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Wot I Think: Animated Puzzles

Doing a jig

Sometimes I keep secrets from you. As a rule, when I spend any decent amount of time playing a game, I report back about my experiences. That's rather my job. But sometimes I don't. Sometimes I spend entire mornings with a game that I never write about, because I'm too embarrassed to admit it to you, and perhaps even more, to my colleagues. The net result being not only have I not got any work done, I've turned what could have counted as work into goofing off. TODAY I SHALL BE BOLD. I spent the morning playing Animated Puzzles [official site].

I always devote a couple of mornings (I start work at 7.30am, so mornings are my bigger stretch) a week to looking through the dozens and dozens of games released on Steam that week. Things that catch my eye, running them for a few minutes before realising they're barely-started dross, lame clones, or cruelly unlabeled strategy games. Or perhaps finding something special, and passing that on to you. And, well, I install some silly stuff I really oughtn't, like jigsaw puzzle games.

And they're always awful. The thing about jigsaws in real life is you don't have the pieces magically do half the work for you. You don't start with the pieces all orientated correctly. You don't have most of the pieces far out of your field of view. PC jigsaw puzzles seem like a thing that should work, but never do. Except, well, Animated Puzzles - for all of its enigmatic name - rather does.

The more perceptive among you may have already made the deductive leap toward understanding this is a puzzle game that takes another advantage of the medium, with animated pictures. But oddly, despite the gimmick, this is a game that gets everything else nearly right, and the animated bit rather wrong.

I realise that having begun by being embarrassed and awkward, that immediately launching into my detailed thoughts on the technical aspects of PC jigsawing is a bit weird, but there it is. Where this game gets right what nearly all the others get wrong is it doesn't give you information you shouldn't have. So often the games attempt to let you have the mad muddle of so many pieces by attempting to "help", having the pieces snap into place when near their prescribed spot. Which is infuriating! That's not how jigsaws work! Everything feels like programmed magnets, taking away the pleasure of the pursuit, the solving of the arrangement of pieces (assuming you're not some weirdo who looks at the picture when solving them). But here the only time a piece will adhere itself is when it's correctly orientated (in 90 degree turns) and correctly aligned to another piece.

Once you've got your edges pieces sorted, they make a nice solid frame into which other correctly placed pieces will click, giving you a tactile sense of progression. It could be better - it could have pieces correctly click together when not correctly orientated, letting you get clusters of pieces upside down, etc, for more added confusion.

Each image gives you three difficulty levels (upping the number of pieces) and then a choice of four different puzzle piece styles, and pops you into a leaderboard for your time when you finish a puzzle. Leaderboards that seem to feature me and one other person, so far, so I'm not assuming this is a breakout success just yet. But it quietly deserves to be successful amongst the more casual crowd, and weirdos like me who can lose valuable work time to it.

The animated aspect is where it should be even more lovely, but only occasionally manages it. My favourite jigsaws (yeah, look, that's a thing I've said, live with it) are those that are difficult to put together, but always offer a fair route to success. Vast stretches of blue sky can be numbingly distracting, but it's far more rewarding if there's a pattern to spot, a means of solving beyond trying every piece with every piece. Here, in the best puzzles, that works perfectly because the picture isn't static, and the animations play neatly on each piece before they're fitted. So perhaps the bucolic landscape might have dandelion seeds blowing across the scene, or bubbles float up and around the picture of the fish. Splendid! And yet so many of the puzzles barely seem to be animated at all, completely lacking those novel features to up the interest. Some are subtle, like clouds drifting in the background, but some have barely anything at all.

There you go. I wrote a review of a jigsaw puzzle game for one of the biggest gaming sites on the internet. So there.

Animated Puzzles is available on Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam for £4.47/$6.39/€6.39.

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