You’re Stephen, your ship is wrecked, and you’re stuck on an island filled with giant sausages. The only thing left to do is to use your massive skewer to push those sausages onto grills embedded in the ground and eat them. This is Stephen’s Sausage Roll and it’s a puzzle game which is as clever as it is weird.
Despite its strange premise the basic concept behind the puzzles in Stephen’s Sausage Roll is easy to grasp. Movement is purely tile-based and the sausages themselves take up two tiles, though they can be positioned horizontally or vertically. Furthermore, each sausage has a top side and a bottom side and, as the title implies, a sausage will roll over to its other side when pushed to another tile by Stephen, Stephen’s skewer, or another sausage; vertical sausages will simply be pushed without rolling if moved from the top or bottom and horizontal sausages will likewise not roll over if pushed from the left or right side. All of this is important to be aware of because the ultimate goal of each level is to use the grills to cook all four parts of every sausage (a grill will only cook the half of the sausage on the side directly touching it) and then make it back to a specific location while facing a specific direction. It might sound simple, but things become much more complicated once you realize that making contact with a grill with the same part of a sausage more than once will make that part go from cooked to burnt and require you to undo some actions or reset the whole level to fix it depending upon the severity of your mistake.
Moving around giant sausages to cook them on grills makes for an innovative take on the block-pushing puzzle formula, but the true main source of inspiration comes from Stephen himself and specifically the way Stephen moves. Stephen is essentially a two-tile character because both he and his skewer take up one tile each and you can’t simply press a button to make Stephen drop the skewer. Just as spacial awareness is important when it comes to the sausages and their two sides, spacial positioning is important when it comes to Stephen and rotation because every time you move Stephen you’re also moving his skewer.
As an example of just how much Stephen’s way of moving affects the gameplay, imagine that Stephen is currently facing left and there is one vertical sausage on the tile directly below him which you want to push down one tile and another vertical sausage directly to the left of that one (one tile diagonally-left from Stephen) which you want to push left one tile. With a single-tile protagonist this would be an easy matter of taking one step down and one step left, but life isn’t so simple for Stephen. Stephen must always rotate to face a direction before he starts walking in it so if he simply tried to immediately go from facing left to facing down his skewer would swing in an arc with him to first collide with the top of the bottom-left sausage to push it down one tile and then collide with the left side of the bottom sausage to roll it one tile to the right, likely burning one of them or dropping one of them into the ocean in the process. Instead, Stephen has to first face upward and walk backward into the sausage below him to push it down one tile. He still can’t instantly face to the left at this point though because that would once again make his skewer collide with the top of the sausage on the left and push it down so Stephen must rotate to face right and walk backwards to at last roll the second sausage one tile to the left. Of course, this all assumes that there are no other sausages in the way which could get inadvertently pushed into a bad position or tiles of raised terrain to get in the way of Stephen’s skewer as it arcs through the air since otherwise it would likely take quite a bit more effort to move these two sausages all of one tile each.
One of the most fascinating elements of Stephen’s Sausage Roll is the way in which it adds complexity by revealing more of Stephen’s capabilities over time rather than by adding in more parts. Many puzzle games, and especially those of the block-pushing variety change things up over time largely by adding in more objects; you start with some blocks and end with blue blocks, red blocks, keys, doors, switches, lasers, spikes, teleporters, and a whole host of other gimmicks and hazards to memorize. In Stephen’s Sausage Roll you start with Stephen, sausages, grills, and dangerous water and by the end of the game the only additions are raised terrain and ladders. This isn’t to say that the gameplay gets stale though, far from it in fact as each region has one or two new abilities which you’ll need to make use of to solve most, if not all, of the puzzles in it.
Discovering exactly what Stephen can and can’t do is a large, and remarkably satisfying, part of the game. You’re never explicitly told that Stephen has unlocked a new ability because he technically has access to his full repertoire of sausage-rolling capabilities right from the start. If you come across a puzzle in a new region which seems impossible to solve, then it’s up to you to fiddle around in that puzzle or another one in the same region until you at last come across a new way of using the tools at your disposal. Regardless of if you figure out a new mechanic when a puzzle demands its use or accidentally stumble across something long before it’s required, these moments of discovery are some of the best in the game so I’m going to largely avoid talking directly about many of the later mechanics. In fact, while I usually try to not directly tie the content of an article in with the video for the game in question, this time around I chose a puzzle for the video after contemplating exactly what I did, and what I most definitely did not, want to show off about the game.
The puzzle in question is called “The Great Tower” and it’s the first puzzle in the game which really brings vertical elements into play by challenging players not just with raised terrain, but also with ladders and an entire tower of sausages stacked upon each other. The actual solution to this puzzle isn’t too demanding, though the puzzle can nevertheless initially appear overwhelming as it serves as a sort of crash course on a whole new world of factors. Even though You’re still dealing with the same sausages as always, you now need to interact with them in entirely new ways. Suddenly, you need to deal with learning the advantages and limitations of the way Stephen can only climb ladders while facing sideways, you need to learn how stacked sausages move when you roll a lower sausage, you need to learn that Stephen can stand on sausages and roll them with his feet and what the limitations of that are, and you might even come across one or two more things along the way. The best part of all of this is that it’s not even the first time you come across this sense of verticality in the game; despite needing to push a sausage into a gap to use it as a bridge leading to the second region, most players (myself included) probably just pushed it into the gap and ran across without attempting to experiment further. You’re gradually discovering more of the island as you solve puzzles, but you’re also discovering new ways to interact with the world along the way.
Stephen’s Sausage Roll has something of a reputation for being difficult, perhaps even for being too difficult, and I think it would be best to shine some light on that matter. This is indeed a hard game, hard enough that at one point it took me multiple hours spread out over the course of three days to finally figure out just what I was missing about a single puzzle near the end (“The Backbone” for the record), so I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to newcomers to puzzle games or to those without much patience, but in reality the difficulty is actually mixed rather nicely. While the overall difficulty of the game increases over time, every region has its share of easy, medium, and hard puzzles. On more than one occasion I found myself spending an hour or two fumbling around in a difficult puzzle only to then blaze through two or three puzzles immediately afterward. Stephen’s Sausage Roll doesn’t judge you, you don’t have any stars to worry about losing if you take a while on a puzzle or make unnecessary movements and there’s no penalty for rewinding or resetting a puzzle, so there’s never any sense of added pressure. Even if you’re truly stuck on a puzzle, you can always back out of it and try out the remaining puzzles in the area at any time or, if worst comes to worst, you can put the game down for a while and come back to it later – the sausages won’t be going anywhere on their own and you will probably be better at rolling them after a break.
The one issue Stephen’s Sausage Roll has is its refusal to give you any leeway before progressing to the next area. Each region has plenty of puzzles and you can do them in any order you desire, but you must complete every single one of them before you’re allowed to move on to the next region. This isn’t a problem when you first arrive at a new part of the island since you have so many options to choose from and bounce between, but it can be frustrating if you only have a single, difficult puzzle remaining and it’s the sole thing stopping you from having a whole host of new puzzles to try out. This problem actually becomes even more noticeable in the home stretch of the game as it begins to divide the island into small chunks, giving you access to only one or two puzzles at a time. I think it is reasonable to require players to complete every puzzle in order to see the end of the game, yet I also think it’s reasonable to allow for some leeway during the journey.
At $30 Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a tough sell, putting it closer to games like The Witness than to most other indie puzzle games, but I think it offers enough of both quality and quantity to back up its price. It took me around 40 hours to reach the ending and even if you don’t factor in the puzzles which I got stuck on for multiple hours each there are still dozens upon dozens of puzzles here so most players are going to get 25-30 hours of gameplay at the absolute minimum. This isn’t just a matter of tossing a lot of puzzles at you either as each and every single puzzle is crafted with incredible finesse. Nothing is wasted and nothing is placed without intent. If there is a tree in a puzzle it’s not just there to look nice, it’s there to either be utilized in some way or to make the puzzle harder based on where it is positioned in relation to everything else. The best way to approach each puzzle is to first look at what everything is for, from a simple gap in the terrain to a raised platform with a ladder, because even the tiniest detail will inevitably be used by you or be used against you in some way by the time you arrive at the solution. I made the earlier comparison to The Witness not just because of this game’s price, nor even entirely because you happen to be trapped on a mysterious puzzle island, but because of this game’s striking ability to seamlessly and directly incorporate even the most natural and mundane elements of its environment into its fiendishly difficult puzzles.
For a game about rolling around giant sausages, Stephen’s Sausage Roll has a rather somber aesthetic, though that’s not too surprising coming from the developer of the far more abstract English Country Tune. Music consists largely of environmental sounds accompanied by a few long, faint notes which sound forlorn and slightly mysterious. Once you start a puzzle any part of the island not used within the puzzle itself sinks below the ocean, provoking an uneasy sense of loss to accompany the ancient ruins you find along the way. Since Stephen is stranded on a seemingly abandoned island the game has a sense of loneliness and isolation to it with any narrative elements told through inscriptions you find scattered about the island. This lonely atmosphere is amplified by, well, the atmosphere as there is a day and night cycle which passes rather quickly while you’re busy cooking sausages and many parts of the island look significantly different from each other; either time and weather work differently than usual on the island or Stephen is spending a whole lot of time here. The visuals are fairly abstract, Stephen himself is little more than an orange blob in what seems to be a purple shirt and black shoes, and this works in the game’s favor as it combines with the strangeness of the music and the way the game’s mechanics gradually unfold to create a world where you are never quite sure of just how much you have left to learn.
Stephen’s Sausage Roll is a great and memorable puzzle game in every way. Even though it can be frustrating to be stuck on a puzzle when progression is just a few cooked sausages away, I can think of very few puzzle games in which finally having a breakthrough is as satisfying as it is here. With an undeniably unique setting and puzzles crafted with a degree of skill and care rarely seen elsewhere, this game is bound to roll its way straight into your heart.