Review: Puzzler World XL (DSiWare)

My God, it's full of puzzles

Based on a popular brand of pencil-and-paper puzzle collections, Puzzler World XL is the latest release from developer Ideas Pad. It doesn't stray far from its digital cousins or its analogue ancestors, but fans of classic puzzles will find an excellent companion in this expansive, well-rounded package.

First and foremost, the amount of content on offer in Puzzler World XL is astounding. There are 560 puzzles available from the start in Challenge Mode, and completing each one unlocks an additional bonus puzzle of a different type. Then there's the Master Mode, with its own massive collection of more complicated puzzles, unlocked as you progress through the Challenge Mode. And finally, nearly 600 extra wordsearches await in the XL Bonus section. Altogether there are more than 1,800 individual puzzles. If you beat each one in a minute, that would be 30 hours of play. Basically, for as long as you're interested in these puzzles, there will be puzzles for you to play.

Puzzles are split into three broad categories: word puzzles, number puzzles and picture puzzles. Wordsmiths get the biggest crop: the usual suspects like crosswords and word searches are included, as are more inventive variants on the humble crossword, like Fitword, Backwords, and the rather excellent Piecewords, where players rearrange 3x3 blocks of a larger, completed crossword puzzle to make the words match up. Anagram fans will enjoy Chain Letters and Splitwords, and the old standby Hangman makes a disturbingly / adorably-animated appearance as well.

Maths mavens will appreciate the sudoku puzzles, as well as the Add Up and Sum Up puzzles, though the last two are basically just timed equation solving. The picture puzzles run the gamut from the mind-numbingly easy Silhouette ("tap to paint the areas with dots") to the downright wonderful Link-a-Pix, a unique connect-the-dots puzzle with an added numbers twist and pixel-art stylings. Rounding out the visual puzzle lineup are Perfect Pairs (image matching), Picture Quiz (detail recall), Hide & Seek (finding detailed areas in a larger picture), Colour In (where no adjacent areas can be painted the same colour) and good old-fashioned jigsaws.

The individual puzzles are very well done for the most part, and will definitely satisfy fans of these types of brain teasers. There's a nice difficulty curve and playing the puzzles in order gives a nice variety, so you won't get sick of sudoku after the first 10 puzzles. We also appreciated that the 560 Challenge mode puzzles can be played in any order and tend to unlock bonus puzzles of the same type — if you dislike maths or wordsearches, you won't have to play through them to get to more crosswords, for instance.

A hint token system is also included to help you when you get stuck, and what a "hint" constitutes is puzzle-specific, so they really are quite helpful. You start out with a handful of tokens and earn more as you beat puzzles and get to spin the thrillingly sparkly "Prize Wheel" to determine how many you'll receive.

There are a few small missteps that keep this from being a trouble-free puzzle paradise. First, the operation signs in the maths-based puzzles spin inexplicably as they wait to be chosen, making them unnecessarily difficult to make out. A spinning addition sign looks astoundingly similar to a spinning division sign and a spinning multiplication sign, and it can be frustrating to hit the wrong one when you're trying to beat the clock.

And while upbeat menu music hints at a pleasant, if generic, audio experience ahead, it's a promise unfulfilled. Each and every one of the game's 1,800 puzzles are played in chilly silence. It's certainly a missed opportunity, though to be fair it's certainly true to the game's source material of equally silent pen-and-paper puzzles.

Then there's the fact that the puzzle types which require direct alphanumeric input — like crosswords and sudoku — rely on somewhat sluggish handwriting recognition. It's not entirely this game's fault; entering a '2' into an on-screen box and watching it fly into the correct space on a puzzle will always be slower than simply putting pen to paper. But the smoothness of puzzles that don't rely on handwritten input makes the speed drop more obvious, and the recognition can be finicky at times. The developer did include a handwriting trainer that helps the game get used to your more idiosyncratic letter-writing habits, and this alleviates the problem somewhat, but crosswords still feel a tad cumbersome.

Still, these problems are mostly minor, and are countered by some thoughtful inclusions that make Puzzler World XL a surprisingly well-rounded package. There are three save files, each with their own small space to sign your name or draw anything you'd like to claim ownership. Within each save file, players can choose from left- or right-handed controls; a welcome option for this book-view title. Each player can also save their progress on any one puzzle to come back to later, even after the system's been turned off. This is a great addition that goes a long way to making the game every bit as portable as the paper originals. Finally, an excellent in-game instruction manual explains how to play each and every puzzle type, so newbies should have no trouble jumping right in.

As an added bonus, there are over 80 trophies to unlock as you progress through the game, awarded for completing certain percentages of different types of puzzles. The collection even boasts what is perhaps the first DSiWare equivalent of a "Platinum' trophy, though it may as well be theoretical — it would take an incredibly dedicated player to pull off 100% completion in this game.

It's worth noting that, judging from screenshots, this release appears very similar to the previous DS retail release Puzzler World 2011. If you picked that game up, this version should give you 592 extra wordsearches but nothing else new; but if you were prevented from playing that game's US release by its game-breaking bugs, you'll be pleased to hear that we didn't encounter any problems while testing this version.

Conclusion

Like the magazine compendiums of puzzles it's based on, Puzzler World XL makes a perfect companion for long train trips, a daily commute, or rainy afternoons. The fact that it's a 500 point DSiWare release makes this doubly true; it's both affordable and lives on your system at all times. It doesn't try to innovate, and the presentation is lacking in some areas, but that's fine — Puzzler World XL is a solid package of puzzle classics, and incredible value for players who enjoy even half of the included puzzle types.

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