If someone had told you a few years ago that a videogame which trained your brain through a series of puzzles and mini games would be one of the biggest sellers on the DS, well, you probably wouldn’t have believed a word of it. However, fast-forward a couple of years and the Brain Training series has done exactly that. Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training is one of the biggest sellers on the DS, with quite possible the largest ranging audience: young children, senior citizens, hardcore games, and total newbies – everyone’s on the bandwagon. Following in the wake of Brain Training’s success are number of games that have tried, and in many cases failed, to emulate the Dr’s success – Challenge Me: Brain Puzzles is the latest one trying to take the market by storm.
When you first look at Challenge Me: Brain Puzzles it looks like another Dr Kawashima clone – it even has the little face on the front that would appear to resemble a professor – but it's actually quite a focused and specific package. It features two of the more popular varieties of puzzle games, Sudoku and Nonogram (Picture Logic), and while these may not seem a lot to fill a game, if puzzles are your thing, there are plenty of individual challenges present – although not much variety.
Sudoku really needs no introduction. In the last few years this Japanese equivalent of the crossword has taken the world by storm: appearing in newspapers, puzzle magazine, and a series of electronic handhelds (including the DS, several times). But, for those that have not picked up a paper of puzzle book anytime recently, we’ll explain it for you: Played on a 9x9 grid split into nine 3x3 grids, Sudoku is a numbers game where players must input the individual digits 1-9 into the boxes within each 3x3 grid, while also ensuring that they only appear once across each horizontal and vertical column. Simple, yet incredibly addictive.
There's very little that can go wrong when developing a Sudoku title, and fortunately, Oxygen has avoided control scheme issues by not including the often unreliable handwritten input method, opting instead to let you choose the square and then select the appropriate number to insert using the touch screen. There are 500 Sudoku puzzles to master, which can be tackled progressively in the 'Challenge Me' mode and against the clock in 'Free Play' – beating your times in 'Free Play' mode being the more enjoyable of the two. The game also includes the handy ability to write four potential answers in the corners of each box, which makes experimenting with answers a little easier, but can be confusing if done too often.
The Nonogram (picture logic) puzzles aren’t as well known by name, but have previous fame in Nintendo titles such as Picross and Mario Picross (DS and SNES, respectively). The Nonogram games are simple puzzles, where a picture is formed when you figure out, by matching up the numbers from both above and the side of the grid, which squares need to be coloured in. After a few one-colour teasers the picture puzzles begin to incorporate multiple colours that make things particularly tricky – especially when you tackle the puzzles around the 500 mark!
What with Sudoku puzzles being a dime a dozen everywhere, picture logic feels like more of a novelty and, because of this, is the most enjoyable of the two games on offer. There are very few technical issues with the puzzles: the most obvious we found was that often the pictures don't resemble their subject matter; also, when played in 'Challenge Me' mode (where your progress is tracked in a chart) you may lose points for accuracy due to the occasional stylus slip or slide – quite hard to avoid when colouring in parts of the small grid.
While the two puzzle types are kept simple and do very little wrong in terms of gameplay – in fact, many parts of the game are done better than most – the game is let down by poor presentation and dull graphics. Visually, there's only so much you can do with these types of games, but even when colours are added to the picture logic puzzles it still seems a bit drab. In addition to the boring visuals, there is little explanation on how to play the games for newcomers to learn from. The help screen aids you a little by breaking down the play area, but a step-by-step tutorial with an example of a puzzle being completed would have been a lot more helpful. These spots of polish were ultimately what Challenge Me needed to stand out amongst the crowd.
All of the drawbacks simply point to the fact that this is a game designed for fans of these particular types of puzzles – newcomers are welcome, but not expected. If you find puzzles your cup of tea, then replay value is present here in bucket loads, as, by the time you’ve worked through all the puzzles, you’ll have forgotten the answers to the ones you started on.
Challenge Me: Brain Puzzles has accomplished exactly what it set out to do: it’s a vast compilation of Sudoku and Picture Logic puzzles, with easy gameplay for those who know how these puzzles work. It can be picked up and played in short bursts that provide the brain with a decent daily workout, but it lacks both the variety and presentation of Brain Training series – two tried and tested games, no matter how deeply explored, will never match Nintendo's franchise.
All in all, for cheap, no-frills fun, this is a worthy title. Just don't expect the challenge to be bigger than Brain Training.