One of the earliest computer games was Sokoban, a well-crafted Japanese puzzle creation whose name literally meant "warehouse keeper." The 1982 PC-based game featured a pixelated person in a warehouse, moving boxes from one point to another to solve a puzzle.
Over the years, Sokoban has influenced many game creators, who have added their own bells and whistles and new game dynamics (such as adding pulling or picking up boxes in addition to pushing). Sokoban-inspired games provide a perfect challenge for puzzle fanatics because they're great for your brain—several studies have even backed that up! The difficulty of these puzzles in computer science terms is "NP-Hard", a way of judging the most difficult kinds of algorithms, and something our brains do naturally to find the paths that will allow us to reach ever-more-difficult goals.
In the past few months, a handful of great games with Sokoban-inspired gameplay or elements have come on the iOS scene. If you're feeling the need for some puzzle-solving in your iOS life, one of these game is likely to do the trick.
1. CLARC (free demo, full version $3.99)
iPhone Life rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of the cutest games to show up this year is CLARC, a sweet and surprising story puzzle by Golden Tricycle about a dedicated robot who is trying to keep things working while his colleagues party. Who knew diesel fuel could get robots drunk? The puzzles get more complicated right along with the story, and eventually CLARC goes from moving blocks out of the path and placing them on buttons, to moving and controlling drones, who all seem to have a mind of their own. The controls are perfect, and after a while you'll move through the environment without even thinking about directions, turning, or picking up and dropping your cargo. While this game goes far beyond the pure Sokoban-style, it's too lovely to leave out of this lineup. Plays well on both iPhone and iPad.
2. Kelso's Quest (free, IAPs)
iPhone Life rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
From indie developer Avocoder comes a wonderful story puzzle game that combines elements of adventure, Sokoban-block-pushing, avoidance, and more. You play as Kelso the Koala, searching for his kidnapped son, and you must face all the dangers of the environment through which you travel. From dart-spitting totems to lava pits, it's a dangerous world out there! The story is endearing, the art unlike anything else you'll see this year, and play is extremely intuitive, if a bit more difficult on the small screen of an iPhone. While this game does have IAPs, they are true micro-transactions. They don't interfere with the game, and, for a small amount, you can unlock more worlds than the one you get for free. If there is one downside, it's the ads that pop-up after every level, but an ad-free version is available.
3. Sokoboom 2 (free demo, full version $1.99)
iPhone Life rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
For an absolutely great-looking take on the classic, you can't do better than this year's Sokoboom 2. Pure Sokoban-style game play combines with sharp graphics and a perfect implementation on the touch screen to guarantee a straight-up challenge. The demo only has six levels, and the difficulty curve really ramps up as soon as you hit that first paid level, but it's worth it for the mental workout. This game provides a single step-back undo button, which can come in handy at times. While there is not much in the way of a story, it's enough to make you want to help the cute little chub of a boy make his way out of the dungeon...if it ever ends, that is! The graphics are tiny, so playing on an iPad makes it considerably easier.
My ratings are based on the following rubrik:
- Mechanics (features, controls, modes) - 10 points
- Presentation (art, graphics, sound, layout) - 10 points
- Difficulty (appropriate to game, curve) - 5 points
- Story (why do we care?) - 5 points
- Playability (playable, easy to grasp, recommendable)- 10 points
- Replay value - 5 points
- Other (IAPs, ads, social entreaties, etc.) - 5 points
...for a total of 50 points, which are then integrated with the 5-star rating system.