Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco LTD.
Release Date: 3/13/07
From crossword puzzles to jumbles to word finds and anything else in between, I’ve always loved traditional pen-and-paper puzzle games and brain teasers, and even with a DS Lite, PSP and GB Micro I’ll still find just as much on-the-go enjoyment picking up a puzzle book to work on during a road trip as playing any of the latest portable gaming devices I own. Growing up on Highlights magazine (and various other children’s catalogs), one of my favorite puzzle games as a kid were those “can you spot the difference?” picture puzzles that gave you two near-identical images side by side and challenged you to compare the pictures and pick out and circle the subtle differences between the two. The concept was (and still is) incredibly simple, but that made it no less entertaining.
Building upon this classic picture puzzle concept, Namco Bandai has brought forth QuickSpot, an ingenious new DS puzzle game that follows in the vein of Nintendo’s Touch Generations line of budget brain-testing games, such as Big Brain Academy, Brain Age and Sudoku Gridmaster, and actually trumps them all, in my humble opinion. Just like the traditional “spot the difference puzzles”, QuickSpot tests your recognition and reflexes as two pictures are put in front of you – one on the top screen and the other on the bottom – and you must pick out and circle the differences in the bottom picture using the stylus. Better yet, Namco has infused the game with artwork images from some of its most renowned gaming franchises, such as Katamari Damacy, Mr. Driller, Ridge Racer and Klonoa (along with a variety of random imagery), all of which is colorful and extremely eye-catching.
The core mechanics of these picture puzzles function no differently than the pen-and-paper method, but through the power of videogame technology QuickSpot throws in new twists that simply aren’t possible in a magazine or on the back of a cereal box. Following the traditional route, Focus Play mode provides an unlockable set of 140 different images with 10 differences to find at your own pace in each. Where things start to get interesting is in Rapid Play mode. Through five levels at 10 stages apiece, a series of images with only one mistake each are fired at you in rapid succession and you must complete a specified number of pictures in the given time period.
At the end of each stage, your Brain Activity is charted on a graph, rating you on attributes like intuition, concentration, judgment, stability and recognition based on your performance. Your stability rating, for example, is rated based on how fluid your circles are drawn under pressure, while recognition is gained by drawing circles to match the size and shape of the targeted object rather than roughly drawing a disproportionate circle, and so on. Solving puzzles in good form will reward you with medals that go towards unlocking additional special stages with unique twists, such as pictures with animations, scrolling images, or images that are flipped around or cut into pieces.
As each of the five main levels elapses, new challenges are also introduced to spice up the challenge, including puzzles that first require you to quickly rub away a film obstructing view of the bottom image or blow away a pile of leaves blocking the screen (and continue to blow to keep the leaves afloat until you find the difference), and some that show a completed object in the top screen and the parts that make up that object individually scattered around the bottom screen, with you needing to circle the item that doesn’t fit in with the others.
If those modes weren’t enough, there is also a goofy Today’s Fortune mode in which you can complete puzzles and get your fortunes for the day in categories like work, money, romance and health, and a clever suit of multiplayer games. Similar to “hot potato”, Time Bomb has up to eight players frantically passing around one DS, each circling a picture difference and handing the system onto the next person, and whoever has the system in hand when the bomb explodes loses the game. Scramble mode, on the other hand, is a more head-to-head style of mode, allowing up to four players to wirelessly compete to see who can circle the difference in a series of images the fastest for points. Single-card download play is also supported for Scramble play, which is a very nice touch.
Overall, I really don’t have anything negative to say about QuickSpot whatsoever – it looks, sounds and plays marvelously. I can envision some players becoming a bit tired of the simplistic and somewhat repetitive nature of the puzzle mechanics after a while, because even with the different play modes and stipulations you’re still just drawing circles the entire time. But honestly, every single time I popped this game into my DS I was glued to the screen for hours on end, constantly telling myself after each level “just one more puzzle and I’ll stop”, yet I still couldn’t put the damn thing down until my eyes literally started to burn. At a sweet budget price of $19.99, addictive gameplay like that makes QuickSpot a perfect travel companion and a must-buy for DS puzzler fans.