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NDS Review - 'The New York Times Crosswords'

by Matthew Szlapka on Jan. 9, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

The New York Times Crosswords features more than 1,000 real crossword puzzles and the unique ability to write in answers with the stylus or use a touch-screen keyboard to enter letters.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Budcat Creations
Release Date: May 22, 2007

The tradition of New York Times crossword puzzles started in 1942 when four editors placed a crossword puzzle in the Sunday edition of the newspaper; it's since become a daily phenomenon. In their spare time, freelance writers also started contributing to the feature, adding their word clues to a changing puzzle for the enjoyment of readers and players. With The New York Times Crosswords for the NDS, one can take home the long-standing tradition of the New York Times. But be prepared; these puzzles are not for amateurs, as the ingenuity of these puzzles tends to be astounding and difficult at the same time.

Developed by Budcat Creations, The New York Times Crosswords is a simple game that makes considerable use of the DS' unique features. The entire crossword is displayed on the screen, and you have the option to zoom in or out. You can enter letters by writing with the stylus or tapping letters on the touch-screen keyboard. A simple interface in the upper left provides a menu for data saving, hints and erasing incorrect letters. Word clues change based on the days of the week and the difficulty associated to the corresponding real-life crossword's structure, with Monday as easiest and Saturday being hardest; Sundays are as difficult as Thursdays. It's quite a crazy cycle, but it's enjoyable when you realize that you have three years of crosswords (over 1,000) to work with, in addition to unlockable "brain buster" puzzles after you complete a week.

The atmosphere of The New York Times Crosswords is quite relaxing and colorful; backgrounds and portraits of objects act as the buttons for the stylus. With the ability to draw the letters as well as turn off the score-determining clock and grade system, gamers can take their time to think about clues instead of constantly eyeing the clock. The only problem lies in the legendary difficulty of these puzzles; even at its lowest setting, the usual conventions and assurances found in regular crosswords are thrown out the window. The clues don't indicate when multiple words are expected, or when plurals, other tenses or words in a different language are to be used. Rarely are the first few letters in a word of any assistance, and unless the player is a pro, the hint system will be used intensely. Thankfully, the game throws you a bone by allowing the player to use the hint button to confirm a correct entry. This helps for a good while, but some of the seemingly obvious clues really throw you for a loop, especially when it's in another language. If it's a clue depending on other clues in the puzzle, you can forget about it. A common tactic that I employed is to place a word or phrase that's believed correct and use the hint button to make sure the letters are correct. It kept me on the right track and made the game more accessible.

If you have no family members to help you out with these incredibly hard crosswords or you want a real challenge, the NDS' wi-fi connection provides connectivity without requiring a second cartridge for co-op and competitive play. This feature only adds to the replay factor of the title, which lets you save your crossword and return to it after a few hours or days; this further promotes the game's rare ability to hold your interest over time, which is a rare quality in many high-end, involved games. One can spend hours just on one crossword alone and possibly days on some of the harder day crosswords. It's very easy to get into, very easy to stop playing with a quick save, and very easy to return to, all of which make this title easily and readily playable for a long time coming. The New York Times Crosswords is one of the most replayable games I've ever played, and this tops all other puzzle games I've played because of the knowledge you acquire and fun you have figuring out the clues. It's enlightening as well as entertaining — a rare combination.

Graphically, the game isn't very robust, nor does it need to be . It's slightly pleasing when each crossword is in a different color, breaking the monotony of the black-and-white borders we're so used to seeing. My basic problem with the graphics is with the touch-screen; drawing a letter is so much harder than it seems since every little press makes a gentle white mark that screws up the letter. Switching to the keyboard input is a prime option; it takes up a good deal of the screen, but it's far better than wasting time writing something that the game can't recognize.

The only music you get in The New York Times Crosswords is the relaxing, memorable song it plays as you do the crossword, but it's the only song in the game so it gets rather irritating when you hear it over and over again. You hear something different for a victory, but it's more of a sound effect than anything else. Turning off the music is usually a prudent option. This title isn't supposed to sound dynamic or incredible, just relaxing and carefree, although it does get slightly annoying as the game goes on. Every visual and verbal effect is meant to achieve this one goal, and they do a really good job.

The New York Times Crosswords for the NDS is made for the puzzle freak and crossword enthusiast, but it's also enjoyable for anyone who has a penchant for simple-playing games with a good deal of challenge. It will take a long time to finish these puzzles, especially those on the last three days of the week, but as long as players take the hint from the game's atmosphere and relax by turning off the clock and giving themselves a couple of minutes whenever they have the time, they'll enjoy themselves. Considering the game's difficulty, it is advisable to take your time and slowly input your suggestions after a little bit of forethought, unless you're a professional crossword solver with a plethora of memorized words and phrases. Unlocking the "brain buster" puzzles is quite a feat in itself, but solving them is a completely different monster entirely; the difficulty level is clearly the biggest problem of this title, but the calming game environment helps to offset any pressure one may feel. Budcat Creations has found a good niche in creating games that are challenging without making a player want to tear his hair out — an area that these developers should consider exploring further.

Score: 8.3/10

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