Puzzle Showdown 4K. The title seems to imply some variation of video game puzzle that we're all familiar with - some kind of Tetris-type thing, maybe - but presented in (drum roll) 4K. But then it bares itself as a jigsaw puzzle game, occupying a barely-existing niche that's always been naturally restricted to excessive simplicity. Suddenly, this creation of Kingdom Games stands out from the pack, and the 4K aspect is a game-expanding feature that will likely remain a basic standard for the entire subgenre! Truly, Puzzle Showdown is a pioneer... but it doesn't get anywhere.
Now let's back up a bit. Before you can start a puzzle, you have to choose one. Fortunately, Showdown boasts a great number and variety of crisp, gorgeous images, all neatly organized by theme. From there, you're given pentameters to tweak: number of pieces, whether they need to be rotated, and whether the image sits behind the puzzle to help you along. I could explain which settings are being used in the image below, but you're probably noticing something else about it.
Look at all that extra space! The most immediately noticeable detriment here is the unpleasantness of it. There should always be room for the interface, but what you're looking at is at least twice as much as what's needed. This unsightliness is of course worsened by the incredibly cheap and bland look of said interface, which resembles something straight out of a 1999 shareware title. For a game that touts 4K in its title and features a massive library of beautiful photographs, it sure is ugly.
This setback has its impact on the gameplay as well. You can set your puzzle to be over 500 pieces, but now you're squinting at the screen. A more sensible presentation would've expanded the maximum puzzle size and cut down on that squint factor. Even with less room for a HUD, we could've been given more than just five pieces at a time. I understand that there's no way to emulate an entire pile of jigsaw pieces on a table, but for Singleplayer, there ought to be at least ten. Granted, it was a nice idea to implement a score bonus for keeping a streak of connecting pieces. With just five to choose from, though, it's not even guaranteed that you'll have access to connecting pieces. This, in turn, fosters an unwelcome game of chance aspect when playing competitively.
Fortunately, there are other score modifiers to consider: the speed bonus and the accuracy streak. However, the latter is at odds with a mandatory mechanic where the cursor flashes green and rumbles the controller when you're hovering over the right spot. This effectively makes it possible to be 100% accurate on every puzzle with no skill whatsoever. So okay, we're left with the speed streak. Though even this is slightly harmed by that highlight system, it remains the only unbroken modifier in the game. If you want to play this with friends, don't expect any kind of engaging competition. Instead, expect a needlessly limited version of sitting down together for a real-life jigsaw puzzle. Oh, and there's no online mode.
Showdown is not entirely devoid of value. I was very pleased by the selection of music, which is honestly some of the most relaxing stuff this metal-head has listened to in a good while. The option to enable or disable rotation is also notable, and is probably the only aspect where I felt like I had more agency than I would with the real thing. And it comes with a slideshow viewer. Not of the puzzles you've completed, mind you, but every photo in the game (initially I was disappointed by this, until I realized there was absolutely no way anyone would find joy in completing all of them). These slides fill the whole screen, so if nothing else, this is a great collection of stunning 4K images ready to be made into custom backgrounds for your PS4. That sounds snarky and cynical, but the fact of the matter is that this package stacks up very favorably against shopping for backgrounds on the PlayStation Store.
However, the hard truth is that Puzzle Showdown 4K is being sold to us as a game. And by that standard, no price justifies a purchase. It's such a shame, too; it didn't have to be like this. What if the interface was better? What if you could choose from a decent stack of pieces? What if the mechanics didn't directly conflict with one-another? Hey, what if you could make your own puzzles from your capture gallery? This is a game that takes extra measures to avoid the advantages of being a video game while doubling down on the limitations. I was really optimistic about this one, too. Hopefully it doesn't take too long for the concept to be executed properly.