Handshakes Is A Great Free Puzzler And… A Strand Game?
Handshakes, which launched last month, is described on its Steam page as "the sokoban puzzler about shaking hands." That's a pretty accurate description, though it doesn't fully capture how fun Handshakes' 29 levels are to play or how different it feels from a basic sokoban.
A sokoban game typically entails the player, from a top-down perspective, pushing crates around to solve puzzles. Basic sokoban tasks the player character with moving boxes around an abstracted version of a warehouse to get them into their proper positions. (If you've never played sokoban, you've still likely solved similar puzzles in Pokemon or Zelda).
The object of Handshakes is friendlier; you're guiding two hands into an embrace. Those hands are attached to two smiley bright yellow fellows with long stretchy arms (and mid-level it often looks like someone chucked two Bart Simpson sticky hand toys at the screen). Just how long and stretchy each character's arm can get is different in each level, but the number of tiles you have left to move is always displayed on the character's round belly.
In your path, there are metal bars which can be lowered by pressing buttons and boxes that can be pushed onto these buttons to hold them down. Buttons only stay down for as long as pressure is applied, while switches, which are introduced in later levels, stay in place until you hit them again. If you stop applying pressure to a switch while your character's arm is passing through a bar, the bar will snap back into place, severing your character's hand, which (in a very cool idea) can then be used the same way you would use a box.
Handshakes doesn't carry the same experimental thrill as another recent sokoban, Baba is You, in which the rules often change on the fly as you create commands by pushing words around the level. Handshakes is simpler and shorter. I picked the game up yesterday, finished it today, and my Steam hour count is only 93 minutes. That time came in dribs and drabs, as I picked the game up between work tasks, played a few puzzles, then set it back down. If you want something to do to rinse your brain off, but that won't consume more than a few minutes at a time, Handshakes is excellent.
Most importantly, Handshakes is a strand game. Like Death Stranding, it's about making connections between characters. Death Stranding gamified that by tasking Sam Porter Bridges with hauling deliveries across uneven terrain and building infrastructure. In Handshakes, the yellow fellows are the characters and their bodies are the infrastructure facilitating the connection.
Does that mean that Handshakes' developers PetPumpkin, Damaskino, and Trumpetguy have out Kojima'd Hideo Kojima? I wouldn't go that far. But, it's notable, to me at least, that Handshakes has taken the workaday framing out of the sokoban. While most sokoban games present the task of moving boxes as a job that the character needs to accomplish, Handshakes makes the work secondary. The goal is to make a connection; pushing boxes is entirely incidental.
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