It's very rare for Nintendo to be beaten to the punch by other developers, but some of their recent DS releases certainly seem to be playing catch-up to the wealth of third-party support on the machine. Style Boutique (known as Style Savvy in the US) resembles any number of other titles, and now with Nintendo Presents: Crossword Collection they've got another product entering into a crowded market. Does it bring enough word power to the table, or is it lacking that certain something?
Holding the DS on its side throughout, you're presented with a choice of crosswords, wordsearches and anagrams, each with variable difficulties to select. If you're unfamiliar with any of these games, you can choose to read the very useful tutorials available from the title screen, although there can't be many people who don't know how a wordsearch works. From the start, the game's graphical presentation is clear and clean, with simple menus and rounded buttons giving it a decent, if rather character-less, appearance. The music is similarly inoffensive, plinking away on the menu screens yet completely absent from the puzzles themselves, leaving only rudimentary sound effects to accompany your linguistic noodling.
Having selected your puzzle game, you then select one of the initial difficulties, with extra difficulties and stages unlocked through play. For crosswords, Easy puzzles tend to be small grids with shorter words, building up to the Hard mode puzzles which frequently feature more obscure ten or eleven letter words, with Medium difficulty predictably nestling somewhere in-between. All puzzles in Easy mode feature letter entry assist, indicating with a sound effect and red ink if you've entered the wrong letter, meaning you should blast through these grids in no time. The entry assist feature can be activated in the other initial difficulties too, though their size and relative obscurity of the words makes succeeding through pure trial-and-error much harder here.
The handwriting support is as close to perfect as any seen on DS, recognising upper and lower case letters quickly and easily, meaning you never feel frustrated if it doesn't understand your handwriting. There's a wide range of different styles of handwriting here at Nintendo Life — straight, curly, messy [thank goodness for typing! - Ed] — and it showed the same accuracy for each. Once you've entered a letter, the grid automatically scrolls to the next box, removing the need to scroll manually (though this option is there if you want to check out the grid). There's a slight delay between finishing your letter entry and the game calculating which letter you wrote, and even though crosswords are hardly high-paced games it's still an irritating pause. There's a second annoying feature that becomes evident when switching between across and down clues. Let's say you write the last letter of an across clue and want to start writing the answer for down, so you use the button in the bottom-right to switch from across to down. If the game hasn't decided which letter you just wrote, it's erased and you have to write it again; if it has settled on a letter, it doesn't automatically scroll you down to the next letter, breaking up some of the fluidity it otherwise does well to create. These are minor quibbles really, but with the handwriting support being so accurate and the entry otherwise remarkably intuitive it's still irritating to see small problems such as this appear.
If you get really stuck in your crossword, you have a small number of hint points available which you may use at your own discretion. A second clue costs one point, revealing a letter costs three points and getting the whole word filled in requires five handsome hint points. Using a hint also gives you a sizeable time penalty, affecting your overall grade if you use it. If you get really stuck, you can always save the game and return to it later, though you can only save one crossword at a time, meaning you'll have to move onto a wordsearch or anagram if you want to continue playing.
If you're not into crosswords (in which case you're unlikely to buy this game, but still) you can also play wordsearches and anagrams, both of which play as you'd expect, really. Wordsearches come in a range of sizes and topics, with the word list displayed down the left and the grid on the right, with selecting words a simple matter of dragging a yellow line over them. Pleasingly you can drag the line up, down, left or right to capture a word, with no need to drag from right to left if the word is backwards, for example. It's intuitive and enjoyable right from the off, but later grids become problematic as the game doesn't zoom out to show the whole grid or word list, requiring you to scroll with the D-Pad to see everything. Although this keeps the same font resolution, making it easier to read the letters and words, it does make it more difficult to find the bigger words without scrolling around a bit. It's hardly a big problem - it is a word_search_, after all - but the option to zoom in and out would have been welcome.
Lastly there's the anagrams mode, which presents you with a selection of letters and challenges you to create words with them within the allotted time. Starting off simply with three and four letter words, it naturally moves to more difficult challenges as more letters get thrown into the mix. Rather than using handwriting support, you simply drag the tiles into slots to create words, with options to align and shuffle the tiles in case you get stuck or need inspiration. As only certain pre-determined words are available there are inevitably times when you'll come up with a word the game doesn't recognize — in our playtest it failed to award points for "ale" and "lea", both of which are in the Oxford English Dictionary. Completing the anagram mode requires spelling out all the words the game recognises, so although it's helpful in a way for it to neglect more obscure words it's still frustrating for wordsmiths to see good words ignored.
With thousands of puzzles, a range of difficulty levels and intuitive controls, Crossword Collection is a good choice for anyone wanting a budget range of wordy puzzles to last. It's not without its problems, but it's a good way to while away a quiet evening and doesn't try to throw any pseudo-educational elements on you. It does what it says on the tin, and is something English enthusiasts and vocabulary veterans should snap up.