Stephen’s Sausage Roll and English Country Tune

I’ve started replaying English Country Tune for comparison purposes. Taken at a highly abstract level, it really is a lot like Stephen’s Sausage Roll. Both are basically games about pushing things to destinations in a tile-based 3D evironment, with identical controls for navigating and rewinding. The biggest difference is that ECT is more thoroughly 3D: you can move on any surface of the agglomeration of blocks you’re clinging to, and the direction of gravity is highly conditional.

Both games consist of groups of puzzles which unlock other groups of puzzles when completed, but ECT handles this fairly abstractly, through what amounts to a menu, even if it is a strangely-presented one. SSR links its puzzle together much more cleverly. The “menu” you use to select puzzles is an island, which you navigate in exactly the same way as you navigate the puzzles. But that’s not all. Each puzzle consists of an isolated patch of ground, in a particular shape, with grills and so forth, in the middle of a large body of water. The island is literally composed of the terrain of all the puzzles, pieced together like a jigsaw.

ECT has a weird and unsettling atmosphere. Despite the name, its music consists largely of ambient organ chords with a lot of tension in them. Everything in the puzzles is sharply geometric, but artificial dust motes drift around, creating a sense of decay. Restarting a puzzle briefly makes a cloud of black pixels swarm around you like flies. Things that look innocently abstract have unsettling names: the first puzzle asks you to move a ball to a goal spot, but it refers to the ball as a “larva” and the goal as an “incubation chamber”. Some later puzzles involve a cube that projects light beams. This is called a “whale”. It’s all very alien.

I’ve noted feeling a sense of menace in SSR, but it’s a great deal more restrained about it, which might make it worse. Sausages are a singularly fraught thing to base a game around, being both phallic symbols and meat products. There are plaques that mention how there used to be a great civilization on the island, and my first thought on learning that was “What happened to them? Were they made into sausages?” But the game has so far refused to address such fancies, staying firmly in a straight-faced realm of childish tinkly music and sloppily pixeled building blocks. “What? It’s just sausages”, it seems to say.

Now, I’m only up to the third set of puzzles in SSR. But so far, the puzzles as a whole have had a greater cohesion than ECT. ECT is essentially based around an interface for moving around on the surface of a solid made of cubes, and the various puzzle sets explore different mechanisms for exploiting that: one world for pushing larvae into incubation chambers, one for whales, another for planting seeds on every face of the surface, etc. In short, new sections change the rules. SSR hasn’t had to do that so far. Some of the rules are latent at first — for example, you can’t pierce a sausage with your fork until you you have something to push against. But the actual mechanics don’t seem to change at all. All that changes is what the puzzles make it possible to exploit. The third set of puzzles has a focus on stacking sausages on top of each other, and on walking on top of sausages, which can cause them to roll backwards. This is stuff that was introduced in the second set of puzzles, but not used to anywhere near the same degree. I’ve noticed that under certain unusual circumstances, it’s possible for me to lose my fork. I expect that I’ll eventually hit a set of levels that requires me to do this deliberately.

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