Surprise! Simogo, creator of DEVICE 6 and Year Walk, has just unexpectedly released its latest game on the App Store. Yes, really, it’s out now. It’s called SPL-T, it’s a puzzle game, and it’s quite unlike anything the studio has ever released before.
With no instructions to hand, you’ll tap the screen to split it in two. Your first tap creates a horizontal line; your next one is vertical, and each tap alternates between the two (as signified by a tiny figure at the top of the screen, who looks like he’s doing exercises if you tap really quickly). You can’t split a block if it’s too narrow, and should a line create a cross of four matching blocks, these will be filled in and attributed a point score based on the number of splits you’ve already made. The counter within these now unsplittable blocks will tick down to zero over subsequent turns, and you’ll score points if and when it does and they disappear. Any deleted blocks will leave a space, but any blocks above it that fit within that space will drop down. And if they’re point blocks, their total will be halved.
By now, your eyes are probably glazing over a bit, but like all the best puzzle games it’s harder to explain than it is to just play. Which certainly isn’t to say that it’s easy: it takes a lot of mental rewiring to go against your natural inclination towards the symmetrical, and will likely take days to tease out effective strategies. My best score so far is 6041, with 133 splits, which isn’t great. I asked Simogo’s Simon Flesser for his best, which he says is around 80,000. The highest he’s seen to date? 200,000. Yikes. I’ve clearly got a long way to go.
So why the unusual release strategy, and why make something so totally different? “Just experimenting, really,” he shrugs. “Trying new things. Really, I just wanted to make this type of very think-y puzzler for so long - I've been drawing these vertical and horizontal lines for [about] a year.”
Simogo began to discuss the idea after finishing its collaboration with Scram Kitty developer DakkoDakko on the Wii U port of Year Walk. Flesser wanted to keep everything as simple as possible: during discussions, the studio kept coming back to the idea of leaving nothing between the player and the game. Hence the lo-fi look and sound of the game. “I wanted that [purity] to echo in everything from visuals to audio, which is actually all one sample played at different pitches. That’s the same reason we don’t have online, or a restart button. It [means] every session is a learning experience.”
He’s hoping that the absence of leaderboards will encourage players to share their personal bests with friends, and even talk tactics. “Comparing and discussing strategies - you don’t get that just by looking at a leaderboard,” he explains.
If purity is central to SPL-T’s design, it wouldn’t really be a Simogo game without a few secrets. Flesser admits he couldn’t resist throwing in a surprise or two. “Yeah,” he laughs, “it does sort of go against the no-fluff idea, but I think that's why we made them secret, too.” Without wishing to give too much away at this early stage, you might want to consider shaking or reorientating your device.
So far SPL-T reminds me a little bit of fellow iOS puzzler Stickets, both in the sense that it’s a deceptively simple design that’s actually fiendishly complex at its core, and the way that you’re always your own worst enemy: just a single hasty tap can be fatal. It’s also one of those ideas that’s so simple you can’t quite believe it hasn’t been done before.
Whether this unusual release strategy pays off for Simogo remains to be seen. “I just think if there was a developer that I liked and they released a game in this fashion, I would be delighted and surprised,” Flesser concludes. “That’s mostly it.”