Some read newspapers for the news, while others read them for anything but: ads, comics, and crosswords. Oh ho, but in recent years, the hip and ever so diverse Sudoku has snuck in, and held on to become a mainstay of American culture. Not only in papers and magazines, but in electronic media as well. Enter Brain Buster Puzzle Pak. Though it isn't the first or penultimate representation of Sudoku on the Nintendo DS (there's two more coming just in July), its cutesy interface and sole use of the stylus make it an easy to pick up collection. It also includes four other games, sure to whet your puzzle-lovin' appetite (unless of course you detest puzzles; in which case, why are you reading this review!?)
Besides Sudoku, Brain Buster includes Kakuro, Light Up (or Light On as a typo on the case cover suggests), Nurikabe, and Slitherlink. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better cross-section of puzzles for those wishing to get their feet wet with the whole genre, or those who simply wish to branch out from Sudoku. Initially, it may seem as if there a too few puzzles for each game (50 to start), but diligence will unlock more. There's also a training center that provides randomly generated puzzles, creating plenty of extended playtime. On to the games…
So tell me a little about this Kakuro. It sounds more like a monster Godzilla might fight.
Indeed, but it's actually a game of addition, where numbers in horizontal and vertical rows work together to form sums, hence its other title, Cross Sums. Kakuro is so popular in Japan that it's been dubbed the "king of pencil puzzles." Of course there's much more to it, and thanks to Puzzle Pak's handy dandy tutorials, you won't have to rely solely on Wikipedia to figure out how to play.
Slitherlink is challenging. The same way Devil May Cry is challenging. Ouch. Perhaps I'm just not cut out to be a master. Nevertheless, the rules are deceptively simple: you connect dots with lines that must form a continuous loop without crossing or branching off. But there's numbers on the grid dictating how many lines can be drawn directly around them.
The easiest game in the collection, Light Up provides a welcomed break after Slitherlink turns your brain to oatmeal. All you have to do is put light bulbs in cells to fill every cell with light. Of course there are constraints, such as numbers on the grid stating how many bulbs may be placed around them (also no light bulb may illuminate another light bulb).
Players are challenged to create a complete group of black cells in Nurikabe. Sounds simple enough, but cells containing numbers force certain amounts of continuous white cells around them. Add on that no 2x2 area can contain all black cells and that each separate area may only contain a single number, and you've got some challenge on your hands.
In the granddaddy of them all (that's Sudoku if you weren't paying attention), a number from 1-9 is placed in each blank cell. The catch is that each row and every column can only contain one instance of each number. On top of that, every 3x3 grid (the ones separated by thick lines) must also contain only one instance of each number. And you thought weightlifting was a workout.
If a particular puzzle proves to difficult, feel free to use answer balls that are acquired by poking wandering monsters with the stylus. You can also unlock wallpaper puzzles to spruce up puzzle backgrounds. One of the most disappointing aspects of the collection is its single player focus. Sure Sudoku doesn't natively lend itself to multiplayer the way Tetris might, but with an entire screen (the top one) devoted to displaying timed rankings, it would be easy to create a time-based multiplayer mode for all games in this collection. What good are rankings if you can't prove yourself in multiplayer combat?
Though it doesn't reinvent the puzzle collection or offer anything we haven't really seen in stylus-driven controls, Puzzle Pak is an extremely accessible collection that even a novice can enjoy. Attesting to the quality of this collection, developer Jaleco looked to famed Japanese puzzle publisher Nikoli to provide puzzles for the normal mode. Thanks to tutorials and the simple, cutesy interface, children and grown adults who aren't very experienced with either videogames or logic puzzles will find playing Brain Buster Puzzle Pak an enjoyable experience. If anything, now you don't have to "read" the newspaper everyday. Just throw a DS in your back pocket and have at it!