Reviewed: August 21, 2008
Released: May 30, 2008
A popular gaming system that appeals to many different types of peopleóincluding those traditionally uninterested in gamesóthe DS has become the premier platform for many casual games that ordinarily donít make it onto console systems.
Take USA Today Crossword Challenge, for example. This game is more or less a book of traditional newspaper crossword puzzles translated into an easily portable electronic format, and while it may not appeal to those of us who spend most of our gaming hours on Gears of War or Soul Calibur IV, it may be a suitable title for a more casual crowd.
As a disclaimer, Iím not a big crossword puzzle person, and this review reflects my personal view, judging primarily on its quality as a video game, rather than on the quality of the crossword puzzles themselves. Please keep in mind that a crossword fan might rate this much more highly than I do, especially since I fully admit that I may not appreciate the quality of the crossword puzzles nearly as much as a true connoisseur.
In any case, we can probably all agree that Crossword Challenge is a pretty straightforward port of the traditional newspaper crossword puzzle experience onto the Nintendo DS, and you can play it in English or Spanish. Itís pretty easy to figure out the basics, even for players new to the DS. The 15x15 crossword puzzle and interactive menu icons appear in the lower screen of the DS, while the clues for both Across and Down appear in the upper screen.
To enter words into the puzzle, you select a box using your DS stylus, and you write the letter youíd like to enter in a black box on the right side of the touch screen. Alternatively, clicking on the keyboard icon will allow you to enter the letters using a touch screen keyboard insteadóuseful if, like me, you have some trouble with the gameís letter recognition feature. Clicking on the selected puzzle box again will switch between Down and Across.
So far, so good. Beyond the basics, though, the controls get a bit more confusing and difficult to use.
Firstly, the icons are difficult to figure out if you donít look at the game manual. At this resolution, because of the art style of the graphics, itís difficult to tell what some of the icons look like, let alone what they mean. Nevertheless, Iím not sure why a compass would indicate a hint feature, or why three spots of color would mean an in-game manual. The icon choices are bizarre.
Secondly, I still canít figure out why there is a separate pencil and pen tool, as they basically do the same thing. You can erase letters written out in either tool, and it seems that the only difference between the two is that you canít complete a puzzle until the entire thing is written out in pen and submitted. I donít understand, then, why you wouldnít just use the pen tool the entire time, as anything written in pencil will need to be re-written in pen before submission anyway.
And, thirdly, the entire crossword puzzle canít fit on the screen of the DS, so youíll occasionally need to scroll your view of the puzzle. This would normally be all right, except that the game asks you to hold your stylus on the screen and drag it to scroll, and itís even more clumsily implemented and harder to use than it sounds. The D-pad would have been the intuitive choice, but itís used, instead, for shifting the selected square, which could have been easily done by the stylus. You can only hold and drag to scroll on an unused puzzle square, and on top of that, the game beeps angrily at you the whole time youíre holding down the stylus, as if youíre doing something wrong.
Anyway, to make a long story short, thereís a good chance that the crossword puzzles (of which there are hundreds) are high quality, as the difficulty level seems to resemble that of the puzzles Iíve seen in newspapers before, but the game unfortunately suffers from some very bothersome game design issues.
The crossword puzzle boxes and the text are clear enough, but as I mentioned earlier, the icons are frustratingly unclear. Other than that, Crossword Challenge isnít a graphics-heavy kind of title, so thereís not much to praise or complain about.
Other than the occasional, nondescript user interface click or scratch, the only audio aspect of this game is the background music, which includes three selectable tracks of repetitive MIDI elevator musicósmooth jazz, if you prefer that term. I canít say itís downright horrible, but Iíll just say that I put the background music on ďnoneĒ within the first few minutes of playing. Itís a crossword game, so I wasnít expecting a grand soundtrack, but some varietyósay, a classical track or twoócould have been nice.
At a retail value of $19.99, Crossword Challenge could be a good choice for a crossword fan, since the puzzles seem pretty decent, and there are a whopping 300 puzzles included. Itís not flashy or fancy in any way, but it gets the job done, as far as crossword puzzles on the DS go. Itís also easier to carry around than a crossword book.
If you donít mind the interface design flaws, USA Today Crossword Challenge really isnít so bad for its purpose. And, if you love crossword puzzles and can overlook those navigation and design quirks that I found so irritating, then please donít mind the low rating; thatís just my personal taste and demanding gamer mentality speaking.