Review: Puzzler World 2012 3D (3DS)

Puzzles, puzzles everywhere

Puzzler is a big name in the world of pencil-and-paper puzzle compendiums, and Ideas Pad has been bringing the license to the digital age since 2008. Puzzler World 2012 3D is the first 3DS title following a long line of DS games, including the recently reviewed DSiWare release Puzzler World XL. While there haven't been many changes to the formula in the transition to Nintendo's newest handheld, the format works just as well here as it did before, and classic puzzle fans will be delighted with the result.

As ever, a certain professor would give a gentlemanly gasp at the sheer number of puzzles included in this collection. The box advertises 1,200, but factoring in bonus puzzles unlocked one by one as you complete the initial 560 puzzles in Challenge Mode, and the seriously tough collection of puzzles in Master Mode, brings the total closer to 1,600 iterations of 25 types of brain-teasers. It's an almost unfathomable amount of content, and will certainly keep you entertained for as long as you'd like to be.

Like previous Puzzler titles, there's a huge variety in the puzzle types on offer, though they all fall within three major categories: word puzzles, number puzzles, and picture puzzles. For letter-heads, old friends like crosswords and word searches are here in spades. There are also several crossword variants, where the clues range from related words (Missing Links) and anagrams (Mix Up) to numeric code (Codeword). The best variations on the theme are Fitword, where you snap fully-formed words into place, and Spiral Crossword, a loop of letters where each word's end is the next's beginning. Wordsearch fans will love Pathfinder, where players start from one letter and try to spell words from a list in a continuous path through the entire grid, and anagram fiends are catered for with Chain Letters and Splitwords. Hangman makes an obligatory appearance, and Drop Words rounds out the verbal side of this Puzzler package with an intriguing combination of word formation and the falling-blocks concept from puzzle games like Panel De Pon; it's quite tough, but incredibly satisfying.

Number crunchers will find plenty to keep them occupied as well, with sudoku and its similar but rather more difficult relative Suko leading the lineup. A new addition to the series is Takegaki, which plays a bit like a cross between minesweeper and connect-the-dots: you need to create a specific unbroken loop inside a grid, with numbered squares indicating how many sides they're surrounded on. It's harder to jump into than most puzzles in the collection, but logically inclined gamers will definitely enjoy the challenge. Add-Up and Sum-Up are straightforward maths, while Sum People substitutes different faces for numbers in a series of equations and tasks players with finding the number value of each visage.

Of the picture puzzles included, the sublime Link-a-Pix is a particular highlight. In these puzzles you'll piece together pixel-art paintings by connecting like-coloured numbers in a grid — connecting two blue 7's with a line of seven pixels, for instance. It's not as straightforward as it sounds, and it's easily one of the most compelling puzzles in the package. More traditional picture puzzles include Colour In (where you need to colour in a segmented scene so that no adjacent areas share the same shade), Pairs (the classic card-matching game), Missing Piece, and, of course, Jigsaws. Unfortunately, two further puzzle types didn't quite survive the transition from pencil-and-paper. Silhouette is a digital version of "colour in the marked sections to reveal a picture", which seems almost entirely pointless as it's reduced here to "tap these dots to reveal a picture". Similarly, Spot the Difference is a well-intentioned remake of the newsstand standby, but its implementation (tapping a spot with a difference will "check it off") means that you can solve any puzzle in a matter of seconds simply by tapping randomly around the picture.

Apart from the odd dud, the individual puzzles are great. They're well designed and almost universally entertaining. The sheer variety keeps things from getting stale, and the open-ended approach to progression means you won't ever get stuck because of any one puzzle. All 560 Challenge Mode puzzles are unlocked right off the bat, and the reward for successfully finishing one is always bonus and Master Mode puzzles of the same type, so it's perfectly feasible to play nothing but picture puzzles and still unlock tons of (similar) content. The puzzles ramp up slowly in difficulty, though the Master Mode is a huge leap over the normal Challenge Mode — which will be great news for puzzle-solving savants.

For the less self-assured, hint coins give you context-appropriate clues and help you finish the more difficult brain-teasers. These coins are earned through a post-puzzle pachinko mini-game that's surprisingly fun once you get the hang of it, though the sparkly-beyond-all-reason Prize Wheel from earlier Puzzler titles is sadly missed.

One problem with this otherwise solid collection is that the handwriting recognition is unnecessarily slow. It's not necessarily an issue with the recognition itself (which is finicky but can be trained for each player — a nice touch), but rather the animations around it. They're slow to catch up with the interface, meaning you can easily move on too quickly while filling out squares and have your input end up in the wrong box. In crosswords and similar puzzles requiring handwritten input, the animated sequence of each letter flying to its intended square adds a second or so delay per character, and it really adds up when you're just trying to spell out "sobriquet" and get on to the next word.

In terms of presentation, Puzzler World 2012 3D easily outclasses its magazine counterparts, but can best be described as "functional" relative to the 3DS' library and capabilities. The 3D effect is superfluous, only adding a bit of depth between the puzzles and the innocuous backgrounds behind them, rather than enhancing the puzzles themselves. That's fine; the game's attempting to recreate a pencil-and-paper experience, after all, and the puzzles are enough fun on their own. Still, the fact that the graphics are nearly indistinguishable from the DSiWare release Puzzle World XL, aside from resolution, is a tad disappointing.

Puzzler World 2012 3D fares much better than previous games in the audio department, however. Whereas earlier releases had every puzzle played in complete, eerie silence, here the developers have reached a nice compromise. Puzzles with time limits finally feature background music, while un-timed puzzles remain resolutely mute. On reflection it makes sense - some of the more difficult crosswords and Takgeaki puzzles can go on for well on half an hour, depending on your skill, so a looping track would start to grate pretty quickly. But we like music here at Nintendo Life, and including it in at least the shorter puzzles was definitely a good decision.

Like earlier outings, this Puzzler has three separate user profiles, each keeping track of their own options, stats, and achievements, with 100 trophies to be earned by fulfilling certain conditions (including 100%'ing the game - good luck!). Each user can also save one puzzle to come back to later, which is a welcome feature in a portable puzzler. Unfortunately, while this feature set felt like quite a package in the 500 point DSiWare version of Puzzler, as a retail 3DS release it ends up feeling a bit lacking. There's no StreetPass, online leaderboards, or multiplayer, and with a whole cartridge to work with, it seems like players could at the very least save more than one puzzle-in-progress. Still, this is a budget title, and you're certainly getting your money's worth in terms of pure puzzles.

Conclusion

Planning a trip on the Trans-Siberian? Phileas Fogging it across America? Just looking to fill some lazy afternoons? For anyone who might've picked up a book of puzzles as a companion for any of the above, Puzzler World 2012 3D is your game. It's chock full of classic content, and the variety of puzzle types will keep it feeling fresh for a long time. Casual dabblers would be better served by the lower price point and downloadable convenience of Puzzler World XL on DSiWare, but Puzzler World 2012 3D is still a great little package in its own right, and well worth picking up for paper-and-pencil puzzle fans.