A rich puzzle-solving tapestry
Simplicity, elegance, and challenge: the three features developer Graveck has emphasized in their latest gaming excursion, Strata. The one-touch gameplay of this minimalist-designed puzzler will take only seconds to learn, and after its brief tutorial, Strata no longer feels like a mere game. It is a mesmerizing, soothing exercise of both mental dexterity and artistic creation, built on fluid interactions with the player that embody Graveck’s three goals entirely.
Strata‘s objective is simple: weave colored ribbons through a grid to complete the pattern. Each opening of the grid must be filled by a ribbon, and ribbons travel in a straight line once placed, exiting the opposite side. This means that on a 3×3 grid, you will weave six total strips of ribbon to fill each opening. The only other rule in play requires any colored block on the grid to end up with its same-colored ribbon on top. Because you are cross weaving, this means the second ribbon to cross a block will be on top; to successfully complete a blue block, for instance, you can cross it with any color first, but must use a blue ribbon on the second crossover.
These minimal rules create a usually straightforward solution on smaller, two-colored levels when choices are limited, but Strata quickly ups the ante by increasing the number of colored ribbons—up to four—and grid sizes—up to 5×5. The options on a 5×5 level, where you must weave ten separate ribbons through up to 25 blocks, are extensive, and often nine seemingly correctly placed ribbons can be foiled by the very last one. Thankfully, undoing your last action or series of actions is as easy as touching the ribbons in play, although completing a level without a single undo will earn you a “perfect,” the only system of scoring present.
This lack of scoring, a timer, or really any “gamified” features adds to Strata‘s charm, allowing the focus to remain on its elegant gameplay and gorgeous puzzles. Every aspect of Strata, from its tutorial and level select menu to the actual puzzles and hint page, is artistically consistent and flows into each other. The ribbon theme is maintained throughout, so moving to a new stage will send you along a colored path to a new menu. The soundtrack is made up of piano flourishes played only when you take an action; selecting a new level will result in a single note, while weaving a ribbon into place produces an optimistic chord. Making a wrong move—laying the wrong color on top of a block—creates a dissonant note that plays intermittently to remind you something is amiss. The minimalist design of both the graphics and soundtrack work together perfectly to create a complete artistic experience.
Strata‘s puzzles themselves complete this aesthetic, utilizing a wide range of muted colors that are beautifully coordinated and change on each new set of levels. The final cross weaves that are created by a filled grid are striking to look at, and always contain a personal touch—since only the topmost ribbon matters on each block, you can often use your color of choice when building a puzzle’s basis. A puzzle one person completed with mostly green ribbon may turn out predominantly yellow for another player.
The 158 levels available in the base game vary in both colors and difficulty, but Strata does lean toward the easier end of the puzzle spectrum. Many levels can be solved by isolating the one out of place block—such as a single blue in a row of red—and weaving across it first. There are two level packs available as separate purchases, but only one of these offers a greater challenge, with puzzles on 6×6 grids using more colors; the other pack is more suitable for beginners and seems out of place as a separate purchase. Of course, even this scaled-down difficulty feels at home in Strata; its appeal is not in overcoming brain-busting challenges, but in the entire ribbon-weaving experience as a puzzle solution.
That experience is consistently rewarding, remarkably novel, and beautifully arranged. Strata‘s gorgeous and elegant interface, simple yet thoughtful puzzles, and moderate challenge level all work together to create a playable work of art that is easy to lose yourself in.