Solipskier is a little game that will take up a lot of your time. It’s slight but moreish, and sparse yet stylish. Solipskier’s just full of contradictions, actually, the biggest being that, although it’s almost entirely built from different shades of grey – except for an occasional blast of rainbow stripes whenever you start to chain bonuses together – it still manages to deliver a level of joy that, if I’m being honest, living on the south coast of England, I have no real means of processing. Why does this tiny game evoke so much pleasure? I’m not absolutely sure, but here are some quick thoughts on the subject.
Available on iPhone , iPad and as a free Flash title, Solipskier is a smart evolution of the emerging trace-‘em-up genre. Use your finger or your mouse pointer to drag a snowflake icon across the screen, sketching in the shifting drifts and planes of a mountain for your strangely stylish little stick man to ski down. Build up speed and pull off jumps, all in the name of points. Passing through consecutive gates will start a multiplier, while sending your little skier into the air becomes a desperate test of will power: the longer you keep your finger off the screen, the more tricks he’ll pull off, but there’s a greater risk that you’ll fail to catch him when he drops back to earth.
The little things are all brilliantly observed, of course: houses and trees are painted into existence along with your curving slopes of mountain, the simple animation captures a real sense of speed, and the introspection-inducing riffs of the thrash metal that plays as you blast through the snow give way beautifully to the self-pitying plod of Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor whenever you finally expire. Mikengreg, who made this while work continues on the ravishing 4Fourths, is imaginative enough to think of cutting the music out completely if your skier loses his headphones while dashing, but also sensitive enough to patch in an option on the iPhone version allowing you to keep those headphones clamped to his head no matter what, if that’s your wish.
I’m a sucker for anything with points, of course, and part of the pleasure on offer is down to the fact that Solipskier’s rack up so quickly, with the hi-score meter cheerfully whirring away to itself in the corner of the screen from the word go. Jason Kapalka at PopCap once suggested that it you add a couple of zeroes onto the end of any score, the game instantly becomes more fun, but while there’s definitely a lot of truth to that, generosity is not Solipskier’s only secret ingredient.
Rather, I suspect that it’s all down to the fact that there’s no right way to score points. Instead, you have options: options that depend on your mood. If you fancy, you can keep Solipskier stuck to the slopes as much as possible, chaining gates and tunnels together to build momentum, with only the occasional threat of a wall or jump to keep you from playing indefinitely. That said, you can get fancy and embrace risk, gathering gate multipliers together and then flicking the slope upwards to send Solipskier into long, dangerous, trick-rich jumps that might just blast your score into the tens of millions.
Finally, the real genius comes with the score breakdown itself – a breakdown which tells you how long a run lasted alongside how many points you netted on it. While it’s easy to put together huge scores, then, it’s quite difficult to put them together quickly, and with that, the expert solipskier loses themselves in the luxurious search for the perfect trade-off – the tart little blast of strategy that makes this pleasantly lazy game such a deadly proposition.