Review: Masyu by Nikoli (3DS eShop)

Circle gets the square

The ...by Nikoli series is nothing new to the eShop, but Masyu by Nikoli stands out for being a puzzle of Nikoli's own creation. This means that if you'd like to play it, more than likely this will be your only option on the service. Therefore the question really boils down to whether or not that puzzle is worth seeking out on its own; fortunately, it definitely is. Unfortunately, as with Nikoli's previous releases, the presentation leaves quite a bit to be desired.

The rules of Masyu are simple: the board is laid out as a grid and each square either contains nothing, a white circle, or a black circle. Your goal is to draw a single, unbroken line through each of these circles. Simple, right?

Well, no. Each circle has a precise set of requirements. White circles, for instance, need to have a straight line drawn through them, and that line must turn 90 degrees either immediately before or immediately after it passes through the circle. Black circles, on the other hand, have the opposite requirements: the line must turn 90 degrees upon passing through the circle, but must remain straight immediately before and immediately afterward. Oh, and you can't cross existing lines or connect at more than one point. As you might imagine, it's not difficult to turn a simple grid into a fiendishly strict logic puzzle with rules such as these, and Masyu absolutely comes out swinging.

Each of its 50 premade puzzles are divided into three levels of difficulty, and you unlock more as you go. Nicely, the tiers aren't as separate as you might think, with each one containing a mix of easy, medium and hard puzzles, rather than getting all of the easy ones out of the way up front and saving the hard ones for last. This allows you to get a taste of what Masyu is really capable of, and also gives you a chance to try those puzzles and apply what you've learned to easier ones.

Every puzzle in this game offers legitimate challenge, which is good. There's also an option for randomized puzzles, which extends the lifespan of the experience indefinitely. That's also good. Additionally there is a two-player race mode that requires two copies of the game, but that's not likely to be something that will entertain many gamers. After all, sitting quietly beside each other while connecting circles for the better part of an hour is not likely to factor into anyone's idea of a fun weekend.

So far, so good. Unfortunately the game really stumbles with its presentation and controls.

For starters, visually it's rather dull. We're willing to give this a pass, as it's a puzzle game centered on lines on circles, but it's worth bringing up. There is a 3D effect to the menus, but it's genuinely worthless.

Aurally, however, the game is awful. Its only track isn't poorly composed, per se, but it's entirely too short, and it loops maddeningly. Many puzzles have par times of 60 minutes or more, and beating those times is always difficult; to have that same 15 second track looping that entire time, it practically begs you to silence it and put on some music of your own instead.

The real disappointment here, however, is the controls. Just as we're willing the give the game a pass visually for the sake of its own simplicity, that's exactly why we can't go easy on the controls. There's no reason for a game that revolves around the simple, gradual tracing of straight lines to be this finicky. Lines snap and connect and drift on their own, and often don't line up with the area of the grid you touched with your stylus. Erasing is handled the same way as drawing — by touching and dragging the stylus — so you can imagine how frustrating that gets when the game regularly mistakes one for the other.

What's more, it has an irritating and needless tendency to connect lines for you. Draw a straight line next to another straight line, and you'll almost always find it linking the two at each adjacent cell. Why it's so eager to do this is beyond us, considering the fact that lines are never allowed to touch in a viable solution anyway. It's a problem introduced by the game itself, and not something that a player would ever want to be doing to begin with.

It's an unfortunately thoughtless design choice that makes the process of solving these puzzles more arduous than it should be, and it distracts players from focusing on the task at hand.

Conclusion

Masyu by Nikoli does earn our recommendation, particularly to puzzle fans looking for some interesting variety in their daily diets of Sudoku and Kakuro, but the presentation and controls on offer here do mar the otherwise satisfying experience of solving it. For hardcore puzzle fans it's unquestionably worth playing, but others may be put off by the game's steep difficulty and picky touchscreen controls.

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