Developer: Route 1 Games
Publisher: Zoo Interactive
Release Date: 08/05/2008
First off, I have to beg a collective pardon from the review-reading audience that just might have happened to stumble upon this review. Chances are you’ve come looking to see if an innocent title like Puzzler Collection fits what would satisfy a rather simple and superficial desire for any number of puzzles in any given capacity, no matter how deep or shallow. I empathize. And that’s fine, really, as you clicked on this review with expectations of finding out how it is.
It’s kind of like when you might go to your local Kentucky Fried Chicken, expecting to find, well, fried chicken in a bucket, and actually getting said chicken in that bucket you expected. Or maybe when you approach a Slurpee machine at 7-Eleven, don’t see the red light beside the plastic window on, and find out that you’ve found the Dr. Pepper Slurpee you just poured to have the greatest consistency since Senator John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. My friends, (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist – FB) these are examples being met and fully satisfied; the primary goal is met, and the circumstances surrounding those goals comfortably conform to your sense of understanding and familiarity.
However, there are times when things don’t go nearly as smooth as you’d wish. For instance, if you were to plan a trip to a lake or pool in the middle of a Texas summer, only to find out that the weather has some kind of acoustic dimension to it in the form of falling ice rocks. You can still go to the pool and possibly enjoy yourself, but it’s going to be damn painful while you’re there. I mean, unless your idea of getting pelted with hail the size of golf balls is a pleasant idea, you’re going to have a miserable time floating down a river no matter how much beer you’ve brought. This is an instance of a goal being satisfied, but the circumstances surrounding its satisfaction are abrasive and uncomfortable – possibly harmful – to your sensibilities.
Now, remember when I asked for that pardon three long paragraphs ago? Usually I might like to lead you, the reader, with a few sentences that tempt you to slowly watch the mystery unfold through an attempt to write compelling opening paragraphs. And if another game were the subject of this review, and not Puzzler Collection, this might have been possible. However, Puzzler Collection has left me so frustrated, I can’t give you the eloquence you deserve, or expected. Simply put,
Puzzler Collection is a game whose execution has left me frustrated, apparently, for no real good reason at all.
Yes, you get puzzles to play. Yes, it’s on the Wii. And that’s all fine and dandy. However, on that long and winding road making an enjoyable experience with something as simple as a crossword puzzle, Puzzler Collection apparently suffers from an absence of common sense in the design process. If you feel that previous sentence is loaded, allow me to explain.
Puzzler Collection gets the subject right in that it is a collection of puzzles. That is, you have your classic Crossword and Wordsearch puzzles, as well as my personal favorite Sudoku in addition to Fitword, a game where, quite aptly, you fit words together in a series of perpendicular lines. However, Zoo Interactive is not the first to successfully title a game with many games on it. Midway released a Mortal Kombat Collection which successfully bundled three full games, each of which was from the Mortal Kombat series. Capcom has done this too, and even Square has done it with their Final Fantasy franchise. Thus, the concept of Puzzler Collection passes with flying colors.
When you begin the game, you’ve got a few choices on how to spend your time. I’ll spend a sentence or two describing each:
The “Puzzler Tournament” option provides you a ladder of 20 puzzles to complete that mix the four puzzle types. You’re given a certain amount of time to complete each one; finish the puzzle under the allotted time and you’ll have “Aced” it, or you’ll simply “complete” it if you go over time. My experience with this mode is that it is skewed towards the Wordfit and Wordsearch puzzles, which can be seen as either a boon or a detriment depending on your puzzle preferences.
“Quick Blast” allows you to create a kind of daily “puzzle workout” of the puzzle types of your choice, and also allows you to assign a time limit in between 5 and 30 minutes (in 5 minute increments) in which to finish said puzzles. You can select the difficulty level too, and even give it a fancy name. I titled mine “AAA.” While I appreciate the flexibility of being able to choose my own puzzles, I also found it irritating that I could save only one Quick Blast configuration per player profile. Should you want another Quick Blast profile, you’re going to have to play in another profile entirely. Even though I have a “Fred” profile that has all the puzzles in tow to be completed in 30, I’ve got to create a “Fred A” one to make a different one, or else I have to erase the configuration completed in “Fred.” Kind of cumbersome, and completely avoidable should a little more time had been taken on the design front.
“Simply Puzzle” is perhaps the most calm exercise here. You choose your puzzle and the difficulty, and you’re off. No fuss, no muss.
“Fast & Fun” is a mode is described in the game as “[Completing] a serices of mini puzzles against the clock without making any mistakes.” While this mode is fast, is nowhere near as fun as the second word implies. This has less to do with dishonorable intentions on Route 1’s end as much as it has to do with how the game controls, which I will discuss later.
Sadly, due to a lack of interested parties, I was unable to spend some time with the “Head-to-Head” mode. It is an option that allows one person to play against another.
As you can see, there’s a wealth of ways to play the four puzzles offered by Puzzler Collection. But while I didn’t necessarily have any problems with the modes offered by Puzzler Collection, I do have many, MANY design issues pertaining to how the games are presented.
First and foremost is the absolutely horrendous decision to use painfully small white and grey lettering not only in the menu screens, but also in Sudoku, against backgrounds with which they haphazardly contrast.
Put more succinctly, the size of the menu text is damn small. So small, in fact, that I have to strain my eyes to read what it says in parts. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a 27 year-old male with 20/20 vision, playing on a 27-inch Toshiba CRT from 2005 at a viewing distance of about 6 feet, and trying to navigate the game is an exercise in earning a glasses prescription. Quite frankly, its painful to play. And since the target audience for a game like Puzzler Collection is probably older and more casual video game players than myself, I’m downright astounded that Route 1 didn’t take those factors into account. If I’m struggling to read what’s going on, how will my Mom or Dad feel?
Related to the size of the print is the choice of color in the menu screen and in the Sudoku game. While there are portions of the game during the menu screen where a dark blue background will float by and render those specs of small letters readable, this gift is few and far between. This is especially problematic in Sudoku, where by some “grace” of whomever it was decided to overlay the small, light grey text on white squares. Maybe the developers were using night-vision goggles to make sense of what they were reading, but it is damn frustrating when you’re trying to discern light grey numbers on white backgrounds. I mean, the unintentional way that the numbers camouflage themselves against their like-colored background is effective enough to warrant a DARPA grant. Thank God you can click on a number on the Sudoku board twice and it will highlight the selected instance of the number in blue, making it legible, but the decision to follow that contrast scheme is what might be called in ‘popular’ internet parlance as an “epic fail.” Please see Brain Age for an instance of Sudoku done right. Puzzler Collection might be really fun to play, if only I didn’t have to strain myself to see it. Or, for that matter, strain myself in having to play it.
Begrudgingly for me, Puzzler Collection forces the player to use the Wii Remote’s motion sensing to navigate the puzzles. This would be awesome if my metabolism were closer to that of a humming bird than that of a bear. Not only that, but the precision of the Wii Remote in Puzzler Collection can be described as erratic at best. Some time ago, you might remember that I had mentioned the “Fast & Fun” segment of the game that challenges you to complete a series of puzzles without making a mistake. While I am not Kevin Jennings, I can search for words quicker than most, as well as fit and solve words in Fitword and Crossword puzzles as well. However, you’d never know that if you watched me play Puzzler Collection, as my labor in conducting the Wii Remote to the right spot was frustratingly and frequently selecting the wrong places. A simple decision on making the game board LARGER could have solved this, as the extra space for the cells could have easily compensated for any uncorrectable calibration of the Wii Remote. There’s no good reason that Route 1 couldn’t have also enabled a “hold the Wii Remote” sideways to let the player navigate the puzzle with the D-pad and the 1 and 2 buttons. But my guess is that someone in the lead design seat thought that having such an option would forsake the holy gimmick of motion-sensing navigation.
Furthermore, there is a LOT of unused space on the TV during a few of the games. Such an inefficient use of space is something that could have been corrected with a more diligent eye from the design end.
As far as the rest of the game goes, it really isn’t all that great. The problems I’ve described previously are compounded not only by an excruciatingly slow navigation process between modes, but also the most un-inspired soundtrack since the moon landing. There are about 2 or 3 distinct music compositions available, all of which flow together with the punctuation of random instruments to denote miscellaneous events throughout the game. One such musical track sounds like the composer from the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionare?” took the job because he had B-side tracks lying around. There’s also another track that that, save for a few different instances, sounds remarkably like George Michael’s “Father Figure.” At this point, I would have taken “Faith.” At least that track would have been coincidentally humorous.
So what more is there to say about the game? Not much more than I’m sad that I had to scrutinize it so much. A compilation of puzzle games sounds like, no pun intended, a very enjoyable no-brainer. But due to short-sighted design decisions made in what I suspect was the interest of profitability, Puzzler Collection is one of the most disappointing games that I’ve had the chance to play. As of press time, I have no idea what the retail price of the game will be. But whatever price you find for it isn’t worth it. And if you receive it as a gift, insist on getting the receipt. If not, you can always use the white DVD case for your copy of Wii Sports.
Graphics: Slightly Below Average
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Below Average
Replayability: Dreadful (you have to be able to play it once in order to play it again, right?)
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Damn Weak
FINAL SCORE: Below Average Game
Short Attention Span Summary
While you do get a collection of puzzles to play, Puzzler Collection suffers from a lack of common sense in the design how those puzzles are presented. It feels bad knowing that real people worked on this game, only to have it be nearly unplayable by this reviewer. Keep most of your money and grab a copy of your local newspaper for your puzzle fix instead.