Please Fix The Road is a puzzle game that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
When you solve one of its 150 puzzles, manipulating tiles to build a clear road from point A to point B, and the little car who issued the request is able to complete its journey, the car explodes. To be precise, when the car reaches its destination it is launched into the sky, tumbling wheel over bonnet until – boom! – it is encased in flame, a blazing wreck flying through the air.
Play a level where you’re guiding a little boat or train, and you’ll send them to their fiery doom whenever you complete the puzzle. It’s all rather alarming. To be honest, I thought everyone would be a bit happier to receive my assistance. I asked designer Ariel Jurkowski why they chose to reward the player’s success in such a surprising way.
‘Initially I wanted to have two vehicle exit animations,’ they told me via Twitter direct message. ‘One when you win and one when you just change the level manually without solving. I made the second one first – I call it ‘the launch’ – and thought it is so silly and fun that I decided to use it always. I get a big smile on my face when players on YouTube videos smile at this animation and wonder why the cows get launched to the air.’
The cows? Ah yes. The animals – the cows, the sheep, the dogs et al – that some levels ask you to guide from point A to point B thankfully don’t explode, nor find themselves roasted, but they are similarly hurled into the air before vanishing in a cloud of smoke. ‘Note that the animals do not explode!’ Ariel is quick to stress. ‘They poof out of existence!’
There’s a similar lighthearted feel to the overall presentation of Please Fix The Road. Each level is a gorgeous isometric diorama, seven or eight tiles square and bursting with colour. The playful manner with which they arrive on screen signals the intent of the game; they spill out in a collection of roads, forests, rivers and hills like a children’s toy box upended onto the floor. You can’t wait to start poking at them.
But the exploding cars and the dinky dioramas belie just how clever and vexing many of the puzzles prove to be. For each level, you’re given a handful of tiles to play; some let you pick up other tiles, some let you swap tiles, others allow you to rotate tiles, push them in one direction, or destroy them completely. You lay these tiles onto the board until you’ve fixed the road between starting point and flagpole finish.
What makes it work so well as a puzzle game are the restrictions placed on your every move. You have to play the tiles in the order they’re given. If you’ve got three rotate tiles then a swap, you can’t do the swap first. Many tiles can only be played in a certain shape, too. A bomb tile, for example, may only let you destroy tiles in a specific four-tile L-shape. A rotate tile will turn two tiles adjacent in a line, and not just the tile you’ve selected.
Things start out simple, but get complex fairly quickly. The restrictions on the tiles you play help keep you focused – there aren’t too many options to deal with – but as the number of tiles increases, it all adds up to become a demanding, but always enjoyable test of wits. Stretching your brain to see the big picture of how the board will look after you’ve made your moves, or working backwards from the end point until the pieces have slotted into place, are made easier by a helpful hint system and the ability to easily undo any move, or quickly reset the board.
I particularly enjoyed the little epiphanies along the way, those moments of realisation when a tile you’ve been using in a certain way suddenly requires you to find a different way to use it. Or when a new tile is introduced and you’re excited to see all the additional possibilities opened up by its presence in your deck. And without spoiling things, there are plenty of occasions where you’ll have to quite literally think outside the box.
Beautiful, charming, smartly-designed and a joy to play, Please Fix The Road is one of 2022’s best puzzle games. And best of all, no animals were harmed in its solving.
5 stars: ★★★★★
Please Fix The Road
Developer: Ariel Jurkowski
Publisher: Ariel Jurkowski
Release Date: 11 June 2022
The PC version of Please Fix The Road was provided and played for the purposes of this review.