CrunchArcade: Puzzles on the Portables

Big things do indeed come in small packages, and this is notably true of the some of the latest puzzle games for the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable. These offerings might not be overly complex, but don’t call them simplistic. They’re the types of games that are easy to learn, hard to master and even harder to put down. More importantly puzzle games are also the kind that are instant hits or misses. For every “Snake” or “Bust-A-Move” there are dozens of forgettable titles. These quick pick up and play games should the kind you don’t want to ever put down. And finally these should be the type of game where you can jump in and play, without needing to ask what you’re suppose to do. This week CrunchArcade looks the games you can get in and play just about anywhere, and we’ll tell whether they’re even worth picking it up.

Lumines Plus
Buena Vista Games
ESRB: Everyone
Platform: Sony PSP
While Sony’s PlayStation Portable has great capability for simulations — notably racing games — the real breakout titles are the simple and quick puzzle games, and Lumines Plus is easily the top of the bunch. Based on the popular franchise for the PS2, this game includes plenty of new content including new skins and more than 100 puzzles to keep you in solving mode for quite a while.

There is no score cap with the challenge mode, and this means you can play for as long as you can solve the puzzles to unlock additional content. While some of the facets of Lumines have been compared to Tetris, there is actually considerably more thinking involved and most of the time this isn’t just a mere race against time. About the only complaint with this new handheld version is that the developers took the time to overlay the puzzles on music videos. This is worse than distracting, but fortunately there are options to just get back to the puzzles, and that’s where Lumines Plus really shines.

D3 Publisher of America
ESRB: Everyone
Platform: PSP
Play a game long enough and you’ll start to see the pieces take shape when you close your eyes. Cube is one of those games, or at least it would be, but the puzzles become so uninspiring and predictable that you don’t need to close your eyes to see where things are going. Some of the puzzles — even those at the harder levels — are so painfully obvious that this is one that makes it hard to get excited about.

It isn’t easy to get that feeling of video game motion sickness on the PSP, but it almost seems that is what the developers had in mind with Cube. Perhaps to make it more challenging the game’s design involves moving in a variety of directions, and as a result suffers from camera that is hard to control where you can’t tell what is up or down. The overall presentation is also about as uninspired as the actual puzzles. There are thinking man’s puzzles, but don’t give this one another thought.

7 Wonders
ESRB: Everyone
Platforms: PSP, Nintendo DS
If you’re looking for the excitement of Bejeweled, and want to play something that is essentially like Bejeweled but has a slight different (although by no means improved) presentation then 7 Wonders might be the game you’re seeking. There are plenty of clones and knockoffs in video games, but this one is like changing the colors of the falling objects and reworking the background of Tetris and calling it a new game.

The big difference is that in 7 Wonders each of the games levels is based on a theme, which of course is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. There are 49 levels in total offering seven levels of seven. In addition, the game provides “historical facts” about the Seven Wonders from the “The Professor” but don’t treat this like a summer history lesion. The types of facts presented are of the sort you’ll find on a box of cookies! That said the themes make for a nice addition to a proven classic, but it will be a real wonder if you’re actually bother replaying this one after completing the various objectives.

ESRB: Everyone
Platforms: Nintendo DS
First things first, I’m not going to pretend to understand the Sudoku craze at all. At least as an electronic game I sort of get it. That said numbers also aren’t my thing, as I have too many bad memories of high school and college math — and frankly “math-kids” are just strange. That all said, Toon-Doku sort of works! OK, maybe it is a little bit more like a kid’s game like “Memory,” but the cartoon picture-based puzzles really makes for better gameplay.

And while various Sudoku titles have been big on the PSP, Toon-Doku takes advantage of the DS touch screen functionality to make for faster gameplay. There are plenty of extra features that unless you’re a total Toon-Doku nut, you might not use such as the edit mode, which will allow you create and edit images for use in puzzles. These can be traded with friends, but most of the time the core gameplay offers enough for the casual player. This includes four single player game modes, as well as a single card download for up to 16 players.

Toon-Doku is still Sudoku, and there’s no getting around that. If the big-S isn’t your thing, then Toon-Doku might not change your mind, unless you agree that those kids who loved math are truly freaks!

Cake Mania
ESRB: Everyone
Platforms: Nintendo DS
If you screw around all day and just play video games you could end up going pro, and having to drive a Porsche as your everyday car. But you’re also just as likely to end up flipping burgers for a living… or so we’ve heard. So if you’re going to just spend all your time playing games then give Cake Mania a try. This is one of those games that fall squarely into the category of “Sim Work,” but if your parents/girlfriend/wife/boss complains that you’ve got your nose in the DS screen, you can always claim that you’re studying for a possible future job/career change.

Basically in this one you work at a bakery, and wait for customer requests! Then you rush to do some baking, plus put the finishing touches such as icing and adding other decorations. Cake Mania for the DS features the full online game, plus the Back to the Bakery expansion pack, which combined offer more than 80 levels of baking, each with specific goals to accomplish. And because this one is for the DS, you’ll use the touch screen to hand out menus, collect cash and train that steady head to frost and decorate cakes.

There are even five exotic locations to try out, which can come in handy when you make it to the big time. Because chances are if you do lose your job and have to work in a bakery it isn’t going to be one on the beachfront or in Hawaii!

Honeycomb Beat
ESRB: Everyone
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Rhythm-based games continue to be the rage, but despite the name this one doesn’t really rely much on rhythm. In fact the deceiving name, which could also be confused with a breakfast cereal, is yet another of the game’s more puzzling aspects. Honeycomb Beat does provide enough gameplay to keep you enthralled, at least for a while.

With two distinct modes of play, it’s one of those that is easy enough to pick up, and while the challenges increase with more than 200 different puzzles to solve you might have trouble putting it down. On the downside you might have trouble getting some of the music – which does have a repetitive beat – out of your head too.

The puzzle mode presents you with a unique grid, which you must solve in a limited number of beats. There is no time, so you can think this one out. And while they increase in difficulty you’ll be able to beat most of them in a few hours. The evolution mode lets you use unlimited beats but limits your time. Both make for a good game, and as mentioned it is a hard game to put down. That’s a compliment… almost. Because each time you pick this one you might find that there is actually only so much gameplay here, and like a summer pop song, it might sound good at first but it does get old, and all too fast – time limit or not.