In our review for Puzzle by Nikoli W Heyawake, the previous game in the puzzle series, we accused it of having the “vague whiff of familiarity”. That’s because the Puzzle by Nikoli games were dropping once a month, and while the rules weren’t precisely the same from one game to another, there was some overlap. A Heyawake was a bit like Nurikabe, which was reminiscent of an Akari.
With that in mind, here comes Puzzle by Nikoli W Hashiwokakero (honestly, the names are getting to ridiculous Kingdom Hearts levels now). We had our scoring paddles ready, expecting to criticise the saminess that has been creeping into the series for a while now. But we’re more than happy to say that the paddles have been put down, because not only is Puzzle by Nikoli W Hashiwokakero reasonably different in its rules, it’s got a completely different tempo from other Puzzle by Nikoli W games.
It’s always blooming hard to describe a Puzzle by Nikoli W game, because there’s no diagram for us to point to with a big stick. Words don’t quite cover it, but they’re going to have to. Okay: imagine you have a blank space, with a lot of numbers scattered around it (hopefully the screenshots will help us out here). Now, those numbers reflect the number of paths that emerge from a number in a cardinal direction. If you have a 1, only 1 path passes out of it. If you have an 8, then 8 paths pass out of it.
Simples. Now, you might think that 4 is the maximum number that you could get in the puzzle. Up, down, left and right. But nu-uh, because two paths can emerge from a number in any direction, the maximum is actually 8. That’s two paths flowing up, down, left and right each.
That gives you your first clues. Now you can start jumping into the puzzle. 8s are easy: tap A to add paths in every direction. 6’s on the sides are good too, since one of the paths away from that 6 is blocked, so the max is 6. Get tapping A there too. And you can start making some assumptions: if a 3 is in a corner, with only two paths possible from it, you can add at least one line in each direction.
Suddenly, a messy maze of lines begin to appear on the map. But the rule of ‘two paths’ isn’t enough to complete a puzzle, so you need more information. Well, as it turns out, you also can’t cross another line. It’s fine for lines to meet at numbers, but they can’t intersect each other. That information is juicy, as you can now find numbers that have been isolated by the maze you have just created. A 2 that has been blocked on all sides except one is the Holy Grail: that means you can guarantee that two paths will pass out of that 2 in one single direction.
There’s a final clue, but it doesn’t crop up much. There cannot be any numbers or paths that are castaway from the rest. There must be one, unbroken line, river, train or whatever you want to call it, without any widowed elements. It’s lucky that this doesn’t come up often, as it’s incredibly hard to read a puzzle and find any isolated elements. It can be like looking at a Magic Eye.
So, why do we like these puzzles so much? The big, green checkmark against Puzzle by Nikoli W Hashiwokakero is the speed of these puzzles. In every single other Puzzle by Nikoli W game, there is a very considered, stately pace. You can spend upward of ten minutes chipping away at a puzzle, number by number, ever-so-slowly bringing it into view. They are fiendish, and they will hoover up your evenings.
But Puzzle by Nikoli W Hashiwokakero is whippet fast. We can get a puzzle done in under a minute, and even the Hard examples – bigger screen, more numbers – might not take more than five minutes. A successful path, like a domino rally, creates more paths, and you can find yourself chaining them together in quick succession. It’s not easy, precisely, but it is hugely gratifying, and the constant feelings of success are far removed from the baby dopamine-hits from their other puzzles.
There’s still the usual Puzzle by Nikoli W issues, which may not have a resolution, and we should probably just accept them by now. There’s no feature that slaps you round the back of your head when you’ve done something wrong. It’s entirely possible to make a mistake with your first move, and only realise that it was a mistake at the very end. That sense of wasting time is the same as it has always been, and we’d have loved a feature that resolved this. Equally, the presentation is still clinical and lacking character, and the music is the same as every single bleeding Nikoli game. We’re hearing it in our sleep now, damn it.
But we’re mostly just chuffed that Puzzle by Nikoli W Hashiwokakero listened to the feedback of our previous review (in that, they clearly didn’t, since the review was only a month ago, and it would take a special kind of ego to think we were having that kind of input), and have produced a slice of puzzling that not only feels very distinct from the rest of their catalogue, but is in a completely different gear too.
Don’t go sleeping on the Puzzle by Nikoli W series. Very quietly, and in increments, they have been producing better and better puzzle compendiums for your big black box. They’re frictionless, clear as day about what you need to do, and each one skewers you in different ways. In Puzzle by Nikoli W Hashiwokakero, they have produced one of their best. We’re not sure what a Hashiwokakero is, but we’re pretty damn good at them now.
You can buy Puzzle by Nikoli W Hashiwokakero from the Xbox Store