Let’s face it, the idea of a crossword game that actually works is pure genius. Such a simple concept, but so hard to execute correctly. The game will always stand or fall on how robust the puzzles are, and whether or not there are enough of them to keep you occupied long enough to make the game a worthwhile purchase.
Well, it certainly looks like Sanuk Games has managed to tick both boxes. As far as the strength of the crossword puzzles is concerned, they’re provided by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper crossword team, which is known as one of the best in the world. The newspaper has been publishing crosswords since 1925, with almost a million clues!
And as for there being enough crossword puzzles in the game to keep you occupied, well, there are 500 puzzles in total to choose from, so that should keep you busy for at least the next month or so!
Of the 500 total puzzles, 300 are the rather tricky cryptic kind (select the 15 x15 option from the main menu to do these), while 200 have the more regular clues (select 13 x 13 for these), such as “Lower House of Parliament”, seven letters, you know the sort of thing.
I’m hopeless at the cryptic ones myself, but now would be a good time to learn perhaps, and the perfect opportunity with 300 all crammed into my shiny blue PSP. Let’s see if I can make any headway, here goes: “Small amount of poetry stored by mother”, seven letters. Oh dear, haven’t got the faintest! But you get the idea.
The presentation of the gameplay is first rate. Obviously you’re not looking for much from the graphics, just simple, clear puzzles and maybe a pleasant colour scheme and nice music, and you certainly get all of those.
The most important Option for you to address before you start is Error Spotting. You can choose either Immediate or Final Review. Immediate enables you to see if you’ve entered any wrong letters when you’ve finished entering a word, whereas Final Review plays more like a traditional crossword, where you don’t get to see your errors until you’ve finished the whole puzzle.
As soon as you select your puzzle and start playing, a timer starts in the right hand corner of the screen. This adds another challenge to the gameplay, as you can try and beat your own time records, or those of your friends, which are then logged in the Hall of Fame.
The control system, another area where I thought the game might fall short, is actually very easy to use. When you’re trying to replace the good old pencil and paper with a cursor and virtual keyboard then it has to be as effortless as possible to avoid frustration, and the system used here certainly does the job.
Start by dragging the cursor onto a square using the analog stick, and you’ll then see the relevant clue highlighted in the list of Across and Down clues on the right of the screen.
The entire word is highlighted in yellow, and the square you’re currently concerned with in orange. Press X to call up the virtual keyboard and then X again to ‘write’ the letter you want. Use the directional buttons to move around the virtual keyboard.
If you make a mistake, simply press O to erase a letter, L to undo and R to redo the undo if you change your mind! If you’re really stuck, you can always press triangle to have a letter entered for you, but be warned that your time will increase by one minute for each letter.
Granted, there were a couple of times where I had to stop and drag the cursor back to where I wanted to add a letter, but for the most part it was very easy to use.
A quick word about how the game works on the PS3 – the controls are exactly the same, which seems to be the norm for all the PS3-ready minis released so far. Graphics-wise it looks fine, although you do feel a bit silly doing crosswords on the (joint) most powerful console in the universe!
If word puzzles aren’t your thing, then this game is not for you, but you’ll know that already. If you’re the sort of person who likes any sort of brain training game or word puzzle game, Telegraph Crosswords is a must-have mini. I can see it being the perfect way to while away long hours on a flight, for example, when you just want to stretch your brain a little but don’t feel like playing games.