Review: Puzzle With Your Friends

Sometimes a title tells you everything you need to know about a game: Puzzle With Your Friends is a jigsaw puzzler that primarily wants you to, um, puzzle with your friends. Sure, you can jigsaw it up just fine all by your lonesome, but bringing a pal along as an extra pair of eyeballs to help sort through the pile and work on multiple areas at the same time adds to the feeling of gathering around a table to tag-team a real jigsaw puzzle that few video game adaptations of the tabletop activity have managed to pull off.

To that end, Puzzle With Your Friends allows you to invite a buddy from your Steam friend list into a selected puzzle, to play cooperatively or in a versus battle. A lobby window at the lower-right corner allows you to text chat back and forth in game, as well as toss up little kitty cat emojis in random places on the screen, for no other reason than cats are cute, I presume. The game currently does not offer matchmaking–because then you’d be puzzling with strangers–or local multiplayer. Broader matchmaking would still be a nice option to have at some point, but ultimately a game like this is more enjoyable playing with people you know than with random denizens of the Steam community.

The online performance is mostly solid, but the user interface could be cleaned up and better optimized in certain areas. When we first began, I was having some network issues on my end, unrelated to the game servers, that caused a few disconnects. (I should’ve known setting a game to background download on my PS4 right before testing this game’s multiplayer was a dumb idea. Once I paused the download, I didn’t have any more connectivity issues.) While my friend received an indication that I had been disconnected, from my end the puzzle resumed with no notice that the online session had ceased. I only knew something was wrong because my friend’s cursor had stopped moving, and then of course when he subsequently messaged me through Steam chat. Clearer messaging of online connectivity status would be helpful, as would the ability to rejoin a puzzle in progress without having to start over.

The cooperative experience is peaceful, wholesome fun, but the versus mode doesn’t really offer any sense of competitive urgency to make it feel markedly different from co-op. You simply play through a puzzle and wait for a message at the end to proclaim the winner, and that’s it. There isn’t a scoring breakdown or even a running tally of how many pieces each player has placed to let both sides know where they stand against the competition in real time. Playing puzzles solo and seeing where your completion times rank against others on the online leaderboards has a stronger competitive edge than the actual versus mode.

Another small presentational nitpick during multiplayer has to do with a little tab that appears in the lower-left corner of the screen indicating whether you’re playing co-op or versus. The problem with this label, which is entirely unnecessary, is that it overlays the tray area, meaning pieces in the pile resting behind it get partially blocked from view. This icon should be moved to another less-obstructive area or, better yet, removed outright to reduce UI clutter.

Across all modes, the game currently offers a selection of 18 puzzles. You start by creating a profile and choosing an avatar, and by completing puzzles you advance along a persistent RPG-like level progression. However, I’m not exactly sure what purpose the leveling system serves due to the lack of any accompanying reward loop or unlock system. Maybe the developers could implement unlockable profile customizations like, say, extra avatar images, puzzle board backgrounds (beyond the woodgrain pattern), or alternate cursor designs. Just something to add meaning to leveling up.

Playing solo, average completion time per puzzle, from my experience, ranges between 15-30 minutes, while multiplayer reduces the average to more like 10-20 minutes. The pickings are a little slim, but the puzzle images serve as a fun celebration of indie games, featuring concept art and scenes from games like In Vitra, Days of Dawn, The Exiled, Ghost Control Inc., Loria, Harvest Life, Slime-San, Game Dev Days, and Tower 57. The collection of art is fantastic, varying nicely in degrees of coloration, detail complexity, and tone, but unfortunately the game doesn’t provide variable difficulty options to customize things like cut shapes or the scale of a puzzle’s piece size or quantity. Support for importing image files to create your own puzzles is another idea I hope is considered for future implementation.

The core puzzle mechanics have been pared down to the very basics, starting first with the fact that there is no option for piece rotation. Every piece is provided from the outset in its correct orientation. You pick up a piece from the perimeter pile and drag it into place, where it will auto-snap into the game board or onto another connecting piece when in the correct position. Only edge pieces and pieces that will connect onto confirmed pieces will snap into place. While you can snap pieces together anywhere on the screen, including the sorting area, and move them around as one, random interior pieces will not snap into place unless they have an existing foundation piece to build onto.

As it stands, the UI and overall presentation is a mixed bag. The cursor-based input is simple and easy to control, but at the same time piece selection and the auto-snapping aren’t always as accurate and responsive as they need to be. Sometimes it takes dragging and dropping a piece over its proper place two or three times before it finally decides to click into place, while at other times a piece will magically seem to snap to its rightful place from quite a far distance, as if being pulled in by an invisible magnet. Similarly, when going to pick up a piece, sometimes it takes an extra click or two for the game to register the piece you’re trying to pick up. These inconsistencies aren’t a constant hassle, but occur frequently enough that the playability never achieves a 100% smooth and reliable feel.

Of course the most glaring feature omission is the inability to save and quit a puzzle in progress. Sure, no single puzzle takes especially long to finish, but life dictates that you aren’t always able to complete a puzzle in one sitting, so having the ability to save is a common courtesy the game should provide.

Certain features are much appreciated but still need to be taken a step further to be fully helpful. For example, you’re given a preview thumbnail of the completed image in the top-right corner, which serves as a handy visual aid that’s always within view, unlike many other jigsaw games that require going into a pause menu or using a power-up ability to reveal only a temporary preview. This is a great feature, but it would be even better if you could click on the thumbnail to zoom in or enlarge the image.

I also appreciate the availability of a shuffle button, which randomly stirs the pile to potentially bring pieces you’re looking for from the bottom to the top without having to manually click and drag one by one on your own. On the down side, shuffled pieces ever so slightly overlap and obstruct the bottom edge of the puzzle. For maximum visibility, it’d be better if there were a clearer boundary line dividing the puzzle board from the tray area. As is, every time I shuffled, I found myself having to drag the overhanging pieces down to tidy up the view. Since hitting the shuffle button automatically returns all single pieces to the pile, any pieces you may have purposefully sorted out also get re-buried. I think it would be a good idea to have the shuffle button only shuffle pieces in the sorting area, while even single pieces that have been pulled up into the main puzzle area would stay put so you don’t have to dig them out again.

Puzzle With Your Friends is a good minimalist jigsaw puzzler ideally suited for casual play, with streamlined mechanics and a diverse collection of indie-themed artwork that’s fun to assemble, alone or with a buddy. The main premise of being able to puzzle with friends, though exceedingly basic in its implementation, is successful at creating a relaxing, collaborative vibe. However, the game as a whole is lacking feature depth and basic functionality, the interface is crying out for increased optimization and precision, and the total puzzle count is limited. There’s certainly enough of a foundation here for jigsaw fans to enjoy, but there’s also ample room for improvement, especially in areas catering to players who may be more versed in jigsaw puzzledom. The good news is that the developer sounds committed to ongoing support and feature implementation, so hopefully this is merely the beginning for greater things yet to come. Puzzle With Your Friends still needs polish, fine-tuning, and expansion, but for now it gets the fundamentals mostly right.

TryIt

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Stromsky
Developer: Stromsky, bumblebee
Release Date: 4/24/2018
Genre: Puzzle
Players: 1-2 (online co-op and versus, plus solo completion time leaderboards)

Source: A Steam key for Puzzle With Your Friends was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration by bumblebee.

Buy From: Steam for $4.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!