Puzzle games are a fairly simple lot in concept, and the jigsaw puzzle game is especially common. When a game studio does something different with the subgenre, it’s usually something of which to take notice. This brings us to a little game by Decaying Logic, as a follow-up to their recent title, Pixel Puzzles: Japan. Titled Pixel Puzzles: UndeadZ, this game is an interesting take on the subgenre, in that it throws in a couple more genres to shake things up a bit.
The basics of Pixel Puzzles: UndeadZ are as follows – you play as a generic biker named Hawkeye, who has to fight off zombies and escape to the subway (nineteen times) and the only way he can do that is by solving jigsaw puzzles to stop the flow of zombies and enter the subway. It’s an extremely simplistic premise, to be sure, but the truth is that it’s probably better than most puzzle games one would see out in the market. Props for a little bit of ingenuity in the game design.
Gameplay is very simple. You are given a zombie apocalypse themed jigsaw puzzle to assemble with pieces floating and moving about to the left, top, and right of the playing field. The bottom? A path from the subway entrance to Hawkeye, occasionally home to undead that rush towards him. You use the typical PC WASD configuration to move Hawkeye about, the spacebar to shoot, and the Q key to throw grenades. At the same time, you use the mouse to click and drag puzzle pieces into the playing field. You do all of this to the tune of music tracks that do a very good job of giving the game a creepy, uneasy feeling.
In addition to moving up and down to line up your shots, you can also move Hawkeye into a highlighted square above him to purchase items. These items (10-second puzzle hints, ammunition, explosives, and additional fortifications) can be bought using Zombucks that you earn for correctly placing pieces. Additionally, there is a timer located at the bottom, but make no mistake. This isn’t a time limit for solving the puzzle – it’s a countdown. Failing to solve the puzzle before it reaches 0:0 results in a huge wave of undead swarming the path and heading for Hawkeye, and surviving this wave resets the countdown for another go. Ideally, the player would be splitting their time roughly evenly between buying defenses and solving the puzzle… The key word being “ideally.”
If there are any flaws to be had, there are three: the length of the game overall, the difficulty of the game’s unique mechanic, and the cursor interaction with puzzle pieces. If you pay close attention, you won’t even need to buy anything aside from ammunition, and you’ll likely end up with a surplus of Zombucks. Doing this for nineteen puzzles turns out to be a bit of a redundant cycle, with the only differences being the shapes that the pieces take on and the length of the countdown timer. This isn’t helped by the frustration a player will likely feel when trying to click on a specific piece they’re going for, only to end up clicking a completely different one because its hitbox overlapped with that one piece when it didn’t even look like it would.
As an aside, Decaying Logic also thought to include a mini-game in their main menu. Upon starting the game up, the mini-game begins, and you have to use the WASD configuration to move Hawkeye around and shoot incoming zombies with the mouse. It’s fairly simple for a zombie shooter, and adds a little variety if you’re bored of the main game.
Overall, if you’re one of the few actually interested in jigsaw puzzle games, but are looking for something to set one game apart from all the others, then Pixel Puzzles: UndeadZ is probably a good shot. While a unique gameplay mechanic usually takes a game just so far, this one’s works well enough.
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