It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the next game from the developers of A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build and Sokobond is looking incredibly promising. But it’s still good to see! I’ve had my hands on a preview build of what is said to be the first hour of the game, but has given me a lot more than that!
A Monster’s Expedition: Through Human Exhibitions is a mixture of a traditional puzzle game format, and an open-world adventure through a monster museum about their peculiar human predecessors. You’re pushing logs about little islands to build bridges between them, then reading the little plaques on the exhibitions that real fascinating facts about the humans of Englandland.
I immediately found this more approachable than the trickier Snowman and Sokobond. The core mechanic is a simple one: knocking over trees, then rolling their trunks into the water to create bridges, rafts, and so on. Trees fall in one of the four cardinal directions. Then if pushed sideways roll until they bump into something or fall in water, or if pushed lengthways move one tile at a time between being upright or lying flat. It’s all about juggling their positions so they can hit the water at in the right place, facing the right way, in the right order.
But unlike too many puzzles employing similar mechanics, it doesn’t feel endlessly punishing. Exploration, trying something out to see if it works, feels much more available, with the game allowing you to move back any number of steps at any point, or reset an entire island to its starting state without losing any previous progress. There’s no sense that this is a failure, no penalising for undoing moves, no counter on the screen tut-tuttingly counting your errors. And that makes for such a more attractive experience.
The “open world” aspect helps here too. If you’re stuck on a particular island, then just run elsewhere and try and different group of puzzles for a bit, then return when inspiration strikes. In my first hour and a bit with the game I’d explored and solved puzzles on 54 islands, in various biomes, with a growing number of techniques based on the length of the logs, the available obstacles, and my patience with figuring out the tougher puzzles to reach the bonus areas. And this is apparently just the first part of the larger game.
It’s beautifully drawn, a really serene atmosphere to match the gentle tone to the challenge, and the faceless little monster is rather adorable. Especially the way he’ll sit down and dangle his legs if you walk him to an edge. It’s impressive how much character can be conveyed by what’s essentially a black egg with a backpack. Add the silly pleasure of the exhibitions, and the result is a very charming game.
I suppose a lot depends upon how much variety their is as the game develops, and indeed whether the difficulty ramps up to a point where it loses some players. We’ll learn later this year when the game is released on Itch and Steam. In the meantime, it’s definitely worth wishlisting.