With the recent influx of puzzle style titles onto the XBLA comes Puzzle Arcade, equipped with the vision of transforming your 360 into an enormous virtual puzzle board.
Unfortunately what seems to have been lost in the transition is the magic and fun that is involved with slowly piecing together enormous puzzles.
Puzzle Arcade allows you to select a large number of puzzles to complete, and you can set variables to modify the difficulty and number of pieces in the puzzle as well as the type of joins between pieces, which also increases the difficulty. You can either play in the traditional way, with all the pieces spread over a board, or in the turbo mode which sorts the pieces according to criteria that you select, i.e. colour, edge pieces and so on. This varies the difficulty level immensely, suiting everyone from total beginners to hardened puzzle maniacs. The difficulty levels affect how the pieces are positioned; on easy they are already the right way up, the higher difficulty levels then change how much help the game affords you.
There are a range of different types of puzzles that you can put together, from standard puzzles to fractal puzzles (which focus on small segments are a time) or dynamic puzzles where the image changes. The puzzles themselves aren’t hugely exciting, but there is something here that everyone will enjoy and the prospect of DLC leaves you with unlimited possibility.
On top of all the game modes, the game encourages you to think fast and link pieces together. Every piece you add will increase your multiplier, which will then bleed out slowly. Incorrectly placing a piece will return your multiplier to zero. This is something that is infuriatingly annoying. In real life we’d be sitting at the table painstakingly attempting to force two pieces together that clearly don’t want to go - unless warped to something only vaguely resembling their initial shape - yet the game does not allow us to simply try a fit. In fact it goes as far as to punish us for trying.
Fine, the score doesn’t matter, and you can ignore it and just play for fun, but unfortunately a virtual puzzle game just isn’t as fun as drowning in pieces and then wondering if maybe the cat has eaten one of them. There simply isn't the same result, nor the same sense of achievement when you complete a puzzle. Even if completing one does allow it to be hung in your trophy room.
Overall the controls work quite well, with you being able to flit around the board and shift or spin pieces quickly. You can also enlarging an image of what you are aiming for, so as to get a better look. The controls never felt clunky or difficult, and have been managed well and will be easy to pick up and play for even the youngest players. The downside is that it is another seriously eye-straining title which will leave your eyes painfully sore from sheer concentration. This may improve the bigger your TV, but there’s no guarantee.
In the way of multiplayer and online connectivity, you can play with up to four people locally on one console, or over Xbox LIVE. This works quite well, but the frustrating part, especially with local co-op is that you share the screen, and this means that you occasionally will find that you want to look across the board in the opposite direction to your co-player, and therefore this mode requires considerable communication and unity to work well. Its a shame because a split screen mode possibly would have worked better. A nice addition to the online mode is that there is a weekly puzzle for you to complete (for free) and also new puzzle packs available when you have completed those in the game.
Overall Puzzle Arcade isn't about to set the world on fire. It works, the controls are well done, and the graphics crisp (despite that your eyes will still hurt from looking too hard), and with a number of game modes and difficulties there's enough to keep anyone busy for some time.
Ultimately it's not enough though, puzzles are best completed with friends on the living room table, or as an even larger group. They are designed so that you can start and return to them at any time, and half the fun is trying combinations and literally holding the little puzzle pieces between your fingers. The multiplayer addresses one aspect of this, but it simply isn’t the same.
Not a bad virtual puzzle title, but the real thing simply can’t be beat and this lacks the ‘fun’ factor that is so needed in arcade titles. An admirable attempt, but we just can't recommend this one.