Release Date: June 15, 2007
Everyone has that one person in their lives who likes a certain style of game but is utterly bereft of anything resembling skill. Whether it's your significant other who can't land a jump in a platform game to save her life, your kid brother who couldn't formulate a strategy with a telepathy helmet and five hours between moves, or your grandmother who absolutely fails at every puzzle put in front of her, lots of would-be gamers simply find the barrier of entry to our favorite pastime so difficult that they're chased away from the prospect. Well, go ahead and get your mother's mother that DS you've been contemplating because Brain Buster Puzzle Pak is here to lend her a helping hand.
Brain Buster is a puzzle compilation that contains a combination of five puzzle games in one cartridge. Anyone who hasn't studiously been hiding under a rock for the past five years or so will immediately recognize the world-famous Sudoku (also known as Latin Squares), among the quintet of brain-benders that will be firing your synapses for you. But how many of you are familiar with the other four games: Kakuro, Light On, Nurikabe or Slitherlink? If this seems like a daunting challenge, don't fret; Brain Buster includes a very patient and intuitive tutorial before each of these different exercises, explaining how the games work. Better still, even novice puzzle enthusiasts will quickly discover that most of them are fairly self-explanatory once you have the basic concept. It's actually solving the puzzles that is the real challenge.
Often, the trouble with a puzzle game is that the lack of diversity causes the title to become stale after the novelty wears off. Sure, Tetris is great fun and a worldwide sensation … but ultimately, it is Tetris, the same game over and over again. Including five different games to entice people to experiment with new and interesting challenges was a great idea, and it really helps to keep the title fresh thanks to each game being markedly different from the other. Whether you're doing a normal Sudoku puzzle, trying to work out spatial relations in Nurikabe, or working through the process of elimination in order to figure out Light On, you'll find that each game has its own unique challenges that force you to work your mind in new and interesting ways. Kakuro even tries to dust off those long-neglected math skills, pairing basic addition with a logic puzzle to get your brow furrowed and that vein in your forehead sticking out.
The real problem I discovered with Brain Buster is the sporadic difficulty. While it is likely that everyone will wind up being a natural at one or two of the games, it's also a near certainty that everyone will find that at least one of the challenges is simply beyond them. As an example, I found that I could complete any given Sudoku puzzle in less than five minutes and take down the majority of the Nurikabe and Light On puzzles with little difficulty, but Kakuro and Slitherlink largely proved to be beyond my mental finesse. This does not become an issue until you realize that, as you progress through each game, you begin to unlock puzzle pieces that can then be combined in order to unlock more stages. The great flaw in this mechanism is that failure to be good at solving all five kinds of puzzles locks you out of content. With only 50 puzzles of each kind at the beginning, that can really limit the volume of puzzle enjoyment that you get out of this title. One innovation is that little creatures wander around the perimeter of the board while you play, and tapping three of them with your stylus grants an Answer Ball, a device used to give you a helping hand. Regrettably, this feels a great deal like cheating to anyone who really wants to get the most out of the game, and it's more of a crutch than an actual aid.
Worse, Brain Buster has a definite end; if you ever manage to complete all 100 puzzles for each game, you're really left with nothing to do but admire your handiwork. If you have a competitive streak a mile wide, you can always pass your DS to your buddy, have him make a separate profile, and then compare profile scores. However, competition in puzzle games seldom works out as well as one would hope, and most people with an urge to prove their superiority tend to choose alternate means of doing so. The puzzle pieces unlocked through gameplay are a nice touch, and unlocking wallpapers to customize the backgrounds of your puzzles is a quaint little collectible, but changing the visuals to suit your taste is no substitute for actual diverse content.
With the above said, it's unfair to call Brain Buster a failure. On a system already glutted with puzzle games, this one does a fine job of its presentation. Gameplay is accurate with the stylus (although a non-stylus option would have been greatly appreciated), and the puzzles are easy to see. The background music is subtle but noticeable, and it only adds to the ambiance that's necessary to really kick your brain into high gear. My only real complaint is that the size of the screen makes for some confusing tagging; you choose the game you want by selecting a building on the main page, but it's easy to confuse which game goes to which building, and I often found myself unintentionally selecting a different one than I had intended.
The simple fact is that Brain Buster Puzzle Pak is a great title for beginners to puzzle gaming and a fine way to give someone a bit of enjoyment. Unfortunately, the novelty will begin to wear thin after a little while, and the gimmicky presentation fails to make up for an entirely too-brief experience. Pick it up if you want some puzzles that you've never played before, but keep in mind that it's only a stepping stone to bigger, better titles.