The conveyor belts at Puzzle by Nikoli W are running at full steam this year. We’re getting a new puzzle from them at a rate of once per month, which makes them one of – if not the – most prolific publishers on the Xbox. You could be cynical and say that it’s just numbers on a square grid, but it’s still impressive.
This month’s puzzle type is the Yajilin. As with every Puzzle by Nikoli W review, the challenge is in describing it, so we’ll dust off the laser pointer and whiteboard and give it a go.
Imagine a large grid. On that grid are numbers, and those numbers come coupled with an arrow pointing in a single direction. What the number and arrow indicate is how many black squares are in that direction. If there is a 3 and a left-facing arrow, then there are three black squares from the number to the edge of the grid.
It’s important to note that those black squares can never be next to each other. If you have a number 3 pointing upwards, but only five white squares above it, then you can take a logical next step. The five squares will be black-white-black-white-black, as that’s the only way to fill five squares with no black squares touching each other. Still with us? Good.
Black squares are just one half of the puzzle. You will be constantly checking the numbers to see if, through the process of elimination, you have revealed more black squares. But they’re not enough to solve the entire puzzle. For that, you will need paths.
You can draw lines on the grid, and these follow their own rules. Firstly, the path lines always connect up – there are no broken lines. They never cross each other, either. And the lines join up to form one mega-structure, rather than small islands of lines. You can’t have a box isolated in the corner of the grid. If you were to strip out all the numbers and black squares, then you would see one single, large continent of lines without any archipelagos around it.
It’s going to get tricky for the next bit of Puzzle by Nikoli W Yajilin, so bear with us. Black squares are never connected to other black squares, right? Well, a Yajilin puzzle can have no blank, pathless squares either, so this leads to a natural conclusion: a black square must be surrounded by paths. You can start placing dots around a black square that tells Future You that a path is needed in that space.
Believe it or not, this is all the information you need to complete a puzzle. Since paths must always flow onwards, you are often directed by a determination not to back yourself into a corner. The tutorial is a little light on this information, and it would have been useful to know: the primary thing that you will be thinking about is how to avoid a dead-end.
There you have it: the basic rules of a Puzzle by Nikoli W Yajilin. And much like the other Nikoli games, it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and brain-bubbling puzzle. It needs a little bit of a run up – as mentioned, the tutorial doesn’t quite prepare you for the process that you will need to follow – but once things click into place, a Yajilin becomes one of the good ones. Nikoli fans should put down the £3.99 as soon as possible.
More than once, we’d look at one of the hard puzzles, get so far through it, then snort: there’s no way this can be done. But square by square, inch by inch, we would make progress. The path would snake around the arena, reducing the number of squares that black square could be placed in, eventually unlocking a new black square on the arena. And black squares are gold dust. Get one of those, and suddenly you have several clues to where paths might go.
There are no usability quirks this time round, which have plagued the last couple of releases. Once you get used to which button does what, they behave as they should. And we experienced failure less often with Puzzle by Nikoli W Yajilin. There’s something about the building blocks of the puzzle that mean that you have to do something majorly wrong to end up with an unfinishable grid.
That said, the Nikoli fatigue hit us hard with this one. Partly that’s down to the frequency of releases, but it’s also because a Puzzle by Nikoli W Yajilin is not altogether different from others in the series. There’s a large chunk of ‘Slitherlink’ and ‘Masyu’ to a Yajilin (we dare you to drop that into a dinner table conversation), making it less unique than others. We’ve created large path-continents before, and we’ve ensured every square of a grid is filled before too. The impression is of a developer who is tinkering with rules, moving some logic over here, a number over there, rather than someone who is looking for whole new spaces in which to create puzzles. Maybe we could have pictures or sliding blocks next time, Nikoli?
As with all the other Puzzle by Nikoli W series, the surrounding stuff is primo. While utterly devoid of charm, the presentation is spotless, making everything clear, bold and zoomable. There are all the features you could possibly want (aside from, actually, a feature that darkens out numbers once they have been completed, which would have been nice), and more than enough puzzles, too. Fifty puzzles is absolutely adequate, particularly when each one takes a healthy amount of time to complete.
Puzzle by Nikoli W Yajilin finds itself near the front of the puzzling peloton. It’s not unique enough to be sprinting out front, but it’s so polished and friction-free that it’s the best of the following rest. If you love the series, then this is an insta-purchase. If you’re curious but inexperienced, then we’d probably push you to Puzzle by Nikoli W Nurikabe instead.