We may not know who Nikoli W are, but they can keep doing what they’re doing. For a year now, they have been pushing puzzle games across the Xbox Store counter, and – although they may look identical to each other – they are independently great little head-scratchers. That pattern doesn’t stop with Puzzle by Nikoli W Heyawake.
Heya, we are told, means ‘a room’ and wake means ‘to divide’. ‘Dividing rooms’ is a decent explanation for what’s happening here. As with almost every Puzzle by Nikoli W game, everything starts with a square grid and some numbers in it. But these numbers seem to be divided into squares and oblongs: the rooms and ‘Heya’.
The number in the room refers to how many black squares there will be in the given square or oblong. The black squares can’t connect to each other, so there’s your first clue to how to start. If a 1×1 square has a 1 in it, you need to be painting it black, as Mick would say. If a large oblong has a 0 in it, then you should be switching to the X button to mark them as clear. If there is a 5×1 rectangle with a 3 in it, then – do the maths – there’s only one way that three squares can be placed within it without those squares touching.
Okay, that’s rule number one. Rule number two is that all of the clear, non-black, unmarked squares need to connect up. There can be no islands where a white square is castaway. They need to snake together, creating a path through the whole puzzle. This is vital information. That 2×2 square in the corner with a 2 in it now gets solved: you can’t have the two black diagonal squares cutting off a clear square in the corner. Again, you have only one possible permutation, so get colouring.
The final rule, which ties the whole puzzle together, is the most complicated one. There must be no situation where you can walk through three ‘rooms’ in a straight line without hitting a black square. Basically, there can’t be so many white squares that three rooms connect up without a blockage.
Ta-dah, or Heyawake!, you have your puzzle. These three rules combine to provide just enough clues and hints to start working through to completion.
As with previous Puzzle by Nikoli W puzzles, your brain starts switching between states. We found ourselves in the room-checking state first, scanning the numbers in the rooms to make sure that there wasn’t an easy black-square placement. Then we entered the ‘is everything connecting up?’ state, where we’d follow the snaking white squares to ensure a path was preserved. And finally, we’d have a look at the room boundaries, the hardest to deduce, to see if we’d reached a point where we could eliminate a square as it was cuddling up to two white rooms.
For the first time in a Puzzle by Nikoli W review, we have to criticise the legibility. If there’s something that they get consistently right, it’s clarity. They may not be the best-looking games, and they might have the personality of a shatterproof ruler, but you can always rely on them being immediately understandable. But in Puzzle by Nikoli W Heyawake, it can be hard to spot where room boundaries are in a mostly complete puzzle. Once it’s full of blueish and black squares, it can be hard to see where the original rooms’ walls are. That’s a pain for the third of the three brain-states that we described, and it feels like there was a better solution for making them visible. A white drop shadow, perhaps.
Otherwise, though, the puzzles are exactly what an idle mind needs. We lost hour after hour to the fifty grids that are included here, working from the Easy puzzles to the more sprawling and unhelpful Hards. Achievements popped with every five puzzles, and we snapped into the same state that came with the other Nikoli games: in between games and download times, we would pop on Puzzle by Nikoli W Heyawake and get a game or two in.
There is a growing criticism though, and we’re intrigued to see how the Puzzle by Nikoli W series handles it. Because Puzzle by Nikoli W Heyawake is not altogether dissimilar to Puzzle by Nikoli W Nurikabe, which in turn is not that different from Puzzle by Nikoli W Akari. We found rules familiar: numbers indicate how many black squares should be in a given area; paths should be unbroken through the puzzle; squares should not be placed together. The third of the three stages is different, but the first two are not. What emanates is a vague whiff of familiarity.
We don’t mind right now. The puzzles are so expertly done, and the Xbox Store isn’t super-saturated as it stands. But it scuffs off some of the luster of Puzzle by Nikoli W Heyawake, and means that it doesn’t blow our nerdy socks off like the other games have. It’s brilliant, and whiles away the hours, but it’s a snug kind of brilliant, rather than something that gets us thinking in new ways, tying our brains in a different kind of knot.
If you have found the Puzzle by Nikoli W series already, then Heyawake is a satisfying more-of-the-same. Its air of familiarity is easy to ignore when you’re pulling the pencil from behind your ear and filling in more brain-teasers. But if you’re new to the series and want to dip a toe in, it’s possibly the least engaging by a degree or two.
You can buy Puzzle by Nikoli W Heyawake from the Xbox Store