Overall Score 87%
Gaia PC Jigsaw Puzzle 2
The PC is a great medium for jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts. Not only is there never a danger of losing the final piece under the rug, but thereís also no need to have to attempt to slide it off the dining table when the rest of the family complain that thereís nowhere to sit down and eat. I think that thereís certainly a tactile joy that comes from traditional jigsaw puzzles that is not easily recreated in a PC environment. Perhaps Gaia PC Jigsaw Puzzle 2 could be the next best thing to cracking open the box of that 2000 piece monster that youíve been putting off until the holidays.
I donít think that you can talk about jigsaw simulators on PC without mentioning David Grayís excellent Jigsaws Galore. That is the most complete jigsaw simulation package that Iíve ever come across on the PC platform, but Gaia PC Jigsaw Puzzle 2 is well ahead of the pack in second. Due to the nature of the gameplay being quite familiar to pretty much everyone, I wonít delve into that too much, but I will briefly outline a few of the features that I like about Gaia, as well as where I feel where it just falls short of being the perfect PC jigsaw game.
The first thing that youíll notice about Gaia is that is has a very clean, no-frills presentation. The simple and unsophisticated design means that the player is focused solely on the jigsaw and not being distracted by the bells and whistles of the program itself. There are very few sounds, and absolutely no music whatsoever. Obviously, people can make their own minds up about design decisions like that, but I found the minimalist approach to be quite refreshing. Depending on the overall colour theme of the jigsaw at hand, the player can choose from a variety of preset background boards to work on or import their own. They can play with a guide picture up in front of them or not, or choose whether to have a full-sized ghost picture to assist them. Either way, functionality trumps glitz; the bare essentials are provided as a sandbox, and the player is let loose to create their own puzzles to play.
Creating puzzles is very quick and easy. The most fun can be had by simply pointing the game to an image file on the playerís computer and setting a number of pieces to play (this varies from 12 to 1938). Jigsaws are then intelligently generated by a mathematical algorithm containing a few user set variables such as piece style and variation in shape. In just a few seconds, the player can create a wide variety of wonderfully realistic jigsaw puzzles from a single image. There are a handful of high quality jpg images that ship with the modestly sized download package, and many more high quality image packs that can be downloaded from the developerís website. The thing to remember is that any sized image in many popular formats (jpg, bmp, gif and png) can be used. Simplicity is the key feature that impresses here.
Once the puzzle is generated, the player goes about solving it by clicking and dragging the pieces into place. One of the very few sounds that youíll hear while playing is a satisfying ďclickĒ as two pieces are snapped together. The whole tabletop can be zoomed and panned with easy mouse movements, whole bunches of pieces can be moved around at once by dragging out a box to group-select them, and an individual piece can be rotated through 90 degrees with a keystroke. Intuitive, simple, elegant. When the jigsaw is solved, thereís no fanfare, achievements, fireworks, party or national holiday to celebrate. A simple congratulatory message box informs the player of the time taken to solve the puzzle. Large puzzles can be broken up into manageable play sessions by use of a one-click save feature that manages multiple save games, and graphical icons to make loading a game from disk just as simple as saving.
Itís impossible to lose pieces off the tabletop since there is a greyed-out border that prohibits pieces from being inadvertently dragged off altogether, however it is quite easy to lose pieces off-screen. The easy zoom feature makes this less of an issue than it might at first sound, but playing more complex puzzles with many hundreds of pieces might see it become more of an issue.
I did find myself missing a couple of features that Jigsaws Galore offers that Gaia does not. The ability to auto-sort by shape and colour takes a lot of tedium (for me) out of the initial stages of the puzzle in Galore. Also the way that Galore handles all pieces on one fixed tabletop (thus, never being able to move pieces out of view) seems to work better for me. To compensate, in Galore, one can assign pieces that are not immediately required to trays. These can be stashed away and brought out later. In Gaia, the player is forced to more or less manually sort, move and group pieces. They then need to pan around the tabletop and zoom in to do detailed work on different parts of the puzzle. In the end itís going to come down to personal preference, but I like Galoreís style over Gaiaís simplicity in this case.
Either way, Gaia PC Jigsaw Puzzle 2 is an elegant and streamlined piece of software that will not disappoint jigsaw fans. As a bonus, the full version comes with a dynamic screensaver that the user simply needs to point in the direction of a folder containing images on their PC. Extensive documentation is provided in the form of a detailed help file, and this can also be accessed easily from the main interface. At just $20 (which incidentally is just half the price of Jigsaws Galore) this game comes quite highly recommended.
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