A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build
While I knew that a good snowman is hard to build I didn’t realize that it was an activity also enjoyed by monsters. In this charming puzzle title the process also involves a bit more thought than lumping together as much snow as you can find and then sticking a carrot and scarf on it. On the plus side there is no risk of frostbite and the activity isn’t dependent on the weather.
As the title of this game makes abundantly clear, your goals in A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, revolves entirely around building Snowmen. Your character might be a giant monster with stringy arms and legs, but his penchant for naming and hugging the snowmen means he is more adorable than creepy. As Alan Hazelden, one of the original creators of Sokobond, had a hand in the puzzle design it should come as no surprise that finding the solutions involves a fair amount of head scratching. Snowmen are comprised of three different sized balls of snow. Your job is to create these snowballs and then moving them into the correct position to create the snowman. It looks deceptively simple, but like any good puzzle game, looks can be deceiving.
Each puzzle is set in its own little area with snow and grass on the ground. Roll a snowball over grass and it will remain the same size. Roll it over snow however and it will grow larger. The large snowballs, which form the base of the snowmen, are the easiest as after they have come into contact with snowy ground three times they cannot grow any larger. Medium snowballs can only touch snowy ground twice and small snowballs can’t touch snowy ground at all if you want any hope of successfully crating your snowman. Luckily, rolling any snowball over snowy ground will expose the grass underneath, which means most puzzles involve maneuvering the largest snowball in a manner that clears a path for the medium and small ones. You can only roll the snowballs in four directions though, and in addition to the puzzle areas being rather small they are usually cluttered with trees, benches, bird baths and other bits of scenery as well. You can push smaller snowballs up and over larger ones, but not vice versa. Your monster also cannot pass through snowballs or the scenery, which means a lot of times you might know exactly where to put the snowballs, but not how to get them there.
Figuring out the puzzle solutions involves a fair bit of trial and error, but thankfully you can reverse all your steps, one by one, at the tap of a button. This removes the tedium of having to restart an entire area because you made one or two stupid mistakes or wanted to test out a theory. Of course, if you manage to mess things up irreparably you can also instantly reset everything to their default state and try again from scratch. Seeing as some rooms might require you to build up to three individual snowmen, things can get tricky very quickly and that undo button comes in very handy. Since there is nothing that can kill you and you usually have a couple of puzzle rooms you can tackle at a time the game is very relaxing. New areas open up as you complete old ones and everything is connected which makes it look like a park hedge maze. It is quite easy to make your way between the rooms, but there is also a unique “fast travel” system which is accessed via the park benches you find everywhere.
When it comes to the visuals it is hard not be charmed by the game. Benjamin Davis is responsible for the graphics and did a great job with the characters. Since the whole game takes place in the same park there isn’t much variety when it comes to the look of separate areas, but the snowmen more than make up for this. In addition to your monster naming every single snowman they all have a different look as well. From top hats and mustaches to beanies and sunglasses, half the fun is seeing how the snowman you are busy constructing will look when it is done. There is no need to interact with anything except the snowballs, but pressing towards any of the scenery objects will usually cause your monster to perform a short animation. This is nice as apart from some butterflies flitting about the game does look a bit motionless.
The audio in the game was handled by Ryan Roth, known for his work on quite a few great indie titles, and he did a excellent job creating a soundscape that matches the somewhat melancholic feeling of the game. The music is atmospheric without becoming obtrusive and when you complete a puzzle the music in that area also stops. The sound effects are also great with bird songs heard in the background as well as the footsteps of your monster. Interacting with the game is as easy as can be as you simply have to move your monster in one of four directions. If it comes into contact with a snowball it will automatically start pushing it. Bear in mind though that snowballs can only be pushed and not pulled, so if you shove one against the edges of the room you might have no choice but to rewind a few steps. The grid based movement felt a bit fiddly when using an analog controller, but because it is so easy to rewind bad moves it didn’t bother me too much. Playing with a keyboard felt a bit more precise though as I made far fewer accidental moves with it.
In total it took me about two hours to complete all the puzzles in A Good Snowman is Hard To Build and despite getting stuck a few times I enjoyed every minute of the experience. You can also reset your progress in the game if you want to have another go at the puzzles after completing everything. The puzzles are tricky at times, but it always feels like a solution is just within your grasp. Experienced puzzle fans might find some of the early puzzles a bit too easy, but the gentle learning curve means anyone can enjoy this game. The game has launched with a rather innovative “pay what the temperature is” feature, where the price is based on the temperature in London, so you might want to wait for a bit of bad weather to grab the game at a bargain. Don’t hesitate too long though, as this method will only be used for the first two weeks after the launch of the game.