Puzzle design is way more complex and embracing than you might expect. There are so many ways of creating those enigmas that even puzzle masters are mostly focused on some types of challenges. That said, if you look into design classes, you will find one golden rule as an incredible and unexpected consensus between designers. There are many names used to it, but I like to call them "Eureka Moments".

You remember that sparkle of geniality, that moment that all the synapses in your brain decided to happen, the point in time where all the cogs align and the puzzle you are trying to understand just... isn't a puzzle anymore. You solved it, you did it, this is your Eureka Moment and no one can take it from you. This feeling of being smart is the main goal of a well-crafted puzzle, and probably why you try to solve them in the first place.

I know that "rules are meant to be broken", but I also believes that you need to understand them really well to start cracking them. Puzzles for Clef knows what it's doing with its puzzle design — and I felt smart multiple times — but its troublesome structure makes those bits so rare that the experience is way less interesting than it should be, even having a good presentation.

A magical treasure hunt

The story behind Puzzles for Clef is, in fact, really cute and even relatable to me. Instead of a great and ancient mystery to save the world, we follow the little girl Clef visiting her ancestors' island to solve a birthday mystery hunt made by her big sister Cres, learn more about her family's legacy and find a way to make all the ancient bells ring again. I've created puzzle hunts for my friends at college (and even my little brother) in the past, so it's really fun to see this as a game background now.

Puzzles for Clef

Visually, the island you explore during the playthrough is really gorgeous. Every area has a different vibe and color palette, without losing the general idea of a magical place. Sometimes it's hard to understand what are actual platforms you can walk in, and what it's just the background of the level (and some puzzles depend on this), but it's a rare situation and you start to just guess better when you get more used to the game.

The "ringing bells" theme also is really well used during the game. Not only it's your main goal on Cres' treasure hunt, but it's also the main instrument you can hear in the soundtrack for any of the areas. Magical colored bells also are the Clef's main ability to solve some puzzles in the game, using specific songs to uncover secrets or creating a spotlight. You play them as Link's Ocarina of Time, pressing specific buttons in a specific order.

Puzzles for Clef

Sincerely, when I started playing Puzzles for Clef, it had all I could wanted for a game: a cute sincere story, beautiful visuals and interesting puzzle material. But, as I said before, all of this was overshadowed by the monotonous wrapping that is around the core mechanics of the game.

Smart or bored?

The first thing that needs to be said is that Puzzles for Clef has a good of smart puzzle ideas. Some of them feels like a proper puzzle-platformer, others feel like escape room puzzles, where you have to use some clues to find a "password". The bell melodies also acts as tools and are used more times during future chapters, what is also really cool. Clef's diary acts as a mix of an inventory and clue system, but doesn't works really well in any of those functions sometimes.

Puzzles for Clef

Without giving much spoiler about puzzle resolutions, I can say that a lot of moments in Puzzles for Clef made me feel smart. I always had a notebook and a pencil in my desk to take notes of details and solve some of the puzzles, like the best games asks you to do. But all of those small geniality bits were just sprinkles of a giant and boring mess of tireless walking and backtracking.

Although the game is broken in areas, they are maps that needed to be traversed as Clef, that can only walk slowly and jump once. And the puzzles always asks you to walk through ALL THE MAP MORE THAN ONCE to get one item, or flip one switch. The Eureka Moments are there, but there so much walking really slowly through one point to the other that you forgot that you should feel smart. If only the movement mechanics were also interesting, but no, things are far away just for world building, I guess.

Puzzles for Clef

Another great problem with the game is how big the puzzles are and how that takes away the feeling of the Eureka Moments even more. As an example, there's a point in the game that you need to put pipes in the wall (saying more than that is too much spoilers). You need to do this SIX times in a big map. Every one of them includes a new rule, or asks the player to have a new perspective on the puzzle's mechanic? No. It's mostly the same, but you need to do it again and again. I already got it, I already solved it, why can't I progress? Why make me just repeat myself SO MANY TIMES?

This monotonous and repetitive structure steals all the momentum that I had solving the actual puzzle and just makes playing Puzzles for Clef a boring experience. Even if I knew that an enigma can really be a blast to solve, I also know that I'll pass triple the time just walking, and then had to make the puzzle four other times to advance. I wanted so much to enjoy more of the incredible atmosphere, or just imagining myself in a cozy and fun treasure hunt... but if my brother made me walk in circles that much, I would have given up a long time ago.

The team behind this game sent me a press key so I could play it and write my review. Thanks for the trust!