The Switch has earned something of a reputation for hosting modern updates of classics from the Japanese gaming canon, with notable reimaginings like Blaster Master Zero and Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap hitting the nostalgia button on Turbo mode. One of the more surprising returnees to take advantage of this trend was Soldam: Blooming Declaration, a launch title on the Japanese eShop based on a puzzle game spin-off of Jaleco’s 1990 arcade hit Rod Land.
Soldam released in the arcades in 1992 and then had exactly one port (to the Game Boy in 1993), so you’d certainly be forgiven for not being familiar with the franchise; but now that new publisher Dispatch Games has stepped up to localize this Switch update for Western markets as Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase, it’s definitely worth getting acquainted with. Soldam is a delightfully different puzzle game with a unique gameplay hook and an impressive variety of play styles across modes — a perfect deep cut to round out any puzzle fan’s Switch stash.
At first blush, Soldam looks quite similar to other falling-block titles: gameplay consists of guiding and rotating four-piece bundles of coloured fruit as they drop from the top of the field to the bottom, and the goal is to keep them from stacking too high — if they reach the top, it’s game over. How you’ll deal with these drops, however, is quite different to other games in the genre, and this is what gives Soldam its hook.
Rather than clearing out when a full line is completed, as in Tetris, or disappearing when they touch a certain number of like-coloured pieces Puyo Puyo-style, Soldam’s fruits swap colour when they’re surrounded on any side — horizontally, vertically, or diagonally — by fruit of another colour. It sounds a bit like fruit-based Reversi or Othello on paper, but the falling-block trappings and the geometry of the playing field — ten-fruit wide but with only five ‘lanes’ to slide each 2x2 bundle into — make it feel utterly unique in practice.
If you have a pair of red fruits sitting on the lefthand side of the board, for instance, and a pair of blue ones to their right, placing a red fruit to the right of the blue ones will turn the whole lot red. If you manage to paint an entire row the same shade, it will vanish, hop down below the bottom of the field, and act as an anchor for making vertical and diagonal matches across the board. This anchor line, then, takes on whichever colour you last cleared a line of, so managing this carefully is a big part of the strategy; you won’t want to clear a line of green just to sweep it away if you’re going to need yellow on the bottom for your next move. It’s also essential for combos — clearing more than one line at a time — which carry a tidy point bonus.
If that all sounds a bit confusing, don’t fret. Soldam is based on a concept that’s several steps removed from most block-drop puzzle games, and it’s admittedly tough to get the hang of at first — years of conflicting muscle memory from Tetris, Panel de Pon, and Puyo Puyo don’t help, either. But that’s exactly what makes Soldam so exciting: if you’re a puzzle game veteran it represents the chance to get in on the ground floor again, and it’s surprisingly refreshing to learn a puzzle gameplay type from scratch.
It does a great job at getting you up to speed, too; the main endless mode (simply called ‘Soldam’) starts out nice and slow, beginning with only two colours before gradually introducing more. There’s also an ‘Easy Mode’ that lets you take as much time as you like before dropping each fruit cluster. Even better, this localized version adds in a new option to turn on arrows and shaders which show exactly which fruit will be affected by the falling bundle. While we eventually preferred to play with these turned off, they were invaluable in the early stages and helped us immensely in learning to see the rules and patterns that make up the game; once it clicked, we were hooked. It’s as fun as it is different, and we loved how cerebral and strategic Soldam feels.
The main ‘Soldam’ mode should keep you busy for quite a while — it starts at a speed level of ’0’ and heads all the way up through ’200’. In a nice twist, however, those levels don’t represent a constant increase in throttle; it does get faster and introduce new colours as you go, but at certain points you’ll get a respite from the ramp up, and things slow down a bit so you can catch your breath (and clear the board!). That’s a nice change from the Tetris-style norm, and makes it feel less like speeding towards inevitable failure and more like a quest to reach the next checkpoint.
Another thoughtful touch that makes Soldam’s endless mode fun to come back to is the Plumis: cute creatures that hang out on the left side of the screen, and change form based on what colour fruits you ‘feed’ them as you clear lines. A ‘Plumidex’ keeps track of all the forms you’ve found, and there are 40 to discover in all. Plumis are a fun addition, because while they’re tangential to the actual puzzle gameplay, they still give you interesting choices to think about in the early stages of the endless mode — keeping ‘recipes’ for Plumis in mind as we went through Soldam runs added a nice layer of creative play.
When you want something entirely different from standard Soldam there’s also Challenge mode, which trades in endless clearing and auto-drop for a more meticulous approach to puzzle solving. Here, you’ll be given a preset board and pieces, and tasked with completing a certain goal: clearing four lines at once, clearing three lines total, or clearing the board in a set number of moves, for instance. In this mode, blocks don’t drop until you want them to, so Challenge is more of a mental workout than a reflex test, with 50 puzzles to work through in all. It’s a fantastic change of pace, and it also very much tests your grasp of the fundamentals, which leads to a rewarding skill progression loop. Even the early stages felt nearly impossible right off the bat, but playing more of the endless Soldam mode helped us recognize relevant patterns in Challenge stages, which in turn helped us get much better at Soldam proper — a wonderful feeling.
Like most puzzle games born in the '90s, Soldam also features a two-player battle mode — known as Showdown — and here the rules are switched up quite bit again. Each player has their own colour they need to clear (as marked by the persistent red or blue bottom and sides of their playing field), and the single ‘next’ block waiting in the middle is shared between both players — meaning if you see a colour combo you need, you’ll have to scramble to make sure you get there first. Playing fields are appreciably smaller than in the single-player modes, and you’ll only ever deal with two colours in Showdown, both of which make for fast, combo-happy play. Lines you clear will add new ones to the bottom of your opponent’s stack, and as you might expect the first one to hit the top loses. Though it lacks the competitive depth of built-for-battle games like Puyo Puyo — there’s no real ‘counter’ mechanic, for instance — the straightforwardness is part of the fun, and we had a blast playing Showdown with friends.
In addition to local multiplayer, Dispatch has also impressively added an online option to this localized release — while the Japanese version is same-Switch-only, Western players can challenge others to a Showdown online. While the random matchmaking is a bit barebones — there’s no way to play with friends specifically, and it doesn’t keep track of your wins or losses — it’s still a nice addition to be able to play a round or two against Soldam strangers. It’s worth noting that in our experience it generally took a while to find an opponent, and we also encountered serious lag in several matches, but when we stumbled into a good matchup it was a lot of fun. Dispatch has also promised a patch to improve online performance and enable direct matchmaking, which would certainly be welcome additions.
Online or off, one of the things that stands out most about Soldam is its look; it goes all-in on its candy-coated aesthetic, and we love it. It’s bright, colourful, and simple, with a glossy sheen that makes the peach-like pieces stand out from the board. We would have loved to see more variety in the backgrounds, or the option to toggle to the retro, pixel-art style of older Soldam, but what’s here is certainly appealing, and the quicker play sessions it lends itself to means the lack of visual variety isn’t much of an issue. The same goes for the music — there’s not too much of it, but it’s all lovely, with upbeat, cheery tunes and attract mode jingles that will stay with you long after you’ve switched off the game.
The only serious problem with Soldam’s presentation is that the fruit are distinguished solely on colour, rather than shape, which means colour-blind players may be completely out of luck. Most modern puzzle games include shape-based ‘skins’ for exactly this reason, so the absence of any accessibility features here is disappointing. If you do have limited colour vision, it would be worth checking out a screenshot or two to see if you can differentiate all four shades used — red, blue, green, and yellow — before taking the plunge.
Finally, we did run into one technical hiccup in our time with the game: Soldam doesn’t seem to pause the action when you dip back into the Switch’s Home menu. This led to a few whiffed score runs before we realized what was going on, but it’s nothing a quick preventative press of the ‘+’ button can’t fix.
Soldam is a lovely little blast from puzzle gaming’s past. It comfortably earns its place among top-tier Switch puzzlers like Puyo Puyo Tetris and Magical Drop II, but it’s also different enough to those two that it doesn’t feel redundant to have all three on the same system. Even better, Soldam’s various modes — the quick-paced endless survival, the slow and deliberate Challenge stages, and the streamlined battle mode — play so differently from one another that it almost feels like a puzzle game collection in its own right. Add in the online play and thoughtful quality of life improvements in this localized version, and Soldam on Switch is a complete puzzle package.