Piano creeps in and trumpets growl as the sun rises on another puzzle in Please Fix The Road. Sunlight pours over this miniature diorama, which I destroy and twist and rebuild until, once the road is fixed, its figurines pop into fireworks and the whole set splits and morphs into the next.
The presentation adds almost cinematic flair to this delightful puzzle game. Yet though it might look wholesome, Please Fix The Road is actually a fiendish little thing.
On the surface it seems simple enough: as the title suggests, you just fix the road right? Slot in a couple of curves, join up the dots and voila! Cars, boats, cows and the like intersect and then reach their intended flag destination.
Wrong! There’s more to this than simply dropping the right tiles in place. The solution might seem obvious, but the game dictates to you what tiles you can use and in which order, significantly increasing the challenge.
And while some puzzles give you sections of roads – curves, straights, slopes and more – to slot into place like a child’s train set, others give you more manipulative tiles. There are bombs to destroy before you rebuild; rotating tiles; move and copy tiles; tiles that shift a row in a certain direction; and all of these come in set sizes or Tetris-like shapes. It’s the use of these tiles that really adds creativity to each puzzle solution.
For instance, one puzzle had an obvious tile to slot into place but before that I had to judiciously waste a whole load of bomb tiles to destroy half the environment first. In other puzzles I needed to make use of multiple shift tiles to move pieces around like those sliding picture puzzles. In later puzzles, I needed to move tiles outside of the play area, or even smartly copy blank spaces. All of this to link up mini motorways for multiple cars, untangle dirt paths for a cow to get home, or allow rivers and roads to criss-cross correctly.
So yes, a fiendish little thing. All the while its soundtrack shuffles through multiple tunes – jazz melodies, orchestral strings, plucked guitars – as my brain whirrs. Is it gently accompanying, or taunting me? It’s hard to tell.
But when the final piece slots into place, those cars and cows are launched into the air and the whole puzzle inverts on itself to form the next. Or maybe it splits into lines that swim like dolphins. Or it spins and reveals something new. It’s like Dorfromantik by way of Inception.
It’s the delicate attention to detail that elevates a simple idea into something irresistible and immensely satisfying. And each colourful cityscape or tranquil idyll feels enticing and tactile, despite the minimalist approach.
There are (after an update patch) 160 levels to go through, which is hours of puzzling – depending on your skill level of course. Thankfully there’s a hint button that will line up the first couple of moves for you, so if you’re completely stuck on where to begin the game will offer a teaser of its (sometimes quite unexpected) solution. And for a game that often requires as much trial and error as brain power, undo and redo are just a button away.
One minor frustration is the inability to change perspective. Each diorama is fixed in place isometrically. You can move from side to side or zoom over and above slightly. But some puzzles would really benefit from being able to spin the environment around, peruse from multiple angles, and zoom in for a closer look. Many puzzles have tiles at multiple heights but it’s sometimes hard to judge exactly how they’ll slot together.
It’s a small gripe, though. Please Fix The Road isn’t really trying to taunt you, it’s trying to teach you its mannerisms. It’s arguably a meditation on humans and nature, destroying environments only to rebuild them in organic and inorganic ways. But mostly it’s just a wholesome and gratifying puzzle game that’s impossible to be frustrated with. Even the title is polite.