What's this? An Indie game actually released this year? Have I finally stopped cheaping out on you all? Well, yes and no. Glass Masquerade 2: Illusions is both light on the wallet and light on new features, in essence a rerun of the preceding 2016 game I reviewed for this feature last year. These games can be reductively boiled down to a series of jigsaw puzzles, albeit ones that use glass shards of various shapes and sizes rather than the usual knobbly pieces, though the experience is enhanced immeasurably by the delicate nature of the individual stained glass puzzles and the otherworldly atmosphere provided by the visuals and excellent orchestral music. The second game doubles down on that atmosphere, switching from the "clocks from across the globe" souvenir world tour theme of the first game in favor of that of a mysterious dreamworld that the player must escape by reassembling puzzles depicting fairytales and other ethereal tableaux. These are accompanied by enigmatic little rhetorical questions about the nature of life and reality that don't really have much to say beyond contributing to the discombobulating effect of being trapped in a nightmare, with all the concomitant dream logic and metaphysical mystery.
Unfortunately, despite how much deeper these aphorisms would like you to believe Glass Masquerade 2 is compared to the original, the inverse is true. The first game would experiment with different variations and formats for its puzzles, in particular the way its many clockfaces had a range of external contours and circumferences into which you were supposed to place all the glass pieces. Some were circular, some were rectangular, some were triangular, there were ones that were broken up into multiple geometric shapes stuck together, while others were less common shapes like clouds and stars. In contrast, all of Glass Masquerade 2's puzzles are circles without exception, and each one therefore gives you a headstart by making the shards that go around the puzzle's circumference easier to spot: they all contain a gentle curve, one that could fit around the external ring. Getting that outer edge into place was about 1/3 or 1/4 of the puzzle (depending on how many pieces were in play), and then it's a relatively simple matter to slot in the rest based on the angles and shapes those outer ring pieces leave behind. It'd be unfair to bash a jigsaw puzzle game for this feature - every jigsaw puzzle since forever expects you to start with the obvious outer frame pieces and then work your way inwards - but the lack of variance in these puzzle frames made this process automatic after a while, and reduced the amount of challenge each would present.
Though speaking of difficulty, one of Glass Masquerade 2's few novel inclusions (at least, I don't recall this being in the first game) is that you can switch the difficulty up a notch. Rather than making the shards smaller and more numerous, the harder difficulty mode instead stops instantly rotating the pieces so they would always be the right way up, instead tasking the player to find both their correct location and their correct orientation. This extra wrinkle makes puzzles several times harder and longer to complete: while you could still work your way from the outer pieces in, the number of permutations for each shard in each position grows immensely. For anyone who really enjoys tough jigsaw puzzles, this added feature could be a welcome one. I might recommend trying a few early puzzles with it active (you don't need to finish the game first to unlock this mode, graciously) and see if that's more compelling than the standard difficulty going forward, as you probably don't want to complete all the game's puzzles twice over. (All you have to do, by the way, is click the "difficulty" tab on the bottom right, as seen in the image above. Took me a while to realize I could change it.)
In the end I was only mildly disappointed with Glass Masquerade 2, as it felt more limited both in its adherence to its circular frames and to its singular theme of nightmarish illusions rather than taking in a world's worth of cultural trappings for its many canvases. I also didn't feel like spending twice as long on each puzzle by twiddling pieces around until they were the right way up either, as much of the game relies on trial and error due to the unusual shapes of the shards - you can never be quite sure if the contours of the neighboring shards line up right unless you try dropping a few pieces in there. However, Glass Masquerade 2 is still as capable of providing the same chill (if mildly chilling) atmosphere and quietly contemplative jigsaw puzzle-solving as its forebear, and so is not so much a step down as it is a lateral step. I'd like to see the devs try something fresh with the next sequel, but then there's also a lazy part of me that would be just as happy with more of the same. Hell, it's why I buy so many identical picross games.
: 4 out of 5.
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