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Pieces (SNES) artwork

Pieces (SNES) review


"Pieces is a videogame about jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles – the things that are used to keep small children quiet for a few hours, or to provide a contemplative, scholarly challenge to older folks. The potential is there for an incredibly boring gaming experience. "



Pieces is a videogame about jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles – the things that are used to keep small children quiet for a few hours, or to provide a contemplative, scholarly challenge to older folks. The potential is there for an incredibly boring gaming experience.

Pieces is not boring, however. It is not simply a transfer of jigsaw puzzles into pixel form, to be leisurely pieced together with a controller instead of one’s bare hands. Instead, the game drags jigsaw puzzles out of their sedentary existence into a realm of furious and frantic competition, where you square off against different opponents with the goal of slamming your puzzle together before they can complete theirs.

Let’s face it: If you are over the age of ten and under the age of 60, and you do jig-saw puzzles, then you’re somewhat of a nerd. (I’m not trying to be insulting. I do the occasional puzzle too, ok?) Pieces caters to the sort of offbeat humour that only nerds have by providing a totally campy group of opponents to challenge. First, there is Rice Bowl Crab. His name is pretty self-explanatory. He’s a little red creature who is half-crab and half-rice-bowl. He moves his pieces around the board with a little red claw. Too bad that crabs can’t walk straight, because his hand always seems to move in a zig-zag and he is pretty slow and inaccurate about putting the pieces in the right place. Then there is Delinquent Boar, a bad-ass pig who jets around on his bad-ass scooter (not motorcycle, scooter) and shoots his mouth off about his puzzle-completing prowess. Contrary to his bravado, he’s actually also pretty slow and stupid and is easy to dispatch of.

By this point, anyone laughing at the lack of challenge in Pieces would do well to shut up. The opponents quickly improve, both in their speed and intelligence, until your brow will be furrowing in concentration as you try to piece together that scene of the Leaning Tower of Pisa as though you were playing a hardcore arcade shooter. Oh, the frustration, as you encounter Geeky Gilbert and his “concentration powers,” or Revengeful Ryoko, a waif-like ghost with stringy blue hair who threatens to haunt you when she loses. After these, and other opponents who I won’t give away, you encounter the Mystery Man, who provides a challenge worthy of any “final boss.”

The game also offers a 2-player mode, where a second human player takes the place of the computer. But it’s much more fun to face the crazy opponents that the game throws at you – to hear their silly threats and watch as they sulk with exaggerated dejection off the screen after you beat them.

It is also possible, in the course of a match, to attack your opponent, or to be attacked yourself. This is made possible by an ingenious system where you are timed each time you pick up a piece. The faster you can set it down in the right place, the more your power-up dial increases, and the more power-ups become available. The lower-powered ones are pretty tame, and include causing your opponent to slow down temporarily, or to impose a picture of the completed puzzle onto your playing surface so you can instantly see where the pieces are supposed to go.

It is in the higher-level power-ups, though, that the game starts to get nasty and vindictive. You can click on a needle and watch as all of your opponent’s power-up meter drains back down to nothing. Or, you can send a small brush to sweep all his pieces back off the board. Or reverse the directions of the controller, so pressing up will actually cause the cursor to move down. Eek! Pieces is therefore not just about speed, memory, and having a good eye. It’s about strategy and cunning and screwing over your opponent at just the right time.

So far I have been discussing Challenge Mode, in which you have to beat all of the opponents to reach the “end” of the game. Pieces also offers an All-Play Mode, which is a single-player mode where you try to complete the puzzles in various time limits (8, 5 and 3 minutes).

The puzzle grid for the All-Play Mode is 6x6 pieces, while the Challenge Mode grid is only 4x6 pieces. While this may seem small (and it is…) each challenge actually consists of three puzzles at a time. These groups of three puzzles are organized into themes. There are dinosaurs, sports, fighter planes, fish, buildings, and things of that nature that one would expect finding a puzzle about. This makes 21 puzzles in all, which isn’t too shabby.

Keeping in mind that Pieces came out in 1994, I don’t think it’s fair to be too harsh on the graphics. Some, like the angelfish, are actually rather beautiful. Others are just a pain in the butt, like the picture of the half-submerged whale where 90% of the puzzle pieces are the same shade of blue with minimal texturing and shading. Still, it is it safe to call the graphics slightly above middle-of-the-road. While not as vibrant as the top bracket of SNES titles (Super Mario World, Final Fantasy VI and such), the puzzle pictures can hardly be called unattractive either.

There is music playing as you complete the puzzles. It’s the type of tune that sounds pleasant at the time but is hard to recall five minutes later. Elevator music. Not the worst thing in the world to have in your ear when you’re trying to concentrate on something visual.

It’s been my experience that games based on real-life activities that involve cardboard usually suck. Most of the videogame adaptations of popular board games have been absolutely wretched. Pieces, though, is a game that takes the tactile experience of putting together a puzzle and not only translates it well into videogame form, but takes advantage of the medium to expand on the concept of puzzles it in a away that would be impossible to do in real life. And it does so rather well.

Rating: 7/10

alecto's avatar
Community review by alecto (March 02, 2003)

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