Puzzle games are ten-a-penny these days and usually take the form of a clone of an existing puzzle game – most notably Bejeweled – so it's nice to see new ideas sprouting forth from developers such as those found in Sumico for the 3DS. Does its shiny new gameplay offer something fresh and enjoyable, or is it puzzle pitfall?
The basic premise of Sumico is to connect adjacent tiles so that their pattern will result in a single tile; this is decided by combining tiles with numbers and mathematical symbols on them. Once you've used up a tile it will disappear and you won't be able to get your hands on any more tiles to fill in the gaps until you've managed to make a tile of the same value as the target figure. The longer your calculation the more points you receive, so whilst it may be easier to have '2+3' to make 5, it would be more profitable to have '2+3-1+4+2-5'. There is also an option that causes all of your sums to follow the standard order of operations, if you want to really ramp up the difficulty. Sumico eases you into the gameplay very gently and you won't be seeing any tiles that cause your sum to multiply or divide until much later into the campaign, so even if you're not as hot at maths as you used to be you can still progress at a healthy rate.
The campaign takes you through 82 different levels that require you to fulfil a number of target figures in order to progress and rack up as high a score as you can. Depending on how high your score is, you can earn up to three stars per level which are necessary in progressing to more difficult levels, but you won't need to play every level perfectly in order to achieve this. The learning curve is appropriately gradual and doesn't force any new tiles on you before you've mastered the old ones. The campaign in the whole isn't too taxing an experience, but there is an alternative if you truly want your mathematical mettle tested.
The endless mode allows for some excruciating difficulty if you allow it, but thanks to the wide number of options available it can also be a relaxing, gentle experience for those less confident or skilled. The gameplay is essentially the same, only as the name suggests it does not have an end. This is where you'll likely be spending a lot of your time once you're sufficiently familiar with the game, and you'll be there for a long time. Due to the no-pressure nature of the gameplay, if you're clever enough you can be playing this mode for longer than you might imagine, and if you don't want to be challenged too much you can always limit the type of tiles that will appear. The presentation, meanwhile, is very calm and relatively pretty, but the functional aspects of the game are far more important.
Sumico's strengths lie solely in its unique gameplay, which takes a heavily ingrained element from the public's education and reintroduces them to it. You can make it as easy or as difficult as you like, which is a necessity in a game such as this, and despite the somewhat complex nature of some of the sums you'll have to do it's an amazingly therapeutic experience.
Sumico is a gem of a puzzler for the 3DS. Its options to increase or decrease the difficulty of the mathematical gameplay allows for those of any caliber to enjoy what it has to offer, and despite there only being two modes the gameplay is so satisfying it doesn't really need any more. This is a must-have title for any fan of puzzle games, and given its bargain basement pricing you'd be mad not to get it even if you're not.