Expect to see a lot more Hidden Shapes games on the Xbox Store. From the moment we finished Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats, we knew we were playing the first in a long-running series. It’s a ridiculously simple concept that’s a laid-back play, but – most of all – it must only take a few months to make. Put it out for a tempting £3.29 and job’s a good’un.
If you’ve ever whiled away some time on jigsaw puzzles, or done a colouring book to soothe the mind, then you will be right at home with Hidden Shapes: Black Skull + Old West. Imagine a line-art picture. Now, overlay a grid of squares onto that picture. Finally, start turning each of those squares at least ninety degrees. Now, step back and let the player come in. Their job is to turn each of the squares independently, creating the original picture. Voila: you have the entirety of Hidden Shapes.
If you’ve played Hidden Shapes: Animals + Lovely Cats, you can be reassured that this isn’t an easy cash-in. It would have been so easy to toss out an expansion pack. Instead, we get improvements. As you play through the puzzles, you begin to accumulate auto-completes in the bottom-left of the screen. With a single press of the X button, you can use them to finish off the remaining squares in the puzzle. They arrive at a generous old rate, so you can use them reasonably frivolously. And they address the one burning flaw from the first game: that you can often be left with one square in a seemingly complete puzzle.
Completing a puzzle feels more satisfying too. When the line art’s joined up, you get treated to a fully painted render of the image. Someone’s coloured it in, basically, which is a step on from the determination to stick with monochrome in the first game.
The structure’s still the same, though. There are twenty levels in each of the two sides of Hidden Shapes: Black Skull + Old West, and each level has an easy version and hard version (basically the foreground and the background of one larger image). That’s eighty levels total, which isn’t bad for £3.29. Early puzzles have a dozen squares, while the latter have over a hundred. You can zoom, though, so you’re not necessarily getting eyestrain.
Our favourite addition comes in the Black Skull half, and we hope that future Hidden Shapes plot the same course. This is the pirate half (Old West is, you guessed it, wild west themed), and each image tells a progressing story. You meet the pirate captain, who spots an island, dumps his treasure on said island, and then gets attacked by another ship before they’re both ambushed by the tentacles of a Kraken. The images tell a simple but legible story, and it adds a lot to the puzzle twizzling. It’s not clear what a picture is before you start it, so seeing it develop as you meet lines together is a subtle joy. It reminds a little of those jigsaw puzzles that hide a murder mystery or hidden object puzzle, and we’re all for YAW Studios taking this tack.
The themes this time round get a thumbs up, too. A large part of that is down to the music. You could argue that the tracks, of which there are only a few, get on the repetitive side, but we found them to be catchy yet subtle. The soundtrack on the Black Skull side reminded us of Return of the Obra Dinn’s, which is a big compliment in our books. The Old West side has a few songs that would sit snugly on a Morricone soundtrack.
It’s not perfect, of course. You’re going to get a strange look if you recommend this to anyone who wants excitement from their gaming. And while the images get a makeover on completion, they’re still limited to basic line art. You’re never going to be creating a masterpiece in Hidden Shapes: Black Skull + Old West, because creating a masterpiece would make the puzzling part of the game too complicated and hard to read.
But we sense that there’s a large, forgotten section of the gaming community who won’t care. We’ve played these games twice now, and on both occasions a part-time gamer has watched over our shoulders and wanted to pick it up after we were done. This is a game that’s so easily dismissed, but it’s safe and simple enough that puzzle players, rather than gamers, have practically wrestled the pad off us while we were playing it.
Hidden Shapes: Black Skull + Old West is little more than a box of jigsaw puzzles with a simple, console-friendly approach to completing them. But that’s a snug fit for gamers who want that delicate high of creating a picture over time. If you have £3.29 and want to decompress for a couple of evenings, Hidden Shapes: Black Skull + Old West is your game.
You can buy Hidden Shapes: Black Skull + Old West from the Xbox Store