Review: NEVES

neves_box_art.JPGPlatform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Yuke’s Corp. of America
Developer: Bee Works
Release Date: 11/06/07
Genre: Puzzle
Players: 1 – 2

For a deceptively simple-looking game, NEVES absolutely rocks. Taking the ancient seven shape puzzles known as tanagrams and bringing them to the Nintendo DS was a great idea and thanks to the fine folks at Hanayama Co., Bee Works and Yuke’s, you can take one of the most addictive puzzle games you’ll ever play on the road for single or two-player fun. Over 500 puzzles and four modes of play pack in hours of fun and the although the touch screen controls might seem a bit too touchy at first, once you understand how to properly tap and drag or rotate pieces, everything falls into place for puzzle perfection. If you’ve got a good memory, there’s a way to breeze through the game’s tougher modes, but we’ll get to that later in the review.

As soon as you launch the game, you’re faced with a quick, painless (and mandatory) tutorial that plays itself until you tap the screen. Once you complete the three steps that show the only moves in the game, you’re given a much simpler puzzle to tackle before the game wishes you well and gently kicks you to the main menu. You’ll be feeling puffed up at the relative ease of that easy tutorial until you hit your first few puzzles… and then the screaming starts. Your brain will be frantically trying to figure out how the heck seven measly shapes could take on some of the more abstract forms while your stylus hand will get a workout twirling, flipping and moving shapes for hours on end. Next thing you know, it’s Z-o’clock in the morning and you’re still up, bleary-eyed yet still going because you’ve figured out a ton of puzzles and have been going back to retry the ones you’ve skipped over.

And that’s just in the Silhouettes? mode. When you tackle the timed challenges in Time Pressure or bite the bullet and take on 7 Steps, you’ll probably need a 12-step program and a couple of interventions to get that NEVES monkey off your back. Oh, you’ll find plenty of support on your commute, that’s for sure. I took the game for a spin on the subway and ended up with a Japanese tourist staring over my shoulder and pointing out a few moves a few seconds after he and his wife sat next to me. Even more amusing was playing the Bragging Rights mode with a total stranger in a coffee shop who asked if the game had wireless play. After beating him soundly in the required three rounds, he kept challenging me for about twenty minutes until he won, after which he proceeded to pay his tab and head outside, pumping his fist in the air and yelling “YES!”
That prompted a waitress to come over and ask what we were doing and when she saw I had a DS, her eyes lit up and she asked if the game was in stores – she’s have challenged me right then and there, but she still had a few hours left on her shift.

One thing you’ll find out fast is that trying to think symmetrically will generally lead nowhere. Some of the solutions to what look like simple puzzles will have your eyes bugging out when you’ve finally realized where things are supposed to go. On the other hand, you might be stuck on one annoying puzzle for half an hour before nailing it only to blow through the next dozen or so in under two minutes. Once you get to the fourth set of puzzles, you’ll be in for some wild-eyed moments as you wonder how the heck seven shapes could make up some of the more inventive images. Then again, there are a lot of abstract puzzles that will make you burst out laughing as soon as you see what you’re about to face. If you happen to be old enough to remember the early days of gaming, some of the puzzles will look like Atari 2600 or Intellivision sprites to you no doubt, but that doesn’t necessarily make them easy to solve.

Anyway, NEVES doesn’t sport flashy graphics or animations, but that’s a good thing, as there’s more room for puzzles and less distraction overall. You’re presented with a clean menu system broken up into a series of tabs called Rooms and each Room has a series of up to 50 puzzles. The top screen shows either the puzzle or gameplay hints, while the bottom screen is where you’ll be staring intently as you move shapes around. While you can change the color of the shapes in the options screen, this is more of a cosmetic issue that doesn’t affect gameplay one bit. As for the sound, there’s an awesomely jazzy score that’s light and catchy, yet intensifies the longer you take to solve a puzzle. Sound effects are sparse, but the game doesn’t really need a lot of them pounding away at your eardrums as you’re trying to cobble together a ladies shoe or fit a drinking glass together with shapes that don’t seem as if they’d fit at all. Sometimes, simplicity works wonders for a game’s overall look and NEVES makes great use out of its clean layout.

Now about that exploit I mentioned above, if you have a great memory and wanted to get through the game in a few days’ time, you could “cheat” and do each of the puzzles in all three modes one after the other. Once you complete a puzzle in Silhouettes?, the solution stays on screen until you tap the screen. If you memorize the solution (or have a pad and pen handy to sketch it out), you can solve the puzzle in Time Pressure and 7 Steps, repeating the process until you’ve cleared Silhouettes? gotten all Gold medals in Time Pressure for completing puzzles in under a minute and tackled 7 Steps without messing up once. I only figured this out after about two days with the game, but this method still takes a bit of brainpower to complete as you’ll still need to solve the puzzles fair and square at least once. Still, imagine the looks on the faces of DS owning friends once they see your Trophy Room full of completed puzzles and all shiny Gold medals. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever pick up the game again, mind you. NEVES is brilliantly designed to keep your brain percolating each time you pick it up and that’s something every puzzle game should do.

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