Most puzzle games don't wait for your permission to start. They simply begin and you must deal with that reality. Pieces fall from the sky with alarming regularity. You must find a place to put them. You make space. Gravity drags abstract objects towards the ground and the passage of time is your sworn enemy.
Stickets isn't like most puzzle games.
In Stickets you are your own enemy. More precisely, the enemy is stupidity. Your stupidity. There is no time limit; objects don't swell in a disturbing swamp of jewels, blocks or bubbles. You place the objects on the map. You do. And if you can't efficiently clean up the mess you just made, then fuck you. Why? Because Stickets, that's why.
Stickets isn't like most puzzle games, but it also is like most puzzle games. That may be the most 'puzzling' thing about it.
Stickets is the game Harry Lee helped make when he wasn't trying to change your life with medical games or busy organising guerrilla events in San Francisco at GDC. It's a puzzle game in the purest sense of the word, Stickets isn't concerned with reskinning puzzle games you've already played, it's a game with a genuinely original ruleset.
Stickets is the game that forgot Tetris existed.
In a sense puzzlers are still recovering from ideas developed up in early games like Tetris; games that provided players a built-in sense of how things 'worked', or should work. The truly beautiful thing about Stickets is that it forces you to wipe that slate clean, to cleanse those memories from your palate. Because if you don't, you will struggle — you will suffer and you will fail.
A week of playing Stickets and I'm still trying to work out what works and what doesn't. I have an old brain imprinted with a specific set of strategies: be efficient like Tetris. Build up blocks of colours, instead of snapping for easy bait like in Columns. Be patient, but be quick. Have an agile brain; hold out for the right piece. In Stickets some of these dusty ideas are relevant, but most have to be tossed out or relearned.
Stickets is more like a Rubik's Cube. If you attempt to solve a Rubik's Cube in the most elementary way you might complete one side. Tops. But you'll never solve the thing unless you completely unlearn the most basic principles inside your weak brain and play by a different set of rules. Rules that initially feel counter-intuitive, but are ultimately far more effective.
————— Stickets is a little bit like chess, only your opponent is space and your loss is inevitable. It's simply a matter of time.
In Stickets' core 'Space' mode there is no time limit and I often found myself attempting to deliberate several moves ahead, just like you would in a game of chess. In chess the 'random element' is the moves your opponent may or may not make; in Stickets it's represented by the pieces you may or may not be given. You can plan, but you must also be willing to adapt quickly.
And like all good puzzle games Stickets makes you feel stupid, but arms you with the distinct feeling that comprehension and mastery is just within reach. Its slow pace deletes that twitchy 'one-more-go' compulsion, but Stickets will haunt you. You will dream up strategies and question your existing ones. You'll wake up in the middle of the night feeling like you've understood something. Your sub conscious brain will be working on Stickets long after you've drifted from it.
Stickets is that rarest thing: a puzzle game that is actually puzzling. Strands of video game history run through its DNA but it's an original 'thing' that must poked at, must be prodded, must be learned. It's like listening to a foreign language: the words sound familiar, but nothing is clear.
Until, suddenly, the fog lifts. Fragments become audible and you can plug the gaps. Your brain develops the agility to problem solve in this new space; you begin blocking moves in sequence instead of simply 'reacting'. It feels sublime.
On sites like Kotaku we rarely discuss puzzle games. That's partly because it feels like a dead genre where rusty ideas are endlessly recycled and rebranded, but the frazzled words we normally use to describe video games must also take share of the blame. Stickets isn't 'cinematic'. It isn't 'charming' or 'quirky'. It isn't 'visceral'. Stickets is a new set of rules, constantly in flux. Constantly challenging, forcing you to adapt and learn.
Stickets isn't like most puzzle games. It's better than that.
Stickets is now available on iOS for $2.99. You can find out more about it here.