Developer: Ripatti Software
Release Date: 15th September 2014 (Steam)
I have traumatic memories of sorting boxes in videogames. Repeating nightmares of endlessly forklifting warehouse crates into place to get pocket change that would inevitably be frittered away on capsule toys. Ryo Hazuki’s odyssey throughout the Shenmue series taught me one lasting lesson: the ergonomics of crate management is a soul-crushing affair. Despite this experience making me apprehensive of Ripatti Software’s latest creation Great Permutator, it still didn’t prepare me for the braincell destruction contained within.
You are tasked with getting coloured boxes from one end of a vast storeroom to the goal. It sounds so incredibly simple and frankly rather uninteresting, having played numerous Sokoban games that have never particularly entertained me. This is so very far off the mark though; to say that Great Permutator is a difficult game would be akin to saying the Katamari series is mildly odd. It’s also rarely dull. Your thought process can’t afford a moment of disturbance to consider such distractions anyway – if you want to complete anything past the second level then you’ll need your full focus.
The traditional formula of slowly ramping up the difficulty so players can be eased into mechanics is wisely side-stepped. By the third puzzle, you’re introduced to mechanical inputs that affect the flow dramatically; what seemed like predictable direction planning became a course in master circuitry not unlike SpaceChem. The fourth level removes the kid gloves before slapping you with them, demanding a duel. Suddenly, you’re spending over fifteen minutes on each puzzle, trial and error edging you further down the path of madness until that euphoric eureka moment sees you finally finding the solution.
If only it were that simple though. There’s a ranking system whereby you are judged for the number of conveyors used and the length of time the solution takes to reach the goal. It’s here that the true deviousness is revealed, just solving the puzzles is rewarding enough but seeing an A+ for your hard work is doubly satisfying. It’s all too easy to find yourself revisiting levels, trying to shave off seconds or shifting splitters closer to the goals to minimize grid usage. 65 total levels may sound brief but it’s misleading; for the budget price, you actually get one of the lengthiest campaigns I’ve seen in the genre. Mix in a level creator/sharer with some devious achievements and you clearly have good value for money.
I feel it’s missing the point somewhat to judge a puzzler based on its visuals and audio. Developers tend to acquire tunnel vision when fine-tuning every detail of the gameplay to the point that the other aspects becomes an after-thought. It’s clear the developer put a lot more care into these facets then usual but it’s not quite as perfected as the gameplay. It looks like an authentic DOS game, from the main menu to the crunchy sprites during gameplay. It’s a divisive style though definitely one I enjoy yet the palette is a little muted at times; for a game focusing on coloured blocks it draws upon browns and greys a little too often. The sound, however, is surprisingly pleasing. Sombre chiptunes grow in scale and grandeur almost as a fanfare for your thinking process. It may not be hugely memorable but it’s more than adequate.
As a complex circuit-builder, it’s certainly an example of the finest. Judged simply as a puzzle game, it’s still one of the best choices you can make on Steam. It’s priced very reasonably and offers some of the most challenging experiences on the platform so if you enjoyed the hair-pulling nature of SpaceChem then this is a purchase you owe to yourself.