Sherlock Holmes once said that “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” That’s an apt way to describe the ridiculously titled Stephen’s Sausage Roll, in which a man gets to escape Wisdom Island by grilling sausages, one meticulous flip at a time. Each sausage is divided into four distinct segments, two top halves and two bottom halves, each of which must be cooked a single time atop the griddles haphazardly strewn across the island. Maneuvering the meat (each piece is larger than Stephen) is as awkward and unwieldy as it sounds, which makes each new puzzle a brain-busting task that at first seems near-impossible.
Stephen carries with him a sausage-turning utensil that looks like a pitchfork, and the island’s climate, though it changes as players progress, begins in scorching heat. From afar, then, poor sunburnt Stephen looks like nothing less than the devil—which is apt given the game’s fiendish difficulty. There’s no learning curve, and no tutorial; players learn through trial and error how to complete each level. Burn a piece of sausage, or angrily/accidentally shove it into the water, and the shipwrecked Stephen fails, although a handy undo button allows you to methodically retrace your steps, looking for the moment at which your cooking went horribly awry.
There isn’t a single easy or obvious puzzle in the game (you could say the fat’s already been trimmed), and one of the best early stages, simply titled “Clover,” presents a straightforward method in which players can grill the sausages, only to mock them with the revelation that while they’ve successfully cooked the meat, they’ve inadvertently blocked their path to the level’s exit, which appears only after a successful grilling session. The actual solution, then, is far more roundabout, which is where Stephen’s Sausage Roll might grow irksome to some. As opposed to the equally simple-looking but complicated SpaceChem, it’s not enough to merely understand how to complete a level; players have to actually guide Stephen through it, which, given a tank-like control scheme that eschews lateral movement, can grow irritating. In general, Stephen’s fork juts out in front of him, which means players will often have to maneuver backward into a spot to avoid jostling any meat along the way. Later, you start getting to areas in which sausages are stacked atop one another, allowing Stephen to barrel-roll atop them, you’ll have to precariously position each piece, which can be quite time-consuming.
This is a deliberate part of the puzzle-solving process, one that ensures that players will eventually stumble upon vital techniques and acts of sausage-defying physics without ever accidentally solving a level. On the other hand, it also leaves some of the larger areas, such as “Emerson Jetty,” offering so many initial possibilities that they’re almost physically discouraging—much like the reaction some might have to the amount of food consumed in a hot dog eating contest. With great frustration, however, also comes great satisfaction. Whereas The Witness sometimes spread itself thin across hundreds of near-identical puzzles, Stephen’s Sausage Roll focuses itself on a tighter set, and solutions rarely overlap. At the same time, however, the game is much less immediately rewarding, and the minimalist set of tiled island scenery doesn’t exactly help to distract from the punishing difficulty.
Hard as Stephen’s Sausage Roll is, it rewards those with an open mind; it’s almost literally built for those who, as kids, couldn’t help playing with their food. The difference is that the creative, outside-the-box solutions found in the game don’t leave any mess at all, and their clean and ultimately clear precision is what makes this title such an appealing and rewarding puzzler.