuff to push around. There are other bits to collect here and there, most notably stars that act partly as keys, but in a way that tells you what area you should be moving to next. Got 15 stars? It’s probably time to go past that 15 star bit and maybe the tool you need will be there.

There’s a hit of the Metroid to it, see. You’ll find inaccessible areas very quickly, or a path will take you through a tiny corner of a puzzle you’ll tackle properly later, offering a glimpse that’s sometimes a hint, and sometimes just tantalising. Or perhaps a hint at some unintrusive plot, when a strange woman appears behind some puzzles but when you reach her she runs away, then stands behind a gate requiring more stars. But no, strange woman, I did not unlock that gate even when I had the stars, because I have SELF RESPECT and will not be MANIPULATED and also I FORGOT.

Sleeping amongst the boulders in Isles Of Sea and Sky.

Finding the star in a dark cavern, in Isles Of Sea and Sky.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Cicada Games/Gamera Games

Crossing an azure river in Isles Of Sea and Sky.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Cicada Games/Gamera Games

More blocks come soon enough, and periodically gain new powers or activate something that opens new paths. That’s true within its quite elaborately linked levels (the solution gap is sometimes bigger than I’d prefer, with a bit much backtracking if you’re as dense as me and under-use the map and its flagging system) and the wider world. There are other islands, see, and a turtle friend to carry you between them, to unlock more levels in a semi-linear fashion or get an early change of scenery (and more lovely music) and come back to the old island later.

It’s low on frustration, too. Isles has an instant reset button and a “go back one move” (but only if you changed something, discounting inconsequential walking) you can take several moves deep without cost. Even blundering into drowny water or spikes just tuts and puts you back one move, not the whole screen. Some screens can be (I’d say must, but it’s possible they have perfect solutions I didn’t catch) cleared by exploiting death and map resets, since things you collect remain collected.

Isles of Sea and Sky is an excellent puzzle game all round, neither punishing nor overwhelming, but requiring you to stop and think just often enough. It’s honestly hard to fault, and the only block-pushing game I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend even if they’re not your usual scene.

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