Soldam was originally released by Jaleco as an arcade game back in 1992, an action-puzzle spin-off of another of the company’s arcade games, Rod Land. Released a year after its closest competitor Puyo Puyo, the game offered a fairly unique take on the action-puzzle genre, mixing in elements of Othello and unique restrictions that improved the game’s core gameplay, but it ultimately fell into obscurity. Now, 25 years later, developer City Connection has created a Nintendo Switch-exclusive sequel to the game, which was released in the West by publisher Dispatch Games as Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase earlier this month. With Puyo Puyo Tetris having been released on the system earlier this year and indie action-puzzle games like Tumblestone set to be released on it soon, you might be wondering if Jaleco’s classic Othello-infused take on the genre is worth checking out after all these years. Let’s take a look.
Those who are familiar with games like Puyo Puyo and Tetris might find Soldam’s core gameplay to be a bit odd. The game is played on a five-tile wide playfield that holds a total of ten Soldam fruits across. Soldam fruits are dropped in four-fruit clusters that can only be placed within each of the tiles, meaning that you aren’t able to make the same sort of fine adjustments that you can in other action-puzzle games. There are four colors of fruit in all, starting with two random colors at level one and increasing to four as you play. Your goal is to clear lines by making the entire line one color.
The way you do this is by placing fruits of the same color on opposite ends of fruits that you want to change to that color, similar to how you play Othello. However, this isn’t as easy as it may initially sound. Soldam fruits drop in varying patterns of four, which often are not the patterns that you need at the time. The color of the fruits in question will only change based on the fruit in the current cluster that is adjacent to a fruit that was already placed; fruits can’t affect others in the current cluster, nor can they affect fruits on the other side of their cluster. This creates a number of considerations, such as where to place clusters that you don’t need so that they don’t affect fruits that you do need, placing a greater emphasis on not only the positioning of unnecessary clusters, but also the rotation. Fruits that are next to each other can also create conflicting connections, with the four cardinal directions taking precedence; placing a fruit next to a fruit of the same color can even cancel out other diagonal connections that you might have otherwise made. You could theoretically screw up the entire playfield in one poorly thought out move, changing the color of an entire column or diagonal, instead of just a line or two.
When you clear a line, you create a Soldam line, a line that sits at the bottom of the playfield and can be used as an endpoint for matching colors, of the same color. If you’re familiar with the original Soldam, you’ll know that the Soldam line is cleared once a single connection is made. In Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase, the Soldam line persists until you clear a line of a different color. I have mixed feelings about this, as there are two sides to it. On one hand, it makes the early game a bit easier, as you can often focus on creating lines of a single color and simply clear out the other color. On the other, however, once you reach the point where a third color is introduced, it becomes exponentially harder. You might find yourself consistently turning entire columns and diagonals the color of the Soldam line as you attempt to line up other colors, a mere fruit or two from turning entire lines a color other than that of the Soldam line. Once you have a Soldam line in place, it becomes difficult to clear a line of a different color.
Ultimately, Soldam’s core gameplay is fun. It offers a unique take on a genre that is dominated by variants of the same two games and it is genuinely challenging, at that. Those who are looking for an alternative to Puyo Puyo Tetris will probably find quite a bit of enjoyment here, especially if they’ve never played the original.
It’s a shame that the great core gameplay isn’t utilized in interesting ways. The core game mode is simply the classic Soldam arcade mode with very few differences. In fact, the only notable differences that I could find were the aforementioned fact that the Soldam line persists and the fact that the failure line at the top of the screen has been altered slightly to make it so that you will fail sooner in the center column than you will in other columns. There are no variants or fun options that you can toggle. The only alternative offered is an “Easy mode,” in which the clusters of fruit stay at the top of the screen instead of slowly dropping, allowing those who are new to the game to slowly think out each move.
Outside of the core game mode, there are two modes that are offered: Challenge and Versus. Challenge mode is a mode that removes any sort of time crunch, instead offering up a series of 50 puzzles made up of predetermined fruit placements and a predetermined set of clusters. This is an interesting mode that requires a surprising amount of foresight, given the game’s simple rules, but it amounts to little more than a distraction. Puzzles are solved surprisingly quickly and I don’t imagine that it will take most players more than an hour or two to complete all 50. Once completed, there’s no reason to go back to them, as, even though the challenge objectives state that you need to “clear at least x amount of lines,” there is no room for improvement. Once they’re solved, they’re simply solved.
The Versus mode is similarly disappointing. A holdover from the original game, each player gets a playfield that is only three tiles wide. There are only two colors, red and blue, and players can only clear lines of their respective color. Unlike other action-puzzle games, which give each player their own pool of clusters, thus ensuring that they have the same clusters to work with, players pull from the same pool, which displays the next cluster in line in the center of the screen. While this does introduce factors such as riskily placing clusters quickly to steal an upcoming cluster from your opponent, it also can make victory feel somewhat more random. You’re not even guaranteed to have the inverse of the clusters that your opponent does, meaning that one player may end up with a slight advantage, depending on which clusters they get. However, considering the wildly limited nature of the Versus mode in general, that’s perhaps the least of the mode’s worries. I left the Versus mode feeling that my victories were hollow and my losses inconsequential, the mode completely unsatisfying to play.
The worst offense, however, is the price difference. The Japanese version is 1500 yen, or approximately $13.32. The English version that is published by Dispatch Games is $29.99, literally double the cost. The change in price is baffling and is a huge negative for those of you located here in the West.
That being said, the game’s presentation is rather nice. It utilizes on a softer anime aesthetic similar to that of Puyo Puyo Tetris and some much nicer animations than those of its predecessor. Watching the stars dart around after making connections is fairly satisfying and the music complements the gameplay well.
It also performs rather well and I have yet to notice any decreases in framerate. The controls feel responsive and the game plays well, whether you are using a full controller or a single Joy-Con. The only negative to speak of is that load times vary and can sometimes feel a bit lengthy.
Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase is a nice update of a now 25-year-old arcade game, but it is little more than that. Other than a few minor changes to the core rule set that have mixed effects and a Challenge mode that is fairly light on content, it is practically the same game as it was 25 years ago. The core gameplay is fun and existing fans of the franchise will probably find a lot to love in this updated version, but, unless you are an existing fan or have played Puyo Puyo Tetris to death and are looking for a similar game, you may want to pass on it. If it were a similar price to that of the Japanese version, say $14.99, I could easily recommend it, but, at $29.99, I simply can’t.
Important note: Dispatch Games sent us a copy of Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase for the purpose of writing this article.