When I first saw a tweet for an upcoming release of puzzle game Yuso, I was confused because I thought Square Enix released that game years ago. Turns out I was thinking of Yosumin!. And while both games are distinct from each other in terms of mechanics, it is through the lens of both that I understood how clever puzzle designers must be to keep the player engaged through the frustration of brain teasers. On top of having to create puzzles with a palatable difficulty curve, they are also creating a user experience. Some, like Meteos, make things fun to touch. Lumines creates an almost out-of-body flow experience. Picross rewards you with adorable creations. Yuso, like Yosumin, is fun to look at when you’re doing nothing. I mean look at these guys:
These are the eponymous yuso. They’re colorful, they’re active, and they have moods! Every move you make results in an energetic animation. Furthermore, the music is a pleasant collection of elevator music and each puzzle has a scrolling diagonally checkered background. My point is, this game is alive even when you’re not interacting with it. Its subtle liveliness meant that it wasn’t waiting for you and that encouraged me to stop and think about my next move. Similarly, hitting rewind to undo your last move is as lively as anything else because, it too is encouraged. The designers at Vertical Reach have went out of their way to ensure this game facilitates the way players naturally play puzzle games – by staring at the screen and/or learning from their mistakes.
The other thing that Yuso does incredibly well, is make increasingly complex scenarios out of a simple set of play pieces and rules. The yuso only ever appear in four colors and each puzzle places them in a two-dimensional grid. The game considers two types of proximity. If two yuso of the same color are orthogonally adjacent (that is, next to but not diagonally so), then you can choose one of those to pop. The popped yuso will explode and affect any others that are orthogonally or diagonally adjacent – if the affected yuso are the same color, they pop; otherwise, they change color to match the catalyst.
Then, there are sleeping yuso, bombs and nightcaps:
Sleeping yuso will need to be woken up with an explosion before they can be popped or have their color changed. Bombs and nightcaps countdown as you take a turn. Once a bomb reaches 0 it will explode as a popped yuso does. Finally, nightcaps will put any adjacent yuso to sleep. And that’s it! That’s the full ruleset of this game. By the ninth level, you’ve seen every element, and then it builds on that base for 80 more levels.
Thanks to this focus on straightforward elements, I think Yuso easily passes Zach Gage’s “subway legibility” test. In his talk, Gage’s central thesis is that designing a game to be compelling and easily legible to an onlooker is a powerful marketing strategy and tutorialization technique. The latter is key as most levels get you into sticky situations that you’re sure to encounter again, later in the game. On levels with larger playfields, you’ll have to rely on pattern recognition. You are unfurling a possibility space by making some moves and then rewinding them when you see yourself approaching a dead end. The earlier you catch an incoming dead end, the easier it is to keep track of the remaining potentially valid moves. Each level is helping you build this mental catalog of sticky situations you can or can’t get out of.
The effective tutorialization and the way Yuso encouraged me to sit back, think and make mistakes make this game an absolute pleasure. At 80+ levels, experienced puzzle players might be looking for some more content, but I thought the content on hand was a good value. This game is available on mobile in addition to Steam and Switch and I can say both the touch and pad controls are excellent. In Yuso, Vertical Reach has created a delightful puzzler with a keen eye towards player experience. Whether on mobile, Windows, or Switch, be sure to give this game a look.