In a glass house, throwing stones
When I was informed that I was to review a puzzle game, I was intrigued. It turns out, however, that it was not a game along the lines of, say, Portal, but rather a puzzler in the very literal sense. As in, a jigsaw puzzle. But not just any sort of jigsaw puzzle game, mind you. A jigsaw puzzle game that truly tries to do something just a little bit different. As a whole, it’s an underappreciated genre and I can respect it when a developer tries to approach it from a somewhat more artistic angle. Such is the case with the lovely little piece of indie eye candy that is Glass Masquerade.
The game is indeed about assembling jigsaw puzzles, with a noticeable twist. Rather than conventionally-styled puzzles, it takes on the theme of broken stained glass masterpieces which players are required to unify once more. The entire title is styled as an art gallery featuring artwork from 25 nations across the world, with assorted icons and clichés associated with different countries and cultures. You start off in western Europe and gradually work your way towards Africa, the Far East, and even towards the Americas. In some cases, you can probably guess what a country’s symbolism will be: in Sweden, for example, it’s no surprise to find the art is that of a Viking.
Things start off easily enough, but it’s not too long before some truly tricky artworks begin surfacing. Some stained glass sets are truly trying because they consist of many tiny pieces which are far more irregularly-shaped than those found in the earliest puzzles. In addition, the final picture is not revealed to the player until they actually complete it. And to add one final curve ball, pieces remain blank until selected. What this means is that the player never knows what they’re getting, especially since all the pieces exist together in a rotating pool. It definitely adds a bit of challenge, but it’s never unfair or cheap. Things comes together, literally, with a bit of deduction and even some plain dumb luck.
Nonetheless, it remains considerably easier to solve than many other jigsaw games on offer. A particular puzzle never consists of thousands of pieces, and the completed picture is never of gigantic proportions. It also helps that every stained glass puzzle starts off with a number of anchor points, which are red pieces with circular hinges indicating where they are to be placed. These function as a number of free hints, and also help to frame each individual artwork so that players may get an idea of its final form. Finally, every piece automatically orientates itself upon being selected, cutting out a ton of potentially frustrating and unnecessary guesswork.
The style and presentation is at the forefront of this little artistic experiment, without ever devolving into a pretentious affair. Besides the stained glass aesthetic, everything in wrapped up in a 1920s Art Deco tone, giving the game the impression of being something one would expect to find in Andrew Ryan’s city of Rapture had it existed into the age of modern video games. The music is an extremely soothing form of ambient, with a few touches here and there to suit the particular country in which the player currently finds themselves. For example, the Egypt level’s music has distinctly middle-eastern undertones, fitting the mood ideally. It comes together to form one of the most relaxing games I’ve ever played, and I can see myself revisiting it whenever I want to let off some steam without worrying about score and skill.
I did feel, however, that the experience was over entirely too soon. There are around two dozen artworks, and each one takes between three to ten minutes to complete. It’s easy to burn through the entire game in under four hours, and you’ll be walking away wishing for more. It’s great for Steam achievement hunters, as it’s rather straightforward to get 100% completion, but there could have been a more substantial game beneath it. We can hope, however, that a sequel will present itself in the not-too-distant future and expand upon the ideas offered in this promising debut from Onyx Lute. At the very least, we could ask for some DLC that will add additional countries and puzzles to the mix. Regardless, it’s well worth the asking price and is yet another excellent marriage of gameplay with art.
Glass Masquerade is a stylish and addictive addition to the jigsaw genre. Though not very long and perhaps not too challenging for puzzle-building veterans, it’s still a worthwhile purchase that’ll keep you hooked in the few hours you have with it. Snatch your copy here and get ready to see the world through stained glasses.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Onyx Lute ; Developer: Onyx Lute ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 18 November, 2016.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a review copy of Glass Masquerade given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.