Let the Mind Games Begin
School's out, the pool's open and in much of the country it's too hot to think. If you have to go outside, you might as well bring some new Nintendo DS puzzle games along to help keep the brain cells from melting.
Brain Voyage (Everyone; Nintendo DS, $19.99; Eidos): This trip around the world is a diverting anthology of 16 puzzle genres. Some are adaptations of such popular board games as Yahtzee and Battleship. Some test your memory and logic skills. There are mazes to explore and math problems to solve. Brain Voyage was designed by Reiner Knizia, the legendary German board-game designer. (An animated Knizia serves as tour guide, and frankly he's a little creepy.) The biggest disappointment is the lack of any truly original challenges; most puzzle fans will recognize many of the games. Still, there are only a few duds, such as a level where you have to count fish. Most of the puzzles are more challenging, and the game motivates you to improve your scores. The graphics are unobtrusive and the controls are tight, so you have only yourself to blame if you can't conquer a particular test.
Crosswords DS (Everyone; Nintendo DS, $19.99; Nintendo): Nintendo has brought great brainteasers to its portable system, so I had high hopes for its crossword game. It looks great, with a nice, clean interface that makes it easy to fill in those little white squares. The handwriting recognition is decent, with a few quirks (such as reading a capital "I" as an "L") that you can adapt to. Experienced solvers, however, will find it infuriating that they can't tackle harder puzzles right off the bat. Instead, you have to solve 100 medium puzzles first. Few players will make it that far because the puzzles themselves violate every rule of crossword design. They appear to be computer-generated, which means they're flat-out dull, with none of the clever themes or witty wordplay you'd expect from a contemporary puzzle.
USA Today Crossword Challenge (Teen; Nintendo DS, $19.99; Destineer): USA Today might not have the best crosswords in the United States, but it does serve up a solid, if somewhat bland, brainteaser every weekday. This package assembles 300 of the newspaper's puzzles, and they're far more satisfying than those in Crosswords DS. The interface, however, isn't nearly as elegant, crammed with a bunch of unlabeled buttons whose uses remain mysterious. The handwriting recognition is awfully quirky, but you do have the option to call up an onscreen keyboard that makes entering letters a lot faster. Because an entire daily-size puzzle won't fit on one screen, you must use the stylus to slide the grid around. Such a seemingly simple process becomes needlessly frustrating because the game seems to have trouble recognizing the sliding motion. The game is sloppily programmed, but the core puzzles are solid enough to satisfy most solvers.
-- Lou Kesten, Associated Press