This is the one hundred thirty-ninth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Another random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is rolling towards us, one polyhedral face at a time. It’s Theorem, by Geckoo1337, and its tagline in the bundle reads:
Minimalist puzzle game
That’s a minimalist tagline, too.
There’s a specific style of abstract puzzle game that’s in vogue right now. They have bright, simple art, pleasant sound effects, and laidback, relaxing music, while tasking players with thinking through puzzles created from some central concept. Theorem is one such game, and its central concept involves moving a cube around each stage by rolling it around. It rolls by tipping over along an edge, such that a different face of the cube is planted on the ground. This makes for nice, discreet movement, square by square, but also enables the twist: one of the cube’s faces, conveniently marked with an “X”, cannot touch the ground.
Actually, there are a few special spaces that can accommodate the X face, usually (but not always) the starting and ending space. In fact, to complete a puzzle, players must work out how to plant the X face down in the ending space, which is easier said than done. Especially when some puzzles require collecting all the golden orbs before the ending space will activate. Other elements are gradually introduced across Theorem’s 50 puzzles to add complications: gates that must be opened by hitting color-coded switches, teleporters, moving platforms, elevated platforms that create Escher-like perspective tricks, etc. This increasing complexity is also standard practice for this type of abstract puzzler.
Honestly, I found it tricky to wrap my head around the cube rolling at first. It doesn’t help that the puzzles are presented in an isometric perspective such that movements happen in diagonal directions, but are controlled with the arrow keys. The keys are shown in the bottom corner, so it should be clear which key responds to which direction, but I still kept hitting the wrong keys, moving sideways when I meant to move up. Eventually I physically tilted my keyboard so the keys would better map to the directions on the screen. Even without confusion about keys, however, moving the cube requires more cunning than I anticipated. Most paths are just a single square wide, which means they can only be traversed if the cube is on its side; that is, with the X face pointing to one side. If it’s pointing up, then rolling along the path will eventually require planting it on the ground, which is not allowed.
The first several times I encountered a 2×2 square area, I muddled through it without really understanding what I’d done. Eventually, I came to appreciate these as crucial places to reorient the cube. With a few quick rolls, I could move that X face around until it was pointing in an optimal direction, such that I could get the cube rolling again along a new path. Even with that newfound understanding, however, it was easy to accidentally make a wrong move (especially if I got confused by the arrow keys again), which can put a puzzle into an unwinnable state. When that happened I lamented the absence of an undo button. Restarts are quick, with a press of the R key, but even in these short puzzles it was annoying to have to do the first part of the puzzle again.
I do like the difficulty curve here. The first few puzzles are really just a tutorial for the various rules, and the “real” puzzles start out fairly simple too, but later on I found the going pretty tricky. But never quite so hard that I couldn’t figure it out after a bit of experimentation. One downside of the puzzle design in Theorem is that there aren’t that many possible moves, so I was often able to work out a solution just by trying all the options I could see, until I realized I’d done half the puzzle already. This was exacerbated by the fact that trying to make an illegal move into a square with one of the golden orbs on it will still collect the orb, even though the cube bounces back to its starting square with a little disgruntled buzzing sound. Early puzzles did not seem to account for this, so I felt I was sneaking through them with a simpler solution than I was supposed to have used. I should also note that there’s no way to skip ahead to later puzzles, so if players hit one that stumps them, they’ll be stuck until they can work it out.
I worry this is sounding too negative… Theorem has a few rough edges (hah!) but overall I liked it. The cube makes really nice metallic plonk sounds each time it moves, and there’s some quiet acoustic guitar strumming in the background, although players can mute that if they prefer their own music (or silence). A lot of the puzzles are quite clever, and as I mentioned before I found the difficulty just right. I rarely breezed through a puzzle right away, but I was able to work them all out eventually, and they were satisfying to solve. As abstract puzzlers go, one could certainly do worse. If rolling a cube around sounds like a nice brainteaser to you, it’s worth checking out Theorem. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $1, which shouldn’t break the bank.
That’s 139 down, and only 1602 to go!