What's this, you ask? "A game released this year on Indie Game of the Week? Will wonders never cease?" Well, jerk, sometimes I find my way to a Steam sale and pick up a few games that have captured my attention, and that was such a case for the third Glass Masquerade game from our friends at Onyx Lute. Though these games are essentially jigsaw puzzles with a veneer of class owing to their use of stained glass and a general aesthetic that leans towards the chill and ethereal, the first Glass Masquerade won me over with its inventive approach to the age-old puzzle format. The way you'd take glass shards, rather than the typical beknobbéd pieces, and carefully place them within an ever-changing framework like you were a kid feverishly attempting to fix a problem caused by a soccerball and one's own inattentiveness made for a compelling variant on an otherwise stale model. That the subsequent game sadly squandered much of its personality by codifying too much of the format—switching to a single framework for every puzzle, leading to some repetition—was kind of a downer and, I'm sorry to deliver this bad news to my delightful puzzle fanatic audience, the same is also true with the third game: Glass Masquerade 3: Honeylines.
I won't insult y'all's intelligence by going over what solving a jigsaw puzzle entails, but the series' jagged shard shapes were always compelling in how they made the puzzles both easier and harder: easier because certain shapes would stand out more when hunting for a piece to fill a distinctive-looking gap, but also harder because the pieces would connect in oft-times unintuitive ways, like only at the very tips. It also meant that there were no standard "edge" pieces that most jigsaw puzzle-solvers would first use to create the outer frame, as those pieces with flat sides always stood out when first beginning to assemble any jigsaw picture. Instead, Glass Masquerade would start the image just outside the active grid, giving you enough of a visual guide to place those early outer rim pieces. The constant switching up of the frame itself—sometimes a circle, a hexagon, or a shape even more elaborate—also made starting each puzzle different in some way. For circles it was often best to find pieces that had a certain degree of curve that matched the outskirts of the framework. That's why a lack of framework variation was one of the less attractive changes made to the second game, and which the third game has disappointingly persisted upon.
However, it gets worse. Though the second game was disappointing in how it limited its own creativity with the singular framework, one notable carryover was creating piece shapes that not only adapted to the stained glass motif but were often uniquely-shaped around certain notable aspects of the image. For example, if the image had a sun there would be one round puzzle piece or perhaps two pieces that would slot together to create a circle dedicated to such a noteworthy object; in addition to making the image a little easier to parse from pieces alone, it also added to the distinctive flair the game had—a case of gameplay substance and presentational style meshing together in a serendipitous manner. In the third game, owing to a new customizable mode that really doesn't add a whole lot, you have three generic puzzle piece shape types and every puzzle has essentially the same piece shapes as a result. The piece types include the traditional shards (now mostly random in what parts of the image they cover), hexagons, and what the game calls "chemicals" which are just smaller hexagons bolted together that vaguely resemble atomic diagrams for molecules. The flair and ingenuity of those older puzzles are now mostly extinguished, leaving only the images and the UI presentation themselves to carry the weight of Glass Masquerade's uniqueness. There's also no uniting theme like there was in the first two games: whereas the first was a round-the-world-tour of countries and their cultures, and the second a macabre dreamscape, the third just has six collections of five puzzles each with half-assed themes like "nature" and "landmarks".
I don't mean to make it sound like Glass Masquerade 3 is a complete wash. The new customization options add a lot of variation in how you might want to play these puzzles, even if I'm not particularly interested to replay a puzzle when I already know what it looks like, and there's a few intriguing variations on filling up each grid with the pieces you're given. For instance, there's a mode where you're only given the pieces that make up the outer edge of the puzzle, and once that "ring" is complete more pieces are provided for the second ring, and so on. Another has you do the same thing but working from the bottom of the image upwards, like you're filling a bowl with these pieces. There's also the standard classic mode, which has every piece available from the start and is thus the hardest. In addition to those progression modes and the aforementioned piece shapes, there's also a difficulty setting—"Hard" simply means you have to rotate the pieces into the right positions first—and the option to play with achievements in mind. The in-game achievements (different from the handful of actual ones) simply involve completing each puzzle within a certain time limit while making a finite number of errors, having the "random" piece shape setting activated, and on the higher difficulty mode; fortunately, if you're dogged enough to pursue them all, you can get them independently rather than simultaneously which is a much easier process. It's not enough incentive for me to want to repeat any of these puzzles, but I suppose if I get a hankering for more relaxed picture assemblies and decide to reinstall the game I know I'll have other goals to pursue. The game's built in such a way where almost all of these settings are optional, though, so it's more about modifying the game's flow to suit your personal preferences. In that respect alone it has more to offer than its predecessors.
Glass Masquerade 3 was another letdown after that excellent first game but that's not to say it doesn't deliver on its basic promise of an aesthetically pleasing jigsaw experience that provides about three or four breezy hours of runtime. It's losing what made the series special with each new iteration, however, and I can't say how much longer I'll keep buying these games whenever they come out (or, rather, when they drop to pennies in a Steam sale). That most of its contemporaries on Steam and elsewhere are equally generic or worse, especially those those with "hentai" in the title that have very different ideas about how to engage with their audiences, Glass Masquerade is still one of the few games of this antique genre that makes an effort to stand out. It just seems less and less inclined to do so with each new sequel.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
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