If you had told me a few months ago that one of the year’s most talked-about and acclaimed indie puzzle games would be one where the goal is to roll giant sausages onto grills, I would have…well, actually, given the countless other bizarre indie games I’ve seen, there’s a chance I probably would have believed you. But still, when I first heard about Stephen’s Sausage Roll just over two weeks ago, I couldn’t believe it. It seemed like some sort of April Fool’s joke, but no, Stephen’s Sausage Roll is very much real, and having gotten my hands on it, I can indeed confirm that the hype for the heap of juicy sausages is indeed justified.
Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a simple 3D puzzle game. Or at least that’s the game’s entire official description of it on Steam (seriously). To elaborate, it’s a top down puzzler where you control a person with a giant fork who has to fully cook sausages by rolling them onto grills located around each area. Why? Because why not? Yes, the game may seem incredibly simple on the surface, but “genius in its simplicity” is in full effect here, along with a level of challenge guaranteed to fry a few brain cells figuring out each solution in the process.
See, it isn’t just as simple as merely pushing a sausage around. For one, your character controls differently than you may imagine. As your yellow-headed buddy and his fork occupy two tiles, the directional controls aren’t just used to move them around, but to rotate them as well. And you can only roll each of a sausage’s four parts on to a grill once; Keep them on the grills, and they get burned, resulting in failure. The result? Rotate the wrong way, you knock a sausage off of the stage, and you lose. Move your sausages into the wrong area trying to grill them, they get get caught in a place where burning is the only option, and you lose. Successfully cook all of the sausages but leave them positioned in a way that prevents you from getting to the exit, and you lose. And we haven’t even gotten into the advanced bits like being able to skewer sausages and carry them around yet.
For a game appropriately resembling the days of NES puzzle games such as The Adventures of Lolo and Kickle Cubicle, Stephen’s Sausage Roll fully invokes the Nintendo Hard trope. This game will challenge you, frustrate you, tax your brain at every turn, and you will love it. A perfectly-designed puzzle is tough but fair, the kind where you pull out your hair trying to solve it, but then finally come across the solution after trying for a long amount of time, look back and realize how every step of it perfectly clicked and admired it, and then feel a genuine sense of accomplishment for solving something so eloquently-designed. Needless to say, every puzzle here in Stephen’s Sausage Roll creates that feeling. The level design truly is top-notch, containing a lot of variety and making sure every little tile plays a part in figuring out the solution.
Speaking of which, Stephen’s Sausage Roll has a rather unique look to it hiding within its old-school polygons. There’s just something about the way each tile seems hand-placed, each one slightly crooked and off, that really gives it a lot of home-spun charm. But the real highlight is game’s day-and-night cycle. Does a game like this really need one? Arguably, no. But damn, the way the colors over each bit of landscape smoothly change as time goes on looks unbelievably impressive. It’s just little details like that which really enhance the mood even further. The music is also surprisingly well-done, creating a series of ambient tunes that contrast the initially zany concept with a rather calming atmosphere, which you’ll need. After all, if you’re like me, it’ll take you close to two hours just to get through the first set of sausages alone, so you’re going to need to be calmed down a lot over a game with a length like this.
If there is one gripe concerning Stephen’s Sausage Roll, it’s that while the idea of having an overworld constructed of all of the game’s puzzles locked together in one way or another sounds impressive and delivers a bit of an epic feel, it does also have the side effect of having to navigate between puzzles be a puzzle in itself, which is a slight hassle, not to mention how easy it is to accidentally re-enter a puzzle if you decide to quit it and head for a different one. The lack of being able to replay puzzles after completing them due to this layout is a mark against it as well, but these are mostly minor flaws that thankfully don’t affect the game’s overall enjoyability.
Stephen Lavelle deserves a pat on the back. Creating a quality puzzle game with a concept as quirky as this is one thing, but going above and beyond to put so much care into crafting such a near-immaculate set of puzzles equally brutal yet forgiving is full-on applause-worthy. To put it simply, Stephen’s Sausage Roll might be some of the meatiest and most delicious food for the mind you’ll taste all year.