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EJ Puzzles: Hooked (DSiWare)

Game Review

EJ Puzzles: Hooked Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Philip J Reed

Crab your enthusiasm

When last we heard from Electron Jump games...erm...uhhh...well, you know where we're going with this. Suffice it to say we weren't quite thrilled about wading through such questionable waters a second time.

But a strange and unexpected thing happened with their most recent release, EJ Puzzles: Hooked. It turned out to be a very, very good game.

Now, that's not to say that it doesn't have its share of flaws, because it does. And it's not to say that it's easy to overlook those flaws, because that's not always true. But at its core, if you're willing to work to overcome some questionable design and control choices, you'll find one of the most enjoyably clever puzzlers on the service.

At first, the game seems like a simple fish-skinned version of Minesweeper. No, wait. That's not exactly right. At first the game seems like a disorganized mess, and that's the first hurdle when it comes to really enjoying this game. (Or the second, if you count the title. Which you certainly may.)

If you are used to games that are willing to teach you how to play them, you'll end up thoroughly confused by EJ Puzzles: Hooked, which tosses you into the deep end (tee-hee) and assumes you won't want any guidance at all. This wouldn't be a problem if A) the goal was clear, B) the controls were intuitive, or C) the instruction manual was helpful. Unfortunately none of these are the case, and we spent a good long time tapping the screen and pressing every button, wondering why nothing at all was happening.

The learning curve here is steep, for all three reasons mentioned above. If ever a puzzle game needed a tutorial, this is it. Anybody who prefers to learn by trial and error will find this game relentlessly stubborn, as the bizarre decision was made that different directions on the D-Pad must be held down while you are tapping the screen, in order for different things to happen. It doesn't sound so bad on paper, but when the DSi has so many buttons it just seems inefficient...not to mention the fact that it's difficult to keep straight what effect each direction triggers, and that triggering the wrong one can end a game immediately.

The option to change the controls would have been a helpful one, but as far as EJ Puzzles: Hooked is concerned, you play by its rules. It does not play by yours. And if you have the resolve to stick by the game and figure it out (the instruction manual seeming almost unhelpful by design), you'll find a truly excellent little puzzler hidden beneath all the muddle.

And once you find that puzzler...well...you won't look back. You won't have time, because you'll be busy playing it. And getting better at it. And developing strategies that balance care with quickness. And getting comfortable with the game's difficulty level just in time for it to be ratcheted up again...and again...and again...

The comparison to Minesweeper is a valid one, and it's probably an understatement to say that EJ Puzzles: Hooked was inspired by it. It essentially reappropriates the game wholesale, making its own tweaks and additions as necessary. And they're effective. Minesweeper is certainly a solid foundation, and the new features it's adorned with here do manage to provide it with a unique identity.

Tapping the screen does nothing on its own (until later, larger levels, where you can slide the map around with the stylus), but holding Up and tapping will uncover a square. You may reveal a fish, you may reveal a number, or you may reveal nothing. If you reveal a number, this will help you to figure out how many fish are in adjacent spaces, but be warned: this is not the number of adjacent fish, but rather the combined weight of all adjacent fish. For example, if you uncover a 4, this may well mean that the space is surrounded by four fish with a weight rating of 1 each, but it may also mean that it's surrounded by two fish with a weight rating of 2 each...or surrounded by two fish with a weight rating of 1 each and a third with with a weight rating of 2, and so on.

Why does weight matter? Because you are attempting to catch these fish, and when a level begins, your rod can only handle the smallest fish with a weight of 1. Catch a fish larger than that, and you can break the rod and fail the level. The more of them you catch, however, the more your rod will upgrade, and before long you can start reeling in the fish with weights of 2, 3, 4, and so on. This means that your goal isn't to avoid the fish...but rather to catch them all, starting small and then fishing for incrementally larger ones.

If you wish to mark a spot that you know contains a fish too large for you to catch at the moment, pressing Right and tapping the screen will open a submenu, allowing you to flag the space as containing whatever weight fish you think it is. And if you really want a leg up on the blind guessing that's bound to be your only recourse at times, pressing Left and tapping with open a small sonar screen...the accuracy and longevity of which you can increase by collecting enough gold.

Yes, by completing levels and meeting certain time-based goals, you will earn gold, which you can then trade in at the shop for stronger rods, better sonar equipment, more levels, different themes, and more. It's an unexpected addition to the formula that serves it quite well; if you're bad at the game, you can invest in tools to make it more forgiving. If you're good, you can invest in opening up more challenging areas for play.

Once you become comfortable with the game, you'll find a pretty involving on-the-go experience that's worth coming back to. The levels are randomly generated (within the boundaries of certain pre-determined difficulty levels) and the time goals encourage replay more than we might have expected. The only real problem with the game comes with learning to play it. An optional tutorial would have gone a long way, or at least some clearer instructions. Likewise, alternate control schemes would have been welcome, as there's nothing worse than spending several minutes on a particularly difficult level only to find yourself failing because you uncovered a square rather than flagged it.

The "Minesweeper Plus" approach to this game certainly will not appeal to everyone, and it's unlikely to win anyone over who is not already a fan of the genre. On top of that, the poorly-judged, frustrating first few minutes of trying to learn the game are going to turn off even more potential players.

But stick with it, and you'll be richly rewarded with an excellent, resilient puzzler that's both difficult to master, and difficult to put down.

Conclusion

A cumbersome name, confusing instructions and unintuitive controls all conspire to hide this genuine gem of a puzzler. EJ Puzzles: Hooked may require a pretty large investment of brainpower to figure out, but once it finally "clicks" for the player, it offers effectively endless variations on a truly addictive and clever formula. Any gamer looking to have smart, dynamic puzzles at his or her side during long trips or sleepless nights will get a lot out of this surprisingly rewarding title.

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User Comments (28)

RaylaxStaff

#3

Raylax said:

CB got a good game to review? :O

Reality is going to crumble around us.

DazzaAdmin

#6

Dazza said:

Hey I can't help it if devs start making good games. I promise some turds will come along soon. Fireplacing: The Revenge! :-p

GreenAbobo

#7

GreenAbobo said:

I thought I had wrapped my head around this game, but now I'm seeing what appear to be some critical design flaws. There should have been a penalty for clearing a single empty space, because as it is there's no real incentive to think about the numbers beyond "ok, my rod is lvl 2, so any square with a 2 is safe to search the ajacent sectors. It seems you're better off just setting your mind on cruise control, than using logic to locate the fish. It's a shame, because this really could have been an enjoyable game if they had only added that element of risk.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#8

Philip_J_Reed said:

Actually I don't see a benefit at all to a penalty for clearing an empty space...unless I'm misinterpreting what you're saying. I can't imagine any Minesweeper-type game being more fun for adding a penalty for opening up vacant spaces!

The fact that you can open up any squares around a number within your rod's threshhold is interesting, I think. You're often limited in later levels by walls of numbers you can't handle...and you're forced to find some other foothold in the level, upgrading your rod, to come back to them later.

The element of "risk" as you put it is there, it's just that certain spaces are safe, or become safe later. If the game didn't have spaces that were obviously safe, then every tap would be a crapshoot, and at that point it's not strategy...it's just gambling.

Personally I enjoy greatly this feeling of gradually-increasing freedom when solving the puzzles, but certainly that will not appeal to everybody.

GreenAbobo

#10

GreenAbobo said:

I'll keep at it, but I've made it up to the 5th stage in the 4th set of levels and all I'm experiencing is tedium now that I know the cruise control method of winning. If I play pretending I need to compare the numbers on nearby squares to locate the fish, like you do on minesweeper, I have a much more enjoyable experience then the rules that are in place.

WaLzgiStaff

#11

WaLzgi said:

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Boring, I was hoping for a good review of a bad game. For shame CB! :D

slidecage

#12

slidecage said:

yea i will go back to it time and time again... was expecting something like steller sweeper on pogo its one of these games where you play it for 30 mins to an hour toss it on your backup card and come back to it every other day... would drive me crazy trying to play the entire game in one day.... I think they would of found more people willing to buy at 200 then 500 though... nintendo needs to start putting out more 200 pt games :)

Rob_mc_1

#15

Rob_mc_1 said:

Wow. I don't know what to say. I guess I'll have to try this one at some point.

MeloMan

#16

MeloMan said:

LOL @ the title of this article. Have we grown to expect certain reviewers to give bad scores and others high scores? Hm.. something to ponder I guess. But uh, I do have to ask... Corbie, James: gonna hand out some bad scores one day? Dazza's stealing your "good" scores, so you gotta return the favor :P

SiraRaven

#18

SiraRaven said:

Wow, this looks really interesting! Before I buy it, though, I need to make sure - can the x/y/a/b buttons be used instead of the D-pad for left-handed players?

slidecage

#19

slidecage said:

yea you can use the buttons but you will still need to hold the pen thing in your hand since its mostly all touch screen controlls...

i think A opens up move mode, y is scan mode B is catch mode so you can use the buttons...

is there any reason just not to click on any spot once you start buying upgrades and your line can not snap... when i first got this game i was like ... man this game sucks its nothing what i thought it would be like... then playing it for an hour it just smacks me in the face and i go.. o that is how you play it and now i understand how to play it and sort of love it :)

also not that far BUT i think there are 200 puzzles in this game

10 areas and 20 puzzles in each area (you need to buy a bigger boat to move to the new areas)

jdarrell

#20

jdarrell said:

"Is there any reason just not to click on any spot once you start buying upgrades and your line can not snap..."

For platinum medals you need to beat the gold time with zero errors. Power-ups make you invincible in many of the smaller and earlier levels though.

slidecage

#21

slidecage said:

i wondered that those Siliver stars with the little lines around them were ...i kept thinking why am i not getting gold until i figured out they were platinum.... level 3 is hard even with power ups...

thanks for that info

that little fishermans face makes me laugh everytime i complete a level for some reason :)

ZombieToast

#22

ZombieToast said:

I've got to say that I can't stand the taglines used for these reviews, but I am happy to see that you have at least made reference to an excellent program.

supercommando440

#23

supercommando440 said:

Regardless of how you play (logically or not), is it THAT hard to learn this game? And is this one of those "really fun for first 10-20 levels and then it gets overly complex and too difficult"?

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#24

Philip_J_Reed said:

@23:
It was difficult enough to learn that I felt it was worth mentioning. If you read the comments above you and on the forum, you'll see that it seems to be a universal difficulty...it wasn't just me.

Armed with the explanations in this review and the forum, however, you should be in better shape than if you went in blind. The problem is that you play the game by pressing combinations of buttons, rather than just pressing buttons and seeing what happens. Without guidance, there'll be nothing happening that you can learn from.

I haven't finished every stage yet, but I'm still playing, and I can't see it getting overly complex. The difficulty does increase, but like Minesweeper (and other games like Sudoku) you always have enough information to figure out the solution. It's just a question of how long it takes your mind to figure it out. It's more thought than hassle, if you're into that sort of thing. If not...this may not be the game for you.

@22:
"I've got to say that I can't stand the taglines used for these reviews"
:'(

jdarrell

#25

jdarrell said:

There's 200 levels... and because of the shop where you can level up your stats, you can play or replay them at your own pace. For variety, they could be large or small, or lots of fish or low amount of fish, or hexagonal or square grid pieces. Some of the levels do get huge though, the gold medal time is over an hour for some of them.

I think they're designed to gradually get you more used to using the radar. It starts off almost useless, but eventually you'll be using it to find all the fish of X size one by one.

The game is easy enough that the flag tool is useless until you get to the last 30 levels in my opinion. Fortunately it's easy to skip ahead levels when you want more of a challenge.

Based on one of the videos, I wouldn't be surprised if you unlock a custom level creator at the end of the game.

slidecage

#26

slidecage said:

i wonder what the upgrade for 250,000 gold coins does... says you can travel to any fishing spot...so there might be an 11th level ?

going to take awhile to get those 250,000 gold coins though

shaiy

#27

shaiy said:

I would DEFINETLY have given it a shot at least for 200 pts. But 500 pts. is too much on a gamble I might, and probably wouldn't like it.Too bad though I'll never find out......

yodude

#28

yodude said:

I dont know if I really fully get this game yet, but for some odd reason I seem to come back to it often...I think it is worth the 500 point price tag.

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