While playing Puzzle Arcade lots of things will go through your mind, but the one thought we couldn't shake was "why are we playing this on a video game console?". For all that Puzzle Arcade does well, especially in terms of presentation, you are solving jigsaw puzzles in a video game, probably on a TV that's too small for the job, while a perfectly good table is in close proximity. Puzzle Arcade might find an audience, but it's very niche.
Judged purely as a jigsaw puzzle game Puzzle Arcade does a lot of things well. For jigsaw fans there are lots of options, with everything from very basic, almost child-like puzzles (with simple pictures and a small number of pieces), to images with a moving background, a thousand or more pieces and uniform design (straight edge squares instead of the traditional jigsaw piece design). The difficulty level you choose also has an effect on the way the pieces are presented, either all oriented the right way around or spun wickedly to make your task even harder.
Puzzles are presented with the pieces sprawled across the screen and your task is to put them together to form the original picture. You pick pieces up by pressing A, spin them using the triggers, move with the left analogue stick, and place them again with the A button. Once you've joined pieces that group is then moved as a joined piece, meaning you can work on separate areas of the picture and then bring them together. When pieces fit together you get a nice sound effect and the basics of solving a jigsaw puzzle work well.
Problems arise fairly quickly though. As soon as you move away from the small beginner puzzles and have to deal with smaller pieces you need to spend a lot of time zoomed in. The zoom mechanic is fine, but doing so means you lose the overall view of the pieces that you'd get in real life, meaning there's an awful lot of panning and zooming required that soon becomes quite tedious. The fact that the target image isn't always visible (you can make it bold and fill most of the screen with a few presses of the X button) doesn't help either, so you frequently have to stop what you're doing and bring up the main image for a quick look see.
These problems aside, although in truth they are problems that will seriously hurt your enjoyment of the game, Puzzle Arcade has a few nice touches. You can snap your own pics with a Vision camera and use those as puzzle images, up to four players can play cooperatively locally or over Xbox LIVE and you can save a puzzle at any point, allowing you to return to it at a later stage - something that's vital for the larger puzzles. It's a shame that Eidos didn't fill the game with more game art, as aside from a picture of Lara Croft your jigsawing is restricted to pictures of animals, bits of art and nice photography. A missed opportunity in our book.
It's hard to predict who will like Puzzle Arcade. You might find that the simple puzzles somehow manage to grab your attention far more than you thought possible, meaning you'll overlook some of the gameplay issues, but for many people the real thing is the better option. Puzzle Arcade is far from a terrible XBLA game, but make sure you give the trial a go before handing over the 800 Microsoft Points.