Review: USA Today Crossword Challenge (Nintendo DS)

USA Today Crossword Challenge
Genre: Crossword Puzzle
Developer: Mercury Games/ Sanuk Games
Publisher: Destineer
Release Date: June 3, 2008

When reviewing a game about flying around on dragons, shooting demons with a magical guitar, it is easy to determine if it is fun or not. However it is very difficult to rate how accurately it recreates the flying around and killing demons with a magical guitar experience. USA Today Crossword Challenge, however, recreates something I do on a regular basis without my pants on. So, you may be wondering, how does USA Today Crossword Challenge stack up to the sitting on the toilet with a newspaper crossword experience?

Well, I could say something smart ass about its ease of transport and the lack of ink smudging on your upper thighs, but that would be superfluous. Instead, we’ll look at what this game does differently than a paper and pencil…or pen for the criminally insane. First off, USA Today Crossword Challenge has 300 puzzles. A newspaper has 1. At the $.75 per puzzle ratio, this game should cost approximately $225. You can get a Nintendo DS and this game for much less. Plus, you can keep your upper thighs ink free!

Seriously, though, I play my DS one of two ways: on a 20 minute break from work or while sitting on the toilet. That means puzzle games are usually the way to go. I want three things from a puzzle game on the DS. I need to be able to start and stop in a hurry. I want to be challenged. Most importantly, the controls must be accurate. I sit in a locker room with a half dozen other people, so I really don’t care what a game sounds like. So, let us look at the attributes.

Starting and Stopping
It takes two clicks to stop and save a partially completed puzzle. It takes two clicks to restart a puzzle. You don’t get more simple or efficient than that. I appreciate that it is easy to get back into a puzzle, but I do have one complaint: being able to only save one puzzle at a time sucks. I like to swap between puzzles when I am working on them. It’s how my brain works. I will have epiphanies about another clue while working on another puzzle. Having to restart a puzzle from scratch to make use of my flashes of (limited) brilliance is an annoyance, but not a deal breaker.

Challenge
When playing any game, a challenge is necessary, and while playing a puzzle game, a challenge is usually the only reason to keep playing. Without a story, the challenge of beating all 300 puzzles is all that there is to keep me going in a game like this. With each puzzle recording the time it took to complete, it becomes a personal challenge to see how quickly old puzzles can be solved.

I Am In Complete Control, Aren’t I?
Control makes or breaks a crossword game, so I was overjoyed to find that USA Today Crossword Challenge has a QWERTY option. The handwriting recognition is fine, for people with legible handwriting, but mine, not so much. The QWERTY input is fast and accurate, so it works for me. One thing that this game does very well is provide easy access to the clues. They can be viewed on the top screen and on the clue screen. Nice. It is easy to accidentally get the down and across mixed up, but I can be stupid, so it might just be me.

Modes: GOOD
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: DECENT
Control: GREAT
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD
Final Rating: GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary
Do you like crossword puzzles? Do you have a DS? Pick this one up. A fun little title that does exactly what you expect and does it well. Plus, for those who habla espaniol, it has 300 puzzles in Spanish. So, if you are tired of blackened legs, check out USA Today Crossword Challenge.

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