Everyone loves finding a hidden gem. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of taking a risk and having it pay off. You bought a game that you weren’t quite sure about, and you were right to take that chance because even though it wasn’t a game you knew would be great, it still turned out to be great regardless.
The first hidden gem I can remember finding is Vexx, a game I will almost certainly never get around to writing about, but which I strongly recommend and is available on GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Vexx was a beautiful if somewhat clunky platformer a la Super Mario 64/Sunshine but with more of a focus on combat. Released in 2003, Vexx had nine huge levels, each filled with eight collectible
Stars ‘wraithhearts’, and a quirky variety of activities to complete (one of the levels is a giant house, and you have to turn on the TV, hop over to the sofa, and lean back and forth on an oversized video game controller joystick to win a game of Breakout.) It was one of the last games developed by a subsidiary of Acclaim, and published by the big A themselves before they bewilderingly self-immolated.
It’s not the best game in the world, or even the best hidden gem – that would be THQ’s Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, also released in 2003, oddly enough. Maybe that was just a really good year for hidden gems. Hang on, that was the year Beyond Good and Evil came out; have I just stumbled onto a weird, low-tier conspiracy? – but I would nonetheless recommend it to everyone. And part of that is just because when I found it for sale in the GameStation that I frequented growing up (and where I found a copy of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance with no manual for £15) then I had no idea if it would be good or not. So, Vexx turning out to be a good game? Positively reflects on me and my life choices. I am mostly kidding, but only mostly.
Enter Sockventure, a 2D precision platformer about a superhero sock braving the treacherous lands of… the cursed washing machine! To rescue other socks, who are not superheroes like you, or even alive, just… plain old regular socks. Nonetheless, the incredibly tight and efficient level-design is reminiscent of Super Meat Boy at its best, and the fluent, responsive and imaginative controls will surely bring Celeste to mind. It is not an exaggeration to say that this game immediately deserves to be compared to two of the best indie games of all-time.
So, I can’t wait to explain exactly why I love Sockventure so much, why you should all immediately buy it or add it to your wishlist at the very least, and… gosh, I’m sorry, I’m just so happy to be talking about a game that I admire and enjoy so much! Sockventure is truly a wonderful game, and I don’t think anything could ruin my mood to discuss it. Let’s have a quick peek at the store page right now!
Brilliant. Colourful, inviting, I’m going to have a pretty easy time explaining why I liked this so much. Hmm. Hey, just one thing, there appears to be a small problem on the side of the screen, if we could just…
Yes, does anyone else see that? Hang on, let me see if I can highlight the issue, and-
Out for coming up to two years now (well, a year and ten months) and twenty-eight reviews. Actually, it’s thirty-one by now – you should know that I, uh, am not great at writing in a timely and consistent fashion, but I can’t be bothered to take three whole screenshots again. Remember those red arrows I added in MS Paint? No way I’m undergoing that Herculean task of editing again – but the point remains that Sockventure has a quarter of the reviews of the soundtrack to LISA: The Painful. Which is understandable, LISA has a great soundtrack, but still.
I am frankly furious, my disappointment is immeasurable, and Sockventure evokes nothing in me except for despair, apoplectic rage, and pure, undistilled spite towards the uncaring world that allowed a hidden gem of this magnitude to go underappreciated for so long. My day is ruined and I will never smile again. Thanks, Sockventure.
So… Sockventure is a game of contrasts. It is, genuinely, without a doubt, one of the best platformers I have ever played in my life. But it is also a reminder that one of the best platformers I’ve ever played in my life has gone widely unnoticed by the gaming public at large, and while dopefishblog dot com doesn’t exactly have the same reach as IGN or Kotaku, I really hope that I bring this to at least one new player’s attention. Because if you like Celeste or Super Meat Boy, or you like to support indie developers, or if you’re just a fan of well-made video games in general, Sockventure is a title that you absolutely need to pay attention to.
So, to actually begin describing the game… Sockventure is a platformer in which you play as a sentient sock. Already, an immediate 10/10 concept, love it. But you don’t actually start the game as a sock (dramatic plot-twist,) you start it as a child, who is ordered by his mother to collect all of his socks and take them to the laundry room. But once this has happened, snurm flerg neortap ym ot etanod ,esaelP znorf gweep; and a sock in the washing machine comes to life! And it has to traverse the dangerous territory of the washing machine, which now has a fire-themed level for some reason, in order to collect other socks, so that it can complete its purpose; to gather all of the socks so that the kid has all of his socks again.
Look, I said the game was great, I didn’t say that it was a Shakespearean epic with a gripping story on par with Disco Elysium, Persona 5 or Cooking Mama 2. The fact of the matter is, while the story might sound like a hastily cobbled-together excuse for a sock-themed platformer to exist, that’s all that it needs to be, provided that the sock-themed platformer is good on its own merits. And it is! And if I have to, I absolutely will resort to the cheap trick of playing the “Well, actually, if it sounds silly, then it’s implied to be a fictional adventure imagined by the child, so it’s actually intentional that it sounds like a child wrote the story, which is very smart, and… cognitive… ludonarrative… very loquacious, etc,” card.
It’s also worth mentioning that this set-up justifies the change in setting between every level, and the presence of more and more hazards, as the child haphazardly attempts to ‘help’ the anthropomorphic sock, with varied results.
But when it comes to challenging platformers, the story can be as good as you want, but if the level design isn’t up to par and the controls aren’t tighter than Leon’s inventory in a No Merchant Run of Resident Evil 4, you’re destined for mediocrity at best. Fortunately, the level design and controls of Sockventure are functionally flawless. How flawless, you may ask? Well, I once said in a Hardcore Gaming 101 review (they still haven’t found out that I’m not a real reviewer, but just three sentient copies of RollerCoaster Tycoon in a trenchcoat) that Celeste is an effectively perfect game that scores a ten out of ten in every regard.
Sockventure controls better than Celeste.
I do not say that lightly and it’s a very close call that ultimately comes down to a single point; in both games, you have the ability to perform an air-dash, and if you air-dash straight up, adjacent to a wall, and press the jump button as you shoot past it, you’ll do an extended wall-jump that covers much higher distance. In Celeste, this is technically possible to do from the very first moment you finish the prologue, as you always have the air-dash available, but it isn’t mandatory to proceed until the very final stretch. In Sockventure, the air-dash ability only becomes available to you at the end of Chapter Three, but you’re informed about this super-wall-jump very shortly afterwards. Celeste informs you of this useful ability (sarcastic pretend sound of rustling notes) … never. It’s also mandatory towards the end of the game. Did I just find a flaw in Celeste? Oh geez, that’s supposed to be one of the signs of the apocalypse.
Well, another cool thing about Sockventure is that it doesn’t prevent the player from finding these tricks and shortcuts by themselves; the game always lets you know everything that you need to proceed, but it doesn’t always tell you how to proceed optimally. It doesn’t hide any information from you, it just presents you with situations where you can easily figure out how to avoid the spikes and dodge the lasers with the use of your wall-jump and air-dash… but you might be able to skip the whole thing with a well-timed dash-jump. And this isn’t by mistake; at the end of most levels, you unlock an amazing new ability that will be heavily featured in the upcoming level, and also changes the way that you play all previous levels.
In short, the difficulty curve of Sockventure is perfect, because every time a new mechanic is introduced, it’s slowly used in gradually more challenging ways, and then combined with existing mechanics, and suddenly you’ve gone from a basic sock who spent the first level barely able to walk and jump, to ground-pounding, wall-bouncing, air-dashing, double-jumping little sock-y Ezio Auditore. And given how many alternate sock costumes you can unlock, one of them probably resembles his colour scheme.
Every level has a regular sock around the halfway point, and two secret socks in hidden areas. Usually, one of these socks is hidden in an area that you can find on your first playthrough, and one can only be found when revisiting the level with a shiny new ability. The latter are usually more obvious, because you’ll see a crumbly block when you don’t yet have the ability to ground-pound, or a TNT-blocked passage directly above you, before you have the ability to air-dash, but this encourages you to play the levels again with all of these new abilities, which is like returning to the starting area in a Pokémon game and dunking on all of the Level 4 Zigzagoons that used to give you trouble, now that you have a Level 42 Sceptile that knows Leaf Blade. I should really replay Ruby/Sapphire. The point is though, it’s fun to return to a level that used to give you trouble when you can now blast through it in several different ways.
And blast through it you shall, because Sockventure is perfect for speedrunning. Every level has the same two achievements for beating the whole thing deathless, and beating it under a certain time. On your first time playing through, you will struggle at both, but especially the time limit. I replayed the first level several times, wondering how on earth I was supposed to reach the end in under three minutes, before eventually giving up and moving on… and realising shortly after Chapter Four ‘Oh… I was supposed to wait until I had the air-dash and double-jump, wasn’t I?’ And yes, I was, because they completely trivialize many of the early-game obstacles.
But with tight controls, a killer soundtrack, and pure skill-based gameplay, it’s hard to deny that Sockventure would be the perfect addition to just about any Games Done Quick schedule. If it wasn’t for my complete lack of patience (and skill, and time, and skill) then I would happily do the job myself, but I can happily pay it the highest compliment in lieu of that dedication; Sockventure is one of the few games that I am happy to leave un-100%ed, because frankly, I cannot beat the final level (or two of the three Dark World levels) without dying, or within the given time limit, and I am completely okay with that.
Speaking of the Dark World levels, this game has Dark World levels! Only three of them, so each world combines roughly two and a third chapters of the main game, but they’re a fun bonus challenge, unlocked by collecting as many coins as possible in the light world. So while this game only has seven regular levels and three bonus levels, you’ll get your money’s worth by playing them again to collect all coins, complete them without dying, race through them within a time limit, or just to collect any hidden socks you missed.
If I had to pick a single thing that Sockventure could have improved upon… it could have stolen Celeste’s excessiveness when it comes to secrets. Celeste hid collectible strawberries all over the place, and this was fantastic because it meant that every time you saw something in a level that looked even slightly out of place, chances are it would lead to a hidden secret, rewarding you for being such an observant player; so observant, in fact, that you probably still missed several, but still. Sockventure hides a pretty standard number of secrets – certainly more than the bare minimum, which I suppose would be zero – but they still could have hidden more, and not just because I occasionally found myself hyper-focussed on reaching tiny hiding spots that appeared to obviously not contain anything, but turned out to… obviously not contain anything.
I wasted a lot of time getting here.
Speaking of wasting a lot of time getting somewhere, because the core appeal and entire point of Sockventure is its gameplay, I can’t do my usual shtick and go several thousand words over my initial estimate to describe it any further. I can’t do a deep dive on the themes because even going completely overanalytical on it, the only message I could uncover would be “Children are imaginative and that’s good.” I guess I could take the Ben Garrison route and say that the washing machine represents unpaid student loans and the socks are antifa, but I’ll save that for when I abandon all of my scruples for attention, instead of just most of them.
But still… Sockventure does genuinely leave me feeling ashamed that I can’t do more to help the game out. I enjoy writing about video games because I like sharing things that I’m passionate about with other people who are familiar with them, or introducing others to things that I like, or complaining about how the plot of the original God of War trilogy was really, really stupid. But Sockventure is the kind of game that makes me genuinely wish that I was famous and had a huge audience – not just because I’ve seen the leaked invoices that showed how much Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw makes for keeping The Escapist in business – but so that I could actually have an impact on drawing attention to a little indie game that absolutely deserves to be more successful than it is.
So with that in mind… buy Sockventure, please! Or add it to your wishlist and wait for it to go on sale. If you liked Celeste or Super Meat Boy, you have to give this a shot. If you like supporting clearly very talented indie developers who can only make the scene a better and more exciting place, you also have to give this a shot. And hell, if you just like good video games, you owe it to yourself to try this one out.
Sockventure isn’t just a good game. It’s a reminder of the importance of highlighting good games, leaving positive reviews where you can, and recommending them to your friends. Because maybe, just maybe… the real Sockventure is the friends we made along the way; yeah, I obviously didn’t know how to end this.
Please buy Sockventure though.