Soft Body Review — The Art of Relaxation
Soft Body is a self described “meditative action game” where players control two snake-like beings and attempt to make your way through increasingly challenging levels. Both snakes have distinct abilities, making it necessary for the player to coordinate between the two in order to tackle levels with ever-increasing mechanics and obstacles. The main snake — controlled with the left analog stick — is used to paint in empty blocks or to slide along the edge of enemy blocks to reveal the core within. The other snake is used to destroy enemy blocks and move along energized balls on a predetermined rail to the end goal point. Each can be controlled separately after your left stick snake finds its partner, or can be combined during the main game for easier control.
The main game has you play through three chapters, each broken up into about ten or so levels each, which only become accessible after completing the tutorial. Thankfully, the tutorial isn’t something that drags you by hand along a slow and frustrating course. Instead it simply acts as a prologue with levels that begin simple, plainly spelling out the basic mechanics through gameplay. This constant approach of introducing the player to new mechanics and features is used throughout the game, which is consistently dripping in new obstacles, layouts, and enemies for you to encounter.
The game never becomes frustrating as the player is given enough space when confronted with something new. Further, while death does come rapidly on certain levels, restarting the level is never more than a button press and second away. The quick load times for restarting any given level really helps keep the game from becoming annoying — I was able to enter a rhythm of repeatedly trying to complete a level using a certain pattern, and making small tweaks to that pattern after each death.
This isn’t to say the game can’t get frustrating; two levels in particular forced me to walk away and take a break due to their difficulty. It wasn’t so much that the game was being unfair in its presentation, as I understood what the level was asking me. It was just that the level itself was overwhelming with the amount of objects on-screen. In the end, both levels reminded me more of a bullet-hell shooters than meditative action game.
After the main game (referred to as “Soft Game”) you have the option of playing Soft Game+, which heightens the difficulty and negates your ability to combine both snakes into one controllable body. Instead each act separately for each level, pushing the player to master moving both in different directions. Think of it like how it can be hard to pat your head and rub your stomach in a circle at the same time, except multiplied due to the incoming projectiles and homing pellets.
Hard Game and Hard Game+ are sets of new levels that force you to control both snakes at the same time in each level, but picks up where the end of Soft Body left up when it comes to difficulty. Hard Game continues to pile on previously encountered obstacles in new ways, while Hard Game+ will generally repeat the level but with another modifier just to make it that much more challenging. While the graphics and music work together to set the meditative mood, by the time you reach the end you might slowly transition from meditative to stressed as you repeat the same level again and again.
The presentation is simple, as there is not much to look at besides the two snakes, the simple right angled or circular shapes on-screen, and plain backgrounds that can occasionally host simple outlines of shapes. Colors are frequently bold and each chapter has it’s own palette of similar shades. Chapter one is purple and yellow which clash against each other in order to present the gameplay elements in the most easy to view way. The second chapter begins in black and white, but transitions to more muted warm colors. Chapter three features a dominant red, which makes up the background for the ending level that features mostly black objects, including the player snake, in an endurance run.
Sound design is really where the meditative aspect of the game is most prominent, as the soundtrack is a soothing electronic piece that is subtle and chimes in every now and then. The sounds created by the player interacting with the world is very much in the forefront, as moving the energized ball along a pathway, painting outlined blocks, and enemies work together in an eclectic melody of beeps and tones that mesh wonderfully with the soundtrack. The two most satisfying sound triggers during gameplay was painting a long stretch of outlined shapes and the way the notes would increase in speed and distortion when moving a ball along the predetermined line.
A surreal aspect of the game is the breaks in between chapters that see the player take control of a string-like creature as the camera slowly zooms out. There are other scenes shown in the game that aren’t a part of a level but instead have the player move further and further down before they are lost to the increasingly darkened layout. I am not entirely sure if this was part of a strange tale, woven throughout the story, as the image shown upon first booting up the game from the PlayStation 4 menu is one of faces and creatures that don’t resemble (but may be represented by) the plains shapes in the game.
Despite the late game bullet hell elements and frustration of certain levels, Soft Body does succeed at the meditative aspect with its clever combination and stacking of gameplay elements as it progresses and usage of simple shapes, color, and sound to create a very pleasing and enjoyable game.