Thanks to Dispatch Games for the review code
Title: Soldam: Drop, Connect and Erase
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 10/10/2017 (US Retail)
In a magical forest, two fairies are tasked with helping the forest bloom with fruits! At least, that’s what the intro tells you, since outside of that intro the story is completely nonexistent!
Considering how this is a remake of the 1992 Arcade game Soldam, (A Japan only release) the visuals have been significantly upgraded from the 16-bit original, using a digital 2D artstyle compared to the pixel art from the past, and it looks quite impressive when played on either handheld or docked mode, since the colors of the backgrounds and character designs pop out rather nicely. The menus are also nice on the eyes and easy to navigate, and the game is just enjoyable to look at!
But by far the best aspect of the presentation has to come from the soundtrack, which I found to be so good I imported the game’s OST from Amazon. Every single track in the game is an amazing remix of tracks from the original Arcade game, done in a synth style that at times makes me wonder if they took inspiration from the redbook audio days of old. (Especially considering the high quality of the first Soldam Mode theme, which sounds heavenly)
Soldam is a puzzle game that plays a lot like a cross between Othello and Tetris, with more emphasis on the Othello aspects. Upon getting past the title screen, you have four game modes to choose from. The main Endless Arcade mode, a Beginner’s mode where you can practice infinitely or do a time attack under five minutes, a Challenge mode with 50 preset levels you must find a solution to, and a two player VS mode, which has both local and online play. There’s no VS COM mode in sight here, which is the biggest glaring omission for any multiplayer mode in my opinion. Granted, it is fun to play local multiplayer with a friend in no time at all thanks to the easy to set-up nature of the Switch, (even in handheld mode) but the only option available for local multiplayer is a simple best out of three wins mode, which ends rather quickly. (especially if the most likely scenario happens where you know the game’s mechanics more than your friend)
Regardless of the mode you choose, they all require mastering the art of flipping the colors of the fruit on the game board in order to create a horizontal line of the same colored fruit, and the only way that a fruit of a certain color will change to another will be if you sandwich unwanted colored fruit between your desired color. For example, something like this image:
Of course, this means Soldam has a bit of a harder learning curve than most other puzzle games, which the included tutorial does a great job at helping people grasp, as with enough patience and practice, you can start pulling off impressive combos in no time at all, even as the game reaches higher levels, which in turn will introduce more than two colors for you to deal with on the game board and force you to think of trickier ways to clear unwanted colors. Still, even if you aren’t able to break your high score, playing in the main Soldam mode will still help out with another aspect of this game: Evolution. You see, when you match a certain amount of very specific colors, the little creature on the left side of the screen will evolve into a different creature altogether. While these evolutions don’t really have any effects on the actual game board, they are documented in a nifty thing known as the Plumidex, which also allows you to select which monster you want to start a session with to make finding a specific evolution a bit easier. It’s a minor, simple addition, but it does add for some nice replay value and encourages the player to think differently than they normally would, since only certain colors can trigger certain evolutions.
Likewise, the Challenge mode has a decent amount of single player content as well, tasking you with placing a very limited amount of fruits on 50 different game boards so you can clear the amount of preset lines the game requests of you. These puzzles do get ridicuiously difficult after only a few, though, so you’ll have to think really, really hard to clear these devilish challenges. (Or wait for the inevitable video guide to be released)
So in the end, all that remains is that mysterious Online Mode I mentioned earlier. I already explained how the local multiplayer of Soldam can be a fun way to get a friend to enjoy the game with you, and while I’ve been playing the Japanese import version for seven months now, this online mode is the only major feature that’s currently exclusive to the Western release which I’ve been reviewing this whole time. (Even though the menus for the online mode are already translated in Japanese, oddly enough)
So, what’s it like? Well, I can’t tell you, as in the three weeks I’ve owned and tinkered around with the US version, I haven’t been able to get a single match. Not one, even when the game launched on the eShop and in retail stores, I would wait for several minutes to a half hour at a time, just waiting and hoping for some random person to challenge me to a Soldam match.
…Only for nothing to happen whatsoever, and this continued every single time I would try to find anyone to play the game with. I didn’t feel like looking for a boosting partner to try out an online mode that’s a major part of the western release would really do a good job at showing off the online, considering how the majority of people who buy this will be in the same boat I was in, wanting just plain old one on one VS pairings, which should still be really easy to get a partner on if at least a hundred people played this fun little puzzler… Only to wait to no avail, which was honestly pretty shocking to me considering how many of my Japanese friends were loving this title when it launched with the Switch eShop back in March. I assume that finding a match would be a lot easier if the Japanese version got updated with this online mode, but the fact that it still isn’t updated makes me a bit worried it’ll only be limited to the Western release, which doesn’t seem to have much of an online community at all, even after the public release.
In conclusion, Soldam is a very impressive remake of a fun Arcade gem, doing a great job at bringing an obscure hi-score chaser to the modern age. However, it didn’t really add much new stuff to the mix, and outside of the puzzle levels and the Plumidex, the only goal is to get a high score in single player over and over again. No online leaderboards, no VS COM mode, and the online community for this game is really, really dead despite the game launching several weeks ago. (Which probably could have been less of an issue if the Japanese import version got the online mode)
It’s a really big shame too, since the developers clearly put in tons of effort into this remake, from the stellar soundtrack and addicting gameplay. Having imported this from the Japanese eShop on launch day, (Where it was just under $15) I can say that the game is worth that price due to the amazing production values and the hi-score mode, but it has a big learning curve that will take a while to get used to, so the casual gamer may find it harder to get used to this than they would with Puyo Puyo.
However, for this western release, Dispatch Games released this as a full retail title, and considering the $40 pricetag that’ll be coming with it, I just can’t recommend buying Soldam at retail, even if you’re into collecting little pieces of plastic, since there really isn’t much to owning this game physical besides having some nice artwork on the shelf. The US eShop version is a bit better, being priced at $30, but this is still double the price of the Japanese original, for such a simple game with little single player content, despite what little there is being so much fun to play. If the online mode somehow booms in popularity, I could probably recommend the inflated price for that reason, but in all honesty I’d recommend you wait for a price drop or sale to pick up this quirky puzzle game, since while the game is a faithful remake done really well, the absurd decision to go retail ends up hurting the value of this title in the long run, especially when you compare it to other puzzle games with a lot more content like Puyo Puyo Tetris, which also happens to be the exact same price on the eShop.
That being said, I’d be more than happy if Penguin Wars got the same treatment, since that game looks a lot more beefy in content, and more fitting of an online mode that I feel like a lot more people would enjoy. Here’s hoping Dispatch Games bring that one over! I give Soldam: Drop, Connect and Erase a 6 out of 10.