Strata (Featured Image)

Strata Review: Minimalist Trial-and-Error

Platform: Windows PC
Developer: Graveck
Publisher: Graveck
Release Date: 5/29/2014


Simplicity is king in Strata. All Strata consists of is a thatched tan background, colored squares and ribbons, and soft pianos and strings that play only when you click. Aesthetically and aurally it’s quite a minimalist accomplishment. This design tenet carries through to the puzzle gameplay as well but it doesn’t have the same soothing effect. Instead, the simple gameplay isn’t elegant, it’s tedious, feeling more geared towards trial-and-error than strategy.

Each level presents you with a set of squares with varying colors. You must fill the whole grid by laying down ribbons from two adjacent sides. The catch is that the color of the top ribbon for each square must match the color of the square beneath it. It sounds complicated but it actually becomes easy to grasp after the first few levels.

Strata Half-Complete PuzzleIt’s an interesting concept but it lacks the magical “Aha!” moment that all great puzzle games have. That moment during a puzzle, after you’ve been trying over and over and you think to yourself that surely you’ve tried everything, and then all of sudden it all clicks into place in your head. That feeling of sudden clarity and understanding is the best moment of any puzzle game and Strata lacks them completely.

Instead, each level consists of laying down some ribbons, realizing where you’ve made a mistake, undoing the ribbons to the moment where you made the mistake, fixing it, and relacing the squares again. Every level is the equivalent of lacing your shoes only to get to the top and realize you missed a loop at the bottom.

The designs never evolve past this starting concept either. There are no challenges or mechanics added throughout the game to change how you approach puzzles. The only way difficulty is ramped up is by adding more colors and more squares. It’s a testament to their simple design philosophy but it also means that the game’s problems never change or alleviate throughout each set of levels.

It’s also strangely glitchy for a puzzle game. Multiple times while navigating the menus text would end up layered on top of each other in a jumbled mess. Sometimes the back button would disappear and hitting escape would only cause the screen to twitch and do nothing.  A number of times I couldn’t even exit out of the game unless I switched to the desktop and exited out of it from the taskbar.

Strata is a design tenet taken fully to heart for better or worse. Its simple look and minimal music provide a soothing, uncluttered experience but the game design doesn’t fare as well. Beating a level doesn’t make you feel like a genius because it often just boils down to brute force and tedious redoing more than strategy.