A good puzzle needs to create an impeccable mixture of bemusement and joy. Looking at first like an almost impossible challenge, slowly but surely giving up its secrets in a fun yet challenging manner. If you’re looking for that in virtual reality (VR) then there are a number of titles to choose from. The latest for Oculus Quest, realities.io’s Puzzling Places combines classic jigsaw entertainment with gorgeous photogrammetry models, making it one of the finest examples.
Thanks to early access and being able to sideload onto Oculus Quest, Puzzling Places first arrived on the scene in 2020 before its appearance as one of the debut App Lab titles in early 2021 brought it to a wider audience. And it’s rightly built up a bit of a following because what it does, it does well, without all the fluff usually associated with a lot of VR gaming. Much like Cubism, which solely focuses on a simple, mindful experience; Puzzling Places is about sitting back and enjoying a good old-fashioned puzzle.
You’re presented with 16 puzzles in the official launch version, a mixture of big, wide-open landscapes and cosier interiors. What sets Puzzling Places apart from your average jigsaw is the fact that these are expertly crafted 3D models of real places, with so much detail that you can get in close and in some cases even step inside the buildings that make up the puzzle.
A normal 2D jigsaw might be made up of 1000 pieces but here it’s a little different, catering to all skill sets. Each puzzle has three difficulty levels, depending on whether you want 25/50/100/200/400 pieces. That maximum of 400 might not sound a lot when compared to a 2D puzzle but rest assured it is no easy feat, especially when sat in the middle of all those little 3D chunks. Sure, those 25 and 50 settings are fairly quick and easy but split a model into 400 and you’re going to be there for a good hour or so, twisting and turning each piece to see if that rock matches another.
Puzzling Places does thankfully have plenty of settings so you can tailor your puzzle session accordingly. Ideally suited as a seated experience where you can get comfy on the sofa, for those puzzle heathens who want to stand there’s a 360° puzzle piece shelf mode that wraps all the pieces around you instead of all in front. The mode is really good on the 400 piece difficulty paired with a swivel chair, as it makes locating pieces a little easier.
But as any puzzle master knows, whilst you might be working on one area other pieces can appear for another. So there’s a handy grouping function just for that very task. And it’s needed, because there are points during the harder puzzles where you can just feel lost, and nothing seems to match.
Whilst you imagine Puzzling Places to be a stationary experience it doesn’t have to be, with locomotion controls to grab and move the environment if you really need a different perspective. In reality, it became the least used feature purely because you can grab and move the constructed model however you see fit.
When talking about VR there’s always that question of immersion, how well does a particular experience involve and ground you. Puzzling Places mainly does this by putting you inside a very gentile, pastel-coloured world surrounded by said puzzle pieces; very relaxing and idyllic. It goes a step further by adding soundscapes to each of the puzzles, so you might hear seagulls by the beach or the knock of pool balls in the pool room. The feature is subtle yet very well executed, breathing life into these stationary creations.
However, Puzzling Places isn’t quite perfect. The blobs for hands just look really weird considering the attention to detail found in the rest of the videogame and the pointer that stems from said blobs is a bit temperamental. It’s not always there, so when you’re trying to grab one puzzle piece out of hundreds it can be a bit hit and miss.
Even so, Puzzling Places is an enjoyable treat, the perfect way to spend a casual Sunday afternoon. The 3D photogrammetry scans are magnificent to put together and ultimately very satisfying once completed. In combination with the soundscapes, Puzzling Places gives players a really unique experience that anyone can pick up and appreciate. Hopefully, those 16 puzzles will be expanded upon to aid longevity and hand tracking would be nice as well. Another little cracker of an indie VR videogame.