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Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari Review


Cross-breed a book of Sudoku puzzles with Minesweeper, and the unholy offspring would be Akari, otherwise known as a Light Up puzzle. It’s a brand of head-scratcher that we hadn’t encountered before reviewing Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari. 

If you’ve played Minesweeper before, and let’s face it, who hasn’t, then you will have a good grounding in Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari. You will also have some bad habits that take a while to scrub away.

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Imagine a Minesweeper grid, with numbers scattered across it. These numbers, again, much like Minesweeper, represent how many ‘mines’ are around the square. The only real difference being that diagonals aren’t included (something that my brain just wouldn’t compute). This means a 4 will need mines to the north, south, east and west, while a 0 will have none in those directions. 

So far, so good, right? Now, imagine that you are placing the mines, rather than avoiding them. So, you are starting each puzzle by hunting for 4s, placing mines in each direction around it (but not the diagonals, dangit!). 

This is where things start deviating from Minesweeper, because you’re not placing mines. We lied. You are placing light sources – a lightbulb perhaps – and they are lighting every cardinal direction. So, a lightbulb placed in the south-west corner will light all the way north, and all the way east. And the light plays by expected rules: if it reaches a black square or a number, the light stops. It’s been blocked.

Your aim, in Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari, is to light up every square of the grid in this way. The numbers are guides to where the lights should be placed, and black boxes provide dead ends and turns that make the guesswork a little easier. If you have a one-square cul-de-sac, then you’re probably going to need a light at the entrance to it. 

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The only other wrinkle is that no light can illuminate another light. This is the Sudoku part. You can’t have two lights in the same row or column, which is helpful rather than prohibitive. Suddenly, you have all the information you need to complete the Easy, Medium and Hard puzzles on offer here. 

Considering this was a puzzle invented by Nikoli, it’s so watertight and timeless that you have to applaud. It fits snugly onto a console, as the lights auto-illuminate for you, which would be more onerous in the back pages of the Sunday Times, but we can’t help imagine that this would resonate with puzzle-enthusiasts around the globe. As a concept, we have to politely clap and say bravo.

If it has a flaw as a puzzle concept, it’s that it’s extremely unforgiving. In a crossword you can erase the erroneous word; in Sudoku, you can usually spot the mistake and walk it back. In Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari, there’s no easy way back. Don’t mistake us: there is an ‘Undo’ feature by tapping on Y that is hugely helpful, but it’s never particularly clear what you did wrong and where. Particularly on Hard puzzles, you can be thirty minutes into a puzzle, crossing your fingers that, by the end, the lights will line up and nothing will be out of place. But – at least in our flawed experience – we had made a mistake thirty-percent of the time, and had to simply restart. 

Much like Puzzle by Nikoli W Sudoku, there isn’t much – or, indeed, enough – in the way of hints. A ‘Check’ feature does virtually nothing of use. It tells you where a number has too many lights around it, but doesn’t do much else. You can have your lights in a permutation that works – at least, until the last few moves – and the Check feature will tell you that everything’s dandy. But the feature is a heinous liar. Don’t believe a word it says. 

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The Sword of Damocles that hangs over you as you play Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari is undoubtedly its least likable feature. You never quite feel secure playing a puzzle, not unless you’re a seasoned pro, and the threat of failure thickens the air. As a result, Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari never quite felt relaxing, at least to us. Not until we started really mastering it. 

Which leads to the second flaw that holds Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari back from utter glory. There aren’t really enough puzzles here to master Akari. There are 50 here, in various denominations of Easy, Medium and Hard, but most of the Easys can be done in less than a minute, which brings things down to roughly 30. When compared to the POWGI or Hatsune Miku series, the other two long-running manufacturers of puzzles, it’s pretty stark. They offer hundreds of puzzles, and there’s barely enough here to get to the point where you can become a master. 

The counterpoint, of course, is the price. Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari is £3.99, which is about the price of a can of beans nowadays (at least in the UK, bless us). For a compendium of fresh, finely tuned puzzles, that’s cheap as the proverbial chips (also about £3.99). Another counterpoint is that a Hard puzzle can have you staring dumbfounded at the screen for thirty minutes, trying to untangle a sequence of number 2s. Which is never pretty.

Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari has landed on a new brand of puzzles that feels utterly timeless, and fiendishly difficult to boot. If the world has any sense, they will ditch Wordle and start imploding their minds with these Sudoku-Minesweeper hybrids. You have to accept that failure is frequent, and resets the entire puzzle, but if you can leapfrog this stumbling block and love a good puzzle, then you have one of the best possible uses of £4 right now.

You can buy Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari from the Xbox Store

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