Though I didn’t play the first SiNKR, I was excited to get my hands on SiNKR 2. I met developer Robert Wahler at PAX East 2019, where he showed me the near-launch version of the game, walking me through the games many hooks lines and pucks, and doing a great job of convincing puzzle-loving me that I needed to dig into this game.
Now that I’ve had a chance to play SiNKR 2, I can confidently say that it is a superbly well made game, with excellent pacing and an attention to teaching without telling, leading to some truly mind-stumping puzzles that feel utterly rewarding to solve.
SiNKR 2 is a minimalist puzzle game evolved from the award winning SiNKR. There is just you, hooks, pucks, and various contraptions. SiNKR 2 employs familiar contraptions (square and round holes, kickers, and portals) in new layouts, e.g. spirals; linear and rotational symmetry.
First and foremost, SiNKR 2 does a fantastic job of teaching you it’s mechanics without using a word. I have a huge soft spot for games that pull this off. There’s no instructions or tutorials in SiNKR 2; instead, each level, or set of levels, teaches you one core aspects of the many mechanics present in game.
First, your taught the core goal: get the puck into the hole. Then your taught about the hooks and lines; that once they are reeled in, they can’t be unreeled, then that the hooks can be flipped, and then that hooks can hook other hooks, so that they can be dragged back and forth. You learn about different kinds of pucks, sliding tiles, portals and more,and it is all done brilliantly. While I certainly struggled on individual puzzles, it never felt like it was because I didn’t understand what I could do in the game. Sometimes I hadn’t put two and two together to realize some of the very clever things I could pull off when combining different elements, but I never had any doubt about the core mechanics at play.
The puzzles in SiNKR 2 range quite wildly in difficulty and scope, which I think is probably a symptom of the fact that the game is teaching you as it goes; can’t have the puzzle where you learn the basics of movement be so difficult you never learn how to play. The game is divided into “chapters”, and each chapter has it’s own share of easy puzzle and total brain busters, culminating with you, more or less, mastering the basics of a mechanic of the game. This means there’s a nice, continuous sense of accomplishment and learning as you play, with the only side effect being that the overall difficulty curve of SiNKR 2 can feel a bit start and stop from moment to moment, rather than a gradually rising crescendo. I don’t think this particularly hurts the game, but it did stand out to me.
By in large, SiNKR 2 strikes a great sense of balance between rewarding success and motivating frustration, which is not always an easy thing to achieve in a puzzle game. There’s enough “Aha!” moments scattered about to let you know that yes, you can actually do this and you will be able to figure these puzzles out. This is important, because it gives you the confidence to keep trying and persevere when you get stuck on a real brain-buster (oh yes. There’s a lot of these. Trust me).
The only consistent frustration I ran into was tied to was the fact that there’s no way to go back a single step. More than a few times I had figured out what I needed to do in a puzzle, and was merrily reeling in a hook, dragging along a puck or two, only to reel a bit to far and scoot right on by where I needed that hook and/or puck to be. In many cases, you can correct this with the clever use of another hook and line, but in other puzzle this is game over: you cannot un-reel a hook. This means you have to start the entire puzzle over, which caused me a couple of moments of frustration in some of the more complex levels.
Luckily, SiNKR 2 seems to have thought of this. While there’s no mechanical solution for this problem (it is kind of the game’s main mechanic after all), SiNKR 2 does have in mind something to keep the player calm and relaxed, and that’s its aesthetic. Calming celestial colors contrast with the stark black and white elements of the game itself, and the surprisingly fantastic soundtrack (seriously, I did not expected this from such an abstract puzzle game, maybe that’s my bad for having inherent biases?) blends it’s tones with the piano-like sound effects as you plunk pucks into the different holes of each level.
Every time I started to feel stuck or frustrated, I very quickly relaxed and tried again with a calmer perspective. This isn’t a unique quality to SiNKR, and I’ve noticed other puzzle games do this (Looking at you Braid and The Witness), but I don’t see it mentioned as often as it should be as a deliberate design and development decision.
I’m not going to make some sort of “Hook, Line and Sinker” pun to end this review. That’s just too easy, but I can’t really dispute that it sums up my feelings. SiNKR 2‘s expertly designed mechanics are taught to you over time, creating a pace of gameplay that gets addictive, constantly encouraging you to keep going, and it’s audio and visuals do a great job of tempering the frustration of harder puzzles.