Review: Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase offers colorful Reversi-like puzzling

The Switch is a great platform for Japanese obscurities as well as puzzle games, so it’s not as surprising as it would normally be to see a revival of Jaleco’s Soldam pop up on the dockable handheld. But localized? That’s a true surprise, as new publisher Dispatch Games popped up to bring the game to the West. So it’s great to see! Is it great to play?

In Soldam, players drop pieces down into a well to clear lines! Heard that one before? Yes, it’s certainly inspired by the falling-block trend of the early-’90s, specifically the proliferation of Puyo Puyo-likes, colorful arcade spinoffs of existing games that now are about matching and clearing rather than… well, whatever they were originally about. Soldam adapts the world and characters of Rod Land, itself a… well, a less obscure game than Soldam!

What makes Soldam different? It’s how its pieces work.

What makes Soldam different? It’s how its pieces work. You’ll drop a two-by-two formation of pieces into the well, and each acts as a Reversi (or Othello) piece, capturing and changing the color of any pieces sandwiched between it and the nearest same-color piece in a straight line. It’s a bit tricky to figure out at first; these pieces don’t look through themselves and only affect the rest of the board, making it not exactly about making standard Reversi formations. Once you figure it out, your goal is to make full horizontal lines of one color to clear them. To aid you, the last cleared line moves to the bottom of the screen, giving you more opportunities to affect pieces way down the well.

Clearing single lines can be done rather methodically, so the way to points in Soldam is through clearing many at once. Which usually boils down to leaving one line of unflipped pieces all the way down the well until you’ve amassed a decent stack. Speed regularly increases, as you’d expect, but “shifts gears” and decelerates occasionally as it adds another color of pieces into the mix. Knowing this timing and getting your mind around just exactly how a piece is going to affect the board is key to amassing some points.

There’s an arcade mode and an easy mode that throws fewer colors at you, as well as single-player challenge puzzles. The challenges are fun ways to stretch the system and better learn how to pull off combos, but it’s… really a rather barebones experience. There are creatures to collect! That, um, do nothing. They’re supposed to be cute, we guess?

Soldam also offers head-to-head play, both locally and online. It changes up the formula quite a bit, with only two colors. Each player has a frame around their play area, red or blue, and must make lines of that color to clear. The “next piece” indicator shows the next piece for either player, which is an attempt at adding a bit of interactive strategy in the mix. Do you take a “good” piece from your opponent and deal with a bunch of the wrong color on your own side? Unfortunately, it only shows the one piece, so it’s not nearly as effective as similar games (like Tetris Battle Gaiden) that let you see a few pieces down the line.

The experience doesn’t get any better when you head online. There’s no friend play; you’re matched with a random opponent every time, if there’s one available. You play the one mode at what in our testing was something less than half speed and so much lag that you can’t even intentionally take the one next piece you can see. And if you weren’t randomly determined to be the “host” of the game, your only way to decide to quit when a match ends is to close the game on a system level. It’s a truly poor implementation of what could have been a decent idea.

There’s no denying that Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase is pitching itself, at least in the West, as a game worthy of the scale you’d expect from a retail title. And it’s just not.

We don’t talk about price around here — those fluctuate, and that value is inherently subjective — but there’s no denying that Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase is pitching itself, at least in the West, as a game worthy of the scale you’d expect from a retail title. And it’s just not. The production values are peculiar: it attempts an aesthetic that we think’s supposed to be “adorable” but ends up closer to “sloppy and childish,” and when it’s not doing that, it just feels like a cheap Flash game. It’s unfortunate, because the character art really is nice. It just… really could have been surrounded by better work.

The controls aren’t snappy in the way you’d want from a puzzle game; the piece floats about in the well more than it should and you’ll get misplays that will ruin your run as a result. Shortcomings like this would be excusable if it backed up its value offering with variants and such to make it worth playing more than once or twice with a friend. There’s just the base puzzle game. It’ll keep up with your high score for you. There’s that.

Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase has to live on a system with the incredibly robust and well-designed Puyo Puyo Tetris, as well as quirky downloads like Kamiko and Shephy that offer more to players while asking for far less. Its base puzzling is worth checking out just for a change of pace between Puyo matches and the novelty of an early-’90s obscurity getting a revival, but it could have been made with a lot more care and attention than it was.

Score: 6/10
Publisher: Dispatch Games
Release Date: September 20, 2017
Developer: City Connection
Platform(s): Switch
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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