Ever got gravy on a white shirt? My sister did last week as my five-strong family and her boyfriend sat around the dinner table to stuff our faces with beef and potato. “Pass me the ketchup, please,” she asked my father. (Yes, she has ketchup with her roast dinners. I have salad cream.)
His arm brought the big red bottle over to her in delicate slow-motion, his greasy fingers colliding with hers in the exchange, and then SPLOOSH! The bottle lands right on her plate. Gravy gets everywhere and I accidentally inhale a pea amid the sudden eruption of laughter.
Leon Demise’s puzzle game The Salt Pleeease plays into the comedy of dinner time rituals among a crowded table, except it’s disappointingly less messy than that anecdote. Instead, it’s served with a hefty scoop of Terry Gilliam-esque absurdity, featuring dinner attendees with greedy snarling faces and impossibly long arms. Seriously, Stretch Armstrong has nothing on these hungry diners.
The idea is to get the condiment across the table and into the hand of the person asking for it. This is not easy mission as the item needs to be passed between the others at the table to eventually reach its destination, and they can only move their arms along a single axis. The task, then, is to navigate the criss-crossing arms to discover an orthogonal path across them.
Chaos enters the situation as you control all of the outstretched arms at the same time with the movements of your mouse. It feels like time is moving as you do, and pausing when you stop. Adding to this, as you click your mouse to grab the condiment, what you often find is that there’s a bowl of spaghetti, a plate of fries, or another dish in the way. You also find that other arms around the table you’re not focusing on are pulling plates around, too. Some fumbling is had with these other transferable objects but it’s a minor issue as there’s no consequence to moving them around. This is where Demise misses an opportunity.
The Salt Pleeease‘s puzzles are only concerned with spatial navigation, and this narrow focus sees it being one step away from greatness. Imagine if the dishes scattered around the table could fall off and smash, or certain characters needed their meals to stay in front of them, adding a lose condition: this would add the need to keep a frantic eye on every single arm at all times. This would bring the game closer to the real life situation, and the accidental comedy, of passing items across and around dinner tables.
It’s a concept with a lot of potential it doesn’t quite meet. It’s still an unusual and amusing puzzler that nonetheless speaks to the practices of civil dining. It gets you thinking about how many other puzzle games we play in our daily lives.