Review: Pixel Puzzles: Japan

At a Glance

This game is recommended!
This game is not just good fun, it also stays fairly true to Christian moral values, making it a great addition to anyone's library!

ESRB Rating: NR - Not Rated
My Rating: Everyone
Genre: Puzzle
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2014
Review Published On: August 27th, 2016
Played on: Martha

Available from:

Gamer's Gate, Humble Store, Steam

Save System:

The game remembers what puzzles you've completed, but there's no way to save a game in progress. This means that you either solve a puzzle in one attempt, or start it over again later.

Summary of
Major Issues:

There are some mild references to Zen and Enlightenment, but perhaps the biggest issue is that you can choose to be a bit mean to a fish that's just trying to mind its own business.


[view screenshot]
Oops. Grabbed the fish again.

[view screenshot]
One step closer to enlightenment

[view screenshot]
Looking over the gallery (note the ad in the corner)

Game Overview

Games in this series go on sale for ridiculously low prices fairly often, and since it's always possible to find a hidden gem in the sales, I thought I'd check them out. Pixel Puzzles: Japan is the first game in the series, which makes it a natural starting point. Unfortunately, it's not so much a hidden gem as it is a diamond in the rough. There are a number of problems that get in the player's way, so while it's still fun enough, it might be better to wait for a sale before you go and buy it.

For the most part, this is a typical jigsaw puzzle game. The gameplay is pretty much what you'd expect, though there are a few things unique to this series. The first thing you'll notice is that the pieces are floating about in a koi pond that surrounds the play area. Using a piece is just a matter of dragging it out of the pond and placing it somewhere. Of course, there is a koi swimming around in the pond along with the pieces, and if you're not careful, you might pluck it out of the water instead.

Once the puzzle has been solved, a boulder falls from the sky. The force of the impact causes the koi to jump out of the water and spit out a golden puzzle piece. At this point, you can either return the koi to the water to restart the puzzle, or hand the golden piece to the monk to end the level and assist him in reaching enlightenment. Interestingly enough, he'll manage to become enlightened before you've cleared every puzzle.

Points of Interest

Steam community features
Considering it's a game about solving jigsaw puzzles, it's a little unexpected to see that it features Steam trading cards and achievements. Naturally, most of the achievements are for clearing specific puzzles, though some are for other things, like bothering the koi in different ways.
18 Puzzles to play through
All in all, there are 18 puzzles for you to solve. Each of these are tiered by difficulty, starting with the lowest piece count and eventually reaching over two hundred pieces per puzzle. The puzzles themselves are images of landscapes or buildings from Japan.
Picking up a specific piece isn't easy
There seems to be a layering issue with the pieces floating in the pond. This means that the piece that appears to be on top actually isn't, causing you to grab a piece you didn't want. This can be very annoying when the puzzles have a lot of pieces. Oh, and be careful when dumping the piece you grabbed back into the pond -- that can scatter the nearby pieces.
The koi gets in the way
As mentioned above, there's a chance that you'll accidentally grab the fish swimming in the pond instead of a piece. You can plop it on the play area if you want, though it'll quickly squirm its way back into the pond. Should you feel like being a little cruel, you could also wedge it in the pipe in the lower left, where it'll be stuck until you manually remove it.
Pieces don't rotate
In a real jigsaw puzzle, pieces can be facing in any direction. Here, the pieces are always facing the correct direction, removing some of the difficulty and, in my opinion, some of the fun.
Pieces snap in place
When you move a piece onto the play area, it'll snap into place if you left it near where the piece goes. This stops making sense when you realize that there doesn't have to be any pieces nearby for this to happen. While a distinctive click can be heard when the pieces snap in place, you can easily miss this sound and be left wondering why an unattached piece can't be moved.
Viewing a preview of the image requires a hint
There is exactly one hint in this game, and it requires charging up before you can use it. When you click the symbol in the upper right, the finished image superimposes itself on the play area. Supposedly this is to help you see where pieces go, but in practice it just makes it harder to see where your pieces actually are.
No in-game save feature
Probably the biggest complaint about the game is that there's no way to save your progress in the middle of a puzzle. In order to complete any of the puzzles, you must solve them in one sitting. This is reasonable for the early levels, but the complicated puzzles that appear later on can easily take 45 minutes to an hour to solve.

Concerns and Issues

References to Zen and Enlightenment
This game is based around the concept of helping a monk attain enlightenment through quiet puzzling. While extremely mild when it comes to religious references, these aren't Christian concepts and some parents may feel obligated to avoid them.
Inappropriate use of a fish
One of the things you can do with the koi is shove it head first into the water pipe at the bottom left of the game's screen. It'll be stuck there until you release it, and in the meantime it'll clearly be seen trying to wiggle free. There's actually an achievement for doing this to the poor thing.
In game advertising
On specific screens (such as the game's menu or gallery) there's a little advertisement for other games in the series. One of these is a zombie themed puzzle game that clearly features some blood.