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Gaming to Go: Crosswords DS (p2)


It isn't much of a stretch to say that the concept of a crossword puzzle is a popular one, likely well-known to anyone who has bothered to crack open a newspaper in the last seventy years. Knowing this, I won't go into much detail on how a typical puzzle works, suffice to say that it often involves a square grid accompanied by a list of obscure clues meant to help you fill in each column and row with the right words. It's a puzzle very well-suited for pencil and paper, often requiring constant erasing and much deliberation on what the hell forty-three down could possibly be.

The experience translate pretty well to the DS's dual screens. You'll flip the DS sideways and hold it like a book, seeing the whole puzzle from a zoomed out view on the touch screen. Touching a square will zoom in on it and let you scribble in your letter of choice. The hand-writing recognition is surprisingly solid, as even my lamentable chicken scratches are easily deciphered and translated. Depending on whether you've hit the down or across button, the focus will then jump to the next letter in that column or row, making it fairly easy to fill in an answer. The control scheme is simple to use and intuitive from the very beginning, negating the need for the tutorial included with the game.

A hint system is also available in case you get stuck. In the beginning, you likely won't require any aid, as the easy puzzles are exactly that -- short, small, and just barely worth completing, if only to familiarize yourself with the interface. Easy and Medium puzzles are unlocked from the very start, and you'll have to complete a certain portion of the latter in order to unlock the next difficulty level, which is one of two common complaints with the title. Put simply, the easy puzzles aren't incredibly fun. If you're not a crossword puzzle fanatic, they're an excellent way to get into the game, but some players might choose to skip to the Medium section from the start, which arguably suffers a similar problem. Again, they can be great for novice puzzlers, or for anyone who wants a short but satisfying experience, but those seeking a genuine challenge might not enjoy working through simple puzzles on the way to unlocking the hard ones.

It's a common problem to puzzle games, and an issue I've touched on numerous times in the past. Forcing players to unlock difficulty levels does help extend the life of the gameplay, sure, but more often than not it just frustrates players who want to dive in and start doing their thing right from the outset. The flipside, as New York Times Crosswords has proven -- look for it in a future column -- is to make the vast majority of your puzzles fiendishly difficult, possibly alienating players seeking less brain-destroying fun. Crosswords DS does well to cater to audiences of all skill levels, but just be warned that you won't be able to dive into the more difficult puzzles from the start.

The only other issue is more a minor annoyance than anything else. Crosswords DS allows you to save your progress in a puzzle and quit, a welcome alternative to relying on sleep mode. Unfortunately, you can only save your progress in one puzzle at a time, as the game will delete your save file for it if you choose to play a different puzzle. Having your progress saved in multiple puzzles would be a great way to keep yourself from getting bogged down in one crossword, but as it is now you'll have to fully complete a puzzle before moving on to the next. The alternative is to scrap your progress and start somewhere fresh, though that doesn't seem like a great substitute for anyone who just wants to give a new puzzle a try.

Still, it isn't a huge issue, and Crosswords DS is an excellent collection of puzzles even with it. You'll find plenty to do here, as the title contains over 1,000 puzzles spread out through three categories: crossword puzzles, word searches, and anagrams. Word searches are self-explanatory, but still pretty good fun, as using your stylus to highlight words is fairly slick and makes the whole process seemingly pass much quicker. Anagrams, for those lucky few who've not heard of them, give you a set of letters and then task you with writing every word you can make with them. There are no hints to speak of, however, and you'll have to find every single word to advance to the next puzzle, so it's entirely possible to get stuck with just a few words remaining and no freaking clue of what they could be. Both categories are a little underwhelming, but can still be a great way to spend a few minutes, provided you get tired of the crossword puzzles.

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