As always, be sure to wear clothes you don’t like while painting

Let’s try something fun. Scroll down a bit, look at the screenshots in this review, and try and guess what kind of game But to Paint a Universe is. If you guessed “match-3 puzzler,” you’re somewhat correct. 3’s are matched as sure as the sun sets, but that isn’t exactly the game’s end goal. Rather, it’s to place same-colored pieces in certain points scattered throughout levels. Confused?

At first, so was I. Thanks to games like Bejeweled, it’s been ingrained in me that adjoining pieces of the same color need to be clicked and eliminated immediately. But doing so in But to Paint a Universe is a bad idea, as you’ll sometimes require those pieces in order to quickly finish a level. Removing them will aid you on many occasions, but it’s not at all the object of the game. That said, you do get some sweet bonus points when you eliminate a lot of them in one click.  

But to Paint a Universe

A storyline isn’t exactly a requisite element of puzzle games, but developer Marten Jonsson went to the trouble of weaving one in. Well, weave may not be the right word here. It shows up in a prologue video at the start of the game, but not all that much later. I wouldn’t go so far as to say its absence damaged the experience, but it would have been nice to see it pop up a little more.

Despite the lack of drip-fed plot points, the adventure mode did a pretty solid job of breaking itself up. You’re always trying to land same-colored pieces in highlighted areas on the playing field, but nearly every level offers a different set of guidelines or limitations you must work with in order to do that. You’ll frequently have to contend with things like a shift in gravity, or pieces that will only eliminate diagonally. It keeps things fresh, but can also get incredibly frustrating.

As an avid fan of puzzle games, I realize that calling a game frustrating can just as easily be a compliment as it can an insult. Here, it tends to teeter back and forth between both of those things. When it’s a compliment, it’s because I’m racking my brain to solve well-designed puzzles in a finite number of clicks. When it’s an insult, it’s because I wasted all of my clicks trying to get a piece of a certain color to fall into a specific area.  

But to Paint a Universe

Even so, I found myself having a lot of fun with the adventure mode. Except, perhaps, during the bonus levels where I had to track down 10 semi-hidden bubbles floating in the sky. It was easy at first, but things got painfully difficult near the game’s end. But these levels are easy to avoid, and only show up when you successfully beat the 4 levels prior. Which brings up a very strange element of the game: If you play a level and fail, you can still go on to the next one.

When I sat down to test out the game’s four time attack levels, I was met with a pretty serious glitch: my cursor immediately disappeared. I tried rebooting the game several times, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was finally able to resolve the issue by hitting ‘c’ on the main menu and switching to the game’s custom cursor. Once I had that resolved, I had a lot of fun racing against the clock.  

But to Paint a Universe is a game I can see resonating with a lot of puzzle fans – it’s just important they know what they’re getting into. It’s more of a slow burn than other match-3 games, requiring cold, calculated actions on behalf of the player. That threw me off at first, but – flawed though it is – I found myself having a lot of fun with it. It also helps that it has backgrounds and music that, in many ways, go above and beyond what I’ve seen in other puzzle games.