Genuinely great puzzle games are a rare commodity these days. Of course, ’90s kids had classics like Monkey Island, and 2000s gamers had their share of puzzlers as well. Once the medium started stumbling into the 2010s, though, the genre began to dry up. Perhaps we’d simply done all that we could with the concept? After all, there are only so many ways to dress up the same matchstick rearranging puzzle for the bajillionth time. On top of that, puzzle games are a decidedly ‘casual’ endeavour. In an industry where console games skew further and further toward grandiose, the simple brainteaser’s stock has fallen.
As a consequence, fans of getting their noggins in gear have been a little starved lately. Sure, there are the odd gems to recommend, but otherwise there’s a gaping hole in the market. However, fret not! The good folks at Sunny Demeanour Games have come up with a devious way to reinvigorate the format. They’ve tossed in Animal Crossing, a bit of Final Fantasy and a touch of Ace Attorney to boot. The result of this insane concoction? A Weekend in Puzzleburg. Here’s everything we know about it!
What we’ve got in AWAP is a gentle life-sim of sorts. Though it features some light RPG elements, puzzles replace battles. Sure, you’re looking from a top-down perspective over a pixelated landscape. However, the NPCs are more likely to discuss the weather than they are to dispense any useful gameplay hints. There’s even a shop whose wares unlock via story progression. Though there are several trappings of the JRPG formula, Sunny Demeanour made Puzzleburg as cozy an experience as possible. Their marketing is very blunt that the title will take you no more than four hours with a focus around repeat playthroughs.
You play a lass who’s on vacation to, well, Puzzleburg, as the title would perhaps give away. This titular resort is on an island the shape of a jigsaw piece. You can select your character’s backstory, and name them. However, we don’t know whether this has any lasting impact on things. Somehow I suspect the narrative won’t be up for any awards.
Your task is to kick back and spend a weekend absorbing all that the island has to offer. This’ll mostly manifest in the form of quests, which you can track via a handy-dandy log. But that’s not really the focus here. Indeed, the character dialogue (characterized alternately by winking sardonicism and sickening tweeness) is pretty explicit about the fact that the devs are merely tossing a bone to gaming tradition with the quest structure, and that you should be looking elsewhere for the main delights of Puzzleburg. Perhaps you’d like to go for a swim, have a burger – or crack open a book. Well, you have a shelf’s worth to choose from, and your character will indulge in your selected text over the following two days. Of course, a weekend is only just enough time to finish one novel, so if you’d like to check out the others? Second, even third playthrough, baby. Replay value’s where it’s at!
Round, and round, and round trip
The whole adventure, at least based on early gameplay demos, is centred around this Groundhog Day-esque hook of trying things over and checking out the different results. Sunny Demeanour claim there are over 180,000 possible ways the weekend can play out, which sounds a tad excessive to me. Then again, if there are nutters out there willing to see all 300+ story routes to Shadow the Hedgehog, I imagine it won’t be too long before A Weekend in Puzzleburg True 100% runs hit AGDQ.
Other events you might trigger include specific character quests, such as those offered by your hotel’s concierge (who also acts as a thinly disguised hint system), or charming little encounters that serve to either put a smile on your gob or uncover some of the island’s deeper lore. Puzzleburg is full of residents and other holidaymakers who need your help, and depending on your choices during these missions, your trip could turn out incredibly different; whether you’re playing matchmaker, lost item-finder, delivery girl or archaeologist, there’s a sense of constantly dripfeeding variety that strings you along. Like mules to a carrot, we are, all of us.
And ah, the meat of the experience: the puzzles. While there are only basic ones shown off in the demo, it seems we’ll be in safe hands here. Ranging from basic, point and click-style conundrums (your character wants to make a wish in a fountain, so she rips off some quarters from the local arcade) to slightly deeper mathematics and logic-based ones, there’ll be something to tickle the fancy of all. Granted, it’s unlikely to reach the lofty heights of, say, Layton’s best, and I’d be very surprised if there’s anything in here that legitimately taxes the brain. But all the same, you gotta take what you’re given in this genre, and for what it’s pitching itself as, A Weekend in Puzzleburg seems it’ll deliver.
With a charming artstyle and pleasingly compact world design, we might have ourselves a sleeper indie hit. Much like last year’s Lost in Play, which was another criminally underrated, lavishly animated puzzle adventure (that also turned out to be one of my favourite independent titles of 2022) Puzzleburg seems destined to fly under the radar. Nevertheless, I’ll be here, valiant soul that I am, covering it with a full review when it lands on February 17.
A Weekend in Puzzleburg arrives on Steam on February 17. A demo version is currently available.