I have a story to tell about Shenzhen I/O, latest in Zachtronics‘s stable of iterative puzzle games based on modern engineering work. I was vaguely aware of the game’s development thanks to a timely mailing list, but the volume of email I get on a daily basis — not even specifically Ninja Blues-related email, just in general — means I don’t always read everything equally accurately. I was aware of Shenzhen I/O ‘being in development’, but for the longest time, that was about it.
That changed about six weeks ago, when I (on a whim) decided to read one of those emails more closely. In it, Zachtronics talked about a second and final ‘print run’ of the Shenzhen I/O ‘limited edition’. One of Shenzhen I/O‘s selling gimmicks is its reliance on a printed ‘reference manual’: the game is about circuit board design (I think), and part of the experience is supposed to be having a manual nearby where you can look up game commands and the like. In this age of Steam, obviously that manual is primarily delivered online, to print out (and bind in a folder or something) if you want. But the Shenzhen I/O limited edition had what I considered a strong selling point: a pre-printed, pre-bound physical manual, everything needed to play the game and some extra goodies to boot, to be delivered to your house around when the game would go live on Steam. A pricey €52 investment to be sure, but it looked cool and fancy, so I clicked over to the limited edition order page to see what the stocks were like.
I got the last one. I swear I’m not kidding on this. The website made it very clear that of this second-and-final limited edition run, only one version was left. Just as I landed there. So those were an intense ten minutes of agonized thinking and cash-counting, lemme tell you.
The manual binder hit my local delivery station about three weeks ago, just as the game keys were Humble’d out. Which makes this not exactly a day-one review, but there are two reasons for that. First, Shenzhen I/O is technically still in Steam Early Access, at time of writing. If they’re feeling comfortable enough about it to print manuals and ship goodies around, I feel comfortable reviewing it as a proper product, but it’s a factor nonetheless. And second… well, you’ll probably figure out the second part by reading this review.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, low. Mechanical, somewhat high if you look at the screenshot.)
(Game source: Bought it myself.)