Review: Crosswords Plus

CrosswordsPlus

I’m a young guy, but I’ve always had an old school soul, particularly as it relates to new technology versus the “old” way of doing certain things. Things like board games are still best left to huddling friends and family around a table with the physical board and pieces present opposed to virtual recreations that simulate the roll of dice and movement of pieces for the participants. Jigsaw puzzles are much more engaging and satisfying to put together manually than they are in different video game adaptations that have been attempted over the years. Poker is a completely different animal played live in person, where you can read people’s reactions—and other players can read yours—than it is playing cloaked in the anonymity of a video game avatar or online screen name. I’m not even that big on the whole eBook craze, as I just think there is something uncomfortable and impersonal about reading from a computer/tablet screen rather than physically holding a book and feeling the pages as they are flipped by.

Some classic forms of entertainment simply don’t need help from technology. Pen-and-paper word puzzles are a different story though. Crossword puzzles for example are best buds with all the fancy touch screen devices modern technology has blessed us with. As long as handwriting recognition is competently developed, playing crossword puzzles on a gaming/smart device is, dare I say, better than the traditional method.

It’s just so incredibly convenient being able to carry around hundreds if not thousands of crossword puzzles in a pocket-sized device versus having to look in the newspaper or a magazine or buy stacks of puzzle activity books which take up more space and aren’t as transportable. Nowadays, online connectivity makes it possible for crossword games to be updated with daily puzzles, making them all the more appealing for word puzzle nuts who don’t want to flip through the morning paper every day. Correcting mistakes is also easier when you don’t have to worry about erasing penciled in errors (or using white out if written in ink).

Crosswords Plus brings this combination of convenience and functionality to the Nintendo 3DS, stuffing somewhere in the ballpark of 800 crossword puzzles onto a single cartridge (or digital download file from the eShop) with the benefit of daily bonus puzzle downloads and puzzle sharing with other 3DS owners via the system’s StreetPass and SpotPass wireless features.

Initially puzzles of Easy and Medium difficulty and small sizes of 5×5 to 9×9 clue grids are available to ease in with, but gradually, as these lower-level puzzles are completed, additional difficulties – Hard and Expert – are unlocked and the sizes of the boards grow to a more familiar newspaper/magazine scale. There are even a few Giant puzzles that balloon to as large as 51×51 and will take most players multiple hours to fill in.

Crossword masters may find this early grind through small, easy puzzles a bit slow, but it really doesn’t take long to unlock the more mentally taxing content. If nothing else, the beginning puzzles give you time to feel out the interface and text entry before moving up in class. Although it’s not like the interface is difficult to figure out or anything. Menus, puzzles and accompanying icons are cleanly presented, the 3DS top screen displaying a broader view of the puzzle grid along with a timer and both the up and down clues related to the square that is currently selected, while on the bottom screen a stylus is used to pan and zoom the viewing area, select and fill in the answer blocks, and scroll through the complete clue list.

A number of optional helper features are also built into the interface. Before a puzzle begins, you can choose to activate an Assist function which highlights letters in red to give immediate feedback on whether or not your answer is correct. If exploited, this can be used to cheat through a puzzle as you can simply use trial and error to go through every letter in the alphabet until the correct letter clicks in place. But if you take your crosswords seriously you can turn this assist off and correct your mistakes and solve the clues the old fashioned way.

Similarly, Hint Points are also available within each puzzle, and these points can be used in varying quantities to acquire an additional clue, reveal a letter, or have the game fill in a complete word you may be completely stumped on. Whether these extra hints are used is at the player’s discretion.

While not a guide mechanic per say, another helpful feature is the ability to save individual puzzle progress. Only one puzzle can be saved in a particular difficulty category or mode, but if you start an Expert puzzle and want to continue a Giant crossword or move to a wordsearch without losing progress, you can certainly do so.

Text entry is handled effectively. When entering letters on the touch screen, the puzzle view zooms in close up on the target square and you simply write in the letter using the stylus. As letters are entered, the game automatically cycles to the next square after a momentary pause to translate the written letter into a digital character. Unlike the Puzzler World titles, Crosswords Plus does not provide a feature to train the game to recognize your personal handwriting style, which can be annoying as, like a finger print, everyone’s handwriting is slightly different and sometimes the way one user writes a letter may not be consistently recognized by the software. I have an occasional issue with Rs miss-registering as Ks or Ds as well as Ts and Ys sometimes getting mixed up, but it’s mostly when I try to rush along and my handwriting gets sloppy. Overall, the handwriting recognition isn’t 100% perfect, but it is plenty reliable. At this point I can usually get through a puzzle only having to correct a few errant letter entries.

As the name suggests, Crosswords Plus is more than just crossword puzzles. For the first few days of play, a built-in reward loop unlocks bonus content on a daily basis, including a couple hundred wordsearches, hundreds of anagrams, and even a Word of the Day accompanied by a Word Paths puzzle which challenges you to use your own vocabulary to fill in a blank word grid stemming from the day’s special word. After completing a few of these, a word quiz pops up to test your memory of the “Did you know…” facts attached to each Word of the Day.

The only real sticking point I can come up with has nothing to do with the quality of the game but rather the alarmingly high price point. At a glance, $30 — both retail and on the eShop — for a word puzzle game will probably sound kinda steep to many consumers, especially in today’s spoiled age of $0.99 apps galore. While I agree that Nintendo should have released at a more casual- and budget-friendly rate of no more than $19.99 (or if nothing else made the eShop version slightly less expensive than retail), when you consider the amount of puzzles that come included out of the box and then factor in the regular release of free bonus puzzle downloads, you’ll realize that there is more than enough bang for the buck. I’ve logged nearly a dozen hours so far and have barely put a dent in the total puzzle count, which should give you a clear indication of how much content is stuffed into this game. If you’re a crossword puzzle addict, Crosswords Plus is an indispensable game to have in your 3DS library.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Hundreds of crosswords ranging in difficulty level and size
+ Wordsearches, anagrams and word paths add puzzle variety
+ Clean, effective interface with optional assists if needed
+ Daily reward loop keeps you coming back

Cons:
– Handwriting recognition isn’t without fault
– No handwriting training tool
– Should have been more affordably priced

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 10/1/2012
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!