Stephen’s Sausage Roll (2016)

I know what you’re thinking: “Stephen’s Sausage Roll sounds like a joke.” This is not a joke, far from it. The name is goofy, the visuals are ugly, the premise is bizarre, and the price is high. How could a game about rolling sausages be worth $30? The thing is, Stephen’s Sausage Roll is one of the greatest puzzle games ever created, and its unparalleled level design is what sets it apart.

1

Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a Sokoban-style puzzle game. If you’re unfamiliar with Sokoban, it is a subset of puzzle games that revolves around pushing objects to specific locations. You have to plan ahead since you move in tight spaces and everything has to fit snugly. It sounds remarkably simple, but Stephen’s Sausage Roll takes sausage rolling to the extreme. This game is insanely difficult, and from the outset the game is going to challenge you. The player’s goal is to fully cook sausages on grills without burning them. The game is played on a grid, and each sausage occupies 2 spaces. You must cook both sides of the sausage, but if you cook the same spot twice, it will burn. The player also occupies 2 spaces on the grid, which makes the game remarkably difficult to control. You can move forwards or backwards, and you can rotate left and right. These constraints will take a while for any player to get used to, and are a necessary to facilitate the complexity of the puzzles.

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The beauty of Stephen’s Sausage Roll is that it capitalizes on every facet of the game’s mechanics. The act of simply manipulating the sausages and controlling the character is explored in the first area. Subsequent areas focus on other mechanics: the second area is all about skewering sausages, the third is about rolling on top of them, so on and so forth. None of the mechanics are explained to the player, you are meant to play around in the puzzles to discover the nuances organically. There are six total areas in the game, each consisting of about a dozen puzzles. The sixth area is much longer than its predecessors and it utilizes a ridiculously interesting trick, but I will not discuss it because that should be a moment for every player to experience on their own. I do not want to spoil it.

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Every single mechanic that the game introduces is absolutely pushed to the brink. No idea is thrown away without squeezing all of the potential out of it. Every puzzle in an area will utilize a different aspect of that area’s core mechanic. Every puzzle is a learning moment. It never feels repetitive or tedious since all the puzzles require the player to encounter an “A-ha!” moment. There were some puzzles where I looked at it and thought “This is impossible.” After playing around a bit, it would click and I would understand exactly what I needed to do. Interestingly, there were also plenty of moments when starting a puzzle that I thought “This is easy.” But once I began, I realized it was much more difficult than I had anticipated. There aren’t really any hidden tricks or techniques to stump the player, instead the stumping comes from the clever implementation of the mechanics.

The brilliance of Stephen’s Sausage Roll is in its level design.  Every level is a unique teaching moment, and every puzzle is also immaculately designed. For the most part, every tile on the grid is needed to complete the level. There is no fluff to distract the player. If something is in the level, you will be nearly guaranteed to use it. This fact is immensely helpful when solving the challenging puzzles that are plentiful in Stephen’s Sausage Roll. I would often analyze all of the elements of any given puzzle before starting. This technique often led me to reverse engineer the solution by just understanding the components available to me.

3

The exceedingly clever minimalism of the puzzles is what makes Stephen’s Sausage Roll so challenging. There is absolutely no way for a player to stumble their way to a solution. There is an intended solution for every puzzle, and aside from minor variations there is no way around that fact. The player must utilize the techniques that each puzzle demands. Every puzzle is carefully designed to maintain this paradigm. This game is remarkable for its ability to stump the player in a fair manner. You never get stuck because you are missing critical information, instead you get stuck because it’s you haven’t implemented a mechanic in the correct manner. I would often get stuck for long periods of time but I rarely felt frustrated.

My lack of frustration is due to the fact that the areas in Stephen’s Sausage Roll have all of the puzzles available at the same. If the player gets road-blocked and cannot figure out the solution to any given puzzle, it is exceedingly helpful to try the other puzzles first. Sometimes you can make new realizations, but most of the time it is a good idea just to refresh your brain. Additionally, the game has two functions that the player will use copiously. The undo button will undo the last move made, and you can use it as much as you want. Often times I would realize that my solution wouldn’t work, so I undid the last few moves to see where I went wrong. Also, it is exceedingly common to do something unintentionally because of the unintuitive controls. The undo button is a godsend. Additionally, the reset button will reset the puzzle all the way to the beginning. If you really screw up, this function will come in handy.

4

My main issue with Stephen’s Sausage Roll is “brick walls” frequently occur. Brick walls are what I describe as moments where you absolutely cannot progress until you make some realization about how the game works. These moments will vary from player to player and can be demoralizing. Many of the mechanics in Stephen’s Sausage Roll have various nuances, and organically discovering these nuances at times can be exasperating. Most players will probably hit a brick wall at the very beginning of the game. The unintuitive control scheme, lack of explanation, and immediate jump into difficult puzzles almost guarantees that fact. Unfortunately, these facets are core components of the game, so there is no way to easily fix this issue.

The high difficulty and unforgiving level design are prone to these “brick wall” moments, and it probably happened to me two or three times. Sitting on a single puzzle for 2 to 3 hours, making no headway, then figuring out the solution hinged on some obscure nuance was not an “A-ha!” revelation, but rather an “Are you serious?” moment. There really is no way to alleviate this problem, as extreme difficulty is a double-edged sword. The vast majority of the time Stephen’s Sausage Roll provides mind-bending puzzles to tinker with, but sometimes you are going to get stuck for a while.

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Since Stephen’s Sausage Roll hits the player with a brick wall at the very beginning of the game, I think many players will have a hard time enjoying this game. It’s already in a small subset of puzzle games, and its astounding difficulty is sure to make it even more niche. Moreover, the game has no worthwhile qualities outside of its intelligent level design. The visuals, audio, and narrative are all extremely minimalistic. This is a game for somebody who wants to play an exceedingly challenging puzzle game. And that’s fine. Not every game has to be for everybody, and I like to see niche games. That being said, Stephen’s Sausage Roll is so ridiculously niche that nobody outside of a small subset of people will be able to enjoy it.

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I absolutely adore Stephen’s Sausage Roll, but I realize that is an exceptionally niche game. I categorize this game the same as SHENZHEN I/O. Both of these games are absolute perfection in their respective genres, but I cannot unconditionally recommend them to anybody. It’s a shame that the brilliance of Stephen’s Sausage Roll will be lost on so many people due to its sheer unapproachability. Regardless, this game is ridiculously well designed and executed, and I am genuinely baffled at how much content was able to be produced on the mere premise of pushing sausages around. It is for these reasons that I give Stephen’s Sausage Roll a 9.5/10. If you are a fan of outstandingly tough puzzle games, then you absolutely must play Stephen’s Sausage Roll. If you don’t enjoy puzzles, or prefer less challenging games, than this is not the game for you.

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