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Nikoli's Pencil Puzzle

Score: 91%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Hudson Soft
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

Puzzle games are a great way to spend time, at least I love them. I've had Nikoli puzzle books for years and usually keep one on me at all times, just so I'm never bored. Now though, instead of all those books, I can just keep one 3DS cartridge on me as Nikoli's Pencil Puzzle is available.

When you're talking about logic puzzles, the last thing that you want is flashy graphics that can distract you. What is optimal is a clean, well laid-out board with numbers that are easy to see. Pencil Puzzle succeeds wonderfully at accomplishing this. Even in 3D, nothing will distract you from the puzzle that you are working on. The backgrounds are basically grey. The puzzle squares are a classic white with black lines. The numbers that the puzzle fills in are all in black so you can tell your marks from the original ones. You are given the option of blue, green, and yellow for filling in your squares and lines (except on Sudoku where your numbers are solid blue). All of this makes for a very easy-to-work-with area and yet perfectly matched for puzzles.

Background music is always key for puzzles as well. You don't want anything too distracting, but you also usually want something other than silence. I like the fact that there are 6 different music choices to select from and you can choose to turn it off, if you'd like.


Gameplay:

You are provided four different games to choose from in Nikoli's Pencil Puzzle: Sudoku, Shikaku, Akari, and Hashi. I'm sure that you have all heard of Sudoku. It's become a very popular game over the last few years. There are nine rows and nine columns, which also means there are nine boxes of nine (3x3). Every row, every column, and every box has to have 1 - 9 with no repeats on any. There is only one correct way that the puzzles can be solved.

Shikaku is a Nikoli original puzzle and is also known as Boxes. You have a grid with numbers on it. Each of those numbers tells you that that square is a part of a square or rectangle that has that many squares in it. It has to be a square or rectangle shape. L shapes or anything else that would have more than four corners is not a valid configuration. Once again, there is only one right solution and it can be deduced logically, which I like.

Akari is also known as Light Up. Once again, you have a grid with numbers on it. This time though, those numbers tell you how many lights will be placed next to that square. A light will shine down the row and column until it hits a solid box. No light can shine on another light, so you have to make sure that they don't overlap. The numbers show how many light bulbs have to be beside there, but there can be extra light bulbs not next to a number to fill in the gaps left, so start with the numbers and fill in as needed. Sometimes, you'll find that you have to move around the ones near the numbers to be able to fill in the gaps correctly.

Last but definitely not least is Hashi, otherwise known as Bridges. I think that it is my favorite of the puzzles. You have a grid with numbers on it, but this time the numbers tell how many bridges connect to that square. You must have that many, but not any more than that. When you have connected all that you need, it will grey out the square so that you know it is finished off. As with the rest, there is only one right answer, so you'll have to figure out tricks on how to get there.

All of the puzzles have the first five of each difficulty unlocked. This means that you will not have to play through the easier difficulty levels if all you want are the harder ones. You have to beat three of the first five to unlock the next five. You will have to beat three of the five that you just unlocked to get the next set open. Completing two of the previous set and one of the new ones is not enough. There should be enough puzzles total to keep you busy for hours and hours. I'm well over 10+ hours in and have barely unlocked some categories!


Difficulty:

Nikoli's Pencil Puzzle provides a variety of difficulty levels, plenty for both the novice and the veteran and everyone in between. There are four difficulty levels for each puzzle: Intro, Easy, Normal, and Hard. There are a different number of puzzles in each type but there are always at least 10 of every difficulty level. When you complete a puzzle, if you do it fast enough, you can earn a gold, silver, or green crown. If you get a gold crown, you will also earn a hint. Silver and green crowns don't earn you anything. If you don't do it fast enough to get a crown, the puzzle will just show as completed. Hints can be used on any type of puzzle. Once you have solved it with gold and get the hint for that puzzle, you won't get another hint even if you beat your best time. This means that there are a finite amount of hints available, so be careful about wasting them! The countdown timer is when you get to the next crown level, so don't be worried that you are going to run out of time. You can't run out of time, so take as long as you need.

Game Mechanics:

Everything in Nikoli's Pencil Puzzle is touchscreen driven. For Sudoku, you simply tap the box and then tap the number you want to put there. You can split a square into 4 so that you can place possible numbers as well. If you tap on the grid in the lower right corner, it will highlight the row, column, and box that you are on. You can highlight all of a specific number by simply double tapping a square with that number in it anywhere on the grid. This is really quite handy as it makes it so much easier for you to see where all of that number currently are located. For Shikaku, you tap the screen and drag the area that you want to cover. If you tap the check box, it will flash any square that you don't have the correct number in. For Akari, you just tap the square where you want a light bulb. You can also change the marker to be a dot to remind yourself where one can't go. For Hashi, you tap the number to start on and drag to the one you want to connect to. If you tap the check box on the right side, it will show you where you have a section of puzzle not connected to the rest.

After you've solved the puzzle, it changes that puzzle number to be the crown you earned (or just colored in if you didn't earn one). This way, you can tell at a glance which puzzles you have completed and whether you need to play them again to earn the hints or not. In all puzzles, the top screen can have either the countdown timer or a full overview of the puzzle. Just blow on the mic to switch between them.

I love puzzle games and Nikoli's Pencil Puzzles is no exception. It is perfect for carrying around and much easier than puzzle books and there are more than enough puzzles to keep me occupied for a long time. I just wish that it had Kakuro as that is my favorite puzzle, but hopefully that will be in the next release. If you're a fan of puzzle games, go pick up Nikoli's Pencil Puzzle today! You won't be disappointed.


-Cyn, GameVortex Communications
AKA Sara Earl

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