Review: Hitori by Nikoli (3DS eShop)

Brainy cells

Connoisseurs of the eShop should be well acquainted with Japanese puzzle maker Nikoli: Hamster has trickled out an assortment of its brand of logic puzzles for months now, with varying success. Hitori by Nikoli offers a clever inversion on typical puzzle design, a Jeopardy!-style twist to its approach by handing over a grid of answers and tasking players with creating structure.

Instead of filling in the blanks, players lay the boundaries to clean up the place. Each of the 50 puzzles at first appear as if a Sudoku grid has gone horribly awry, with assorted numbers slapped all over the place: duplicates, same-number clusters, it's numeric pandemonium in there. As most of these puzzle titles seem to go, the rules are simple: no number may appear more than once in a row or column, "painted" black cells cannot sit adjacent to each other and the "unpainted" cells must connect into a single big, happy group. And too as most of these seem to go, getting there can be a real brain-melting experience.

The tutorial does a fine job of walking newcomers through how to solve a puzzle, equipping brains with tips and shortcuts to feel less overwhelmed once the training wheels are kicked off. A gentle difficulty progression ensures that you're never too in over your head, and watching a puzzle unfold fires those same synapses that can make Picross such a delight — especially for the visually minded, as the emphasis on altering cell colour assists the progression in feeling natural.

Unsurprisingly, Hamster hasn't changed up the feature set or interface for Hitori, so there is still no hint system to get bailed out of a brain-dead moment and no way to "pencil in" a cell as a "maybe" — which is especially dangerous for the larger, more complicated grids. And as the grids get larger the cells can appear incredibly small on the touchscreen, which the top-screen magnifying lens is absolutely no help in alleviating as it zooms in far too close to be of any reasonable use. Thankfully, the "check" option can help decipher otherwise dense puzzles, but difficulty understanding the grid is a problem that should have been more adequately addressed in the early stages of development.

Conclusion

Hitori by Nikoli hits up against some interface nonsense, but otherwise offers an enjoyable twist on traditional puzzles and scratches much of the same itch as a Picross game, making it worth considering for an extended brain workout.