There have been eight ‘Puzzle by Nikoli W‘ games on the Xbox and none of them are what we would call fast-paced. They tend to be back-of-a-newspaper puzzles that tangle us in their web for fifteen minutes each, deliberating on where to place each line, number or square. They are extremely slow, rather than fast in any remote way.

What separates Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku from the seven other games in the series is how speedy each one is. In another Nikoli title, we will barely scratch the surface over the space of an afternoon. We’ll be left with many afternoons to go. But we chewed through Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku in a single session, notching a puzzle every couple of minutes. It’s not exactly DOOM Eternal, but it’s still a rather speedy puzzle title.

As with every single Puzzle by Nikoli W game, you start with a grid. On that grid are numbers, and this time round those numbers represent the number of squares that will eventually surround it. A 2 can only live within a 2×1 rectangle, while a 12 can reside in a 12×1, 6×2 and 4×3, in a multitude of directions and permutations. You better have your times tables to reference.

Every last corner of the grid must be covered by your quadrilaterals, and a number can only appear in each one once. Normally there are five or six rules at play, but Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku keeps things simple, mostly because it can. The rules we’ve given you are more than enough to complete a full grid.

A 7, for example, is a useful number because it’s prime, so you know that a 7×1 needs to fit somewhere. A 9, too, is useful: it’s not often that there is room for both a 3×3 square and a 9×1, so it’s going to be only one of those two. And those are both big numbers, so they’re going to clear out a lot of the grid for you.

Individual squares give you clues too. A square tucked round the side of other blocks will be telltale: normally, only one number can reach it. On the harder levels with bigger grids and fewer levels, you might do a spot of square-by-square canvassing, working out which can only be covered by a single number.

But that makes Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku seem ponderous when actually it’s a swift little bugger. Mostly that’s because larger numbers can take out a good proportion of the grid. There’s also a snowball effect when you add a rectangle, as suddenly there are fewer options for the other numbers, and you’re chaining together rectangles like a prodigy. Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku has a knack for making you feel good about your mental prowess.

Still, there’s something loose about Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku that makes it less compelling than the best in the series. Some of that is due to the controls. The series is normally watertight in this area, but Shikaku fumbles matters.

You can place incomplete rectangles to show where a number might stretch to, but as soon as you overlay that rectangle with a bigger, correct one then Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku goes barmy. It gets confused and creates multiple squares in multiple places, trying to be helpful but ending up being anything but. You soon learn that deleting is your friend: it’s best to get rid of any stray squares before doing anything else. Still, we couldn’t help wonder if there was a better approach.

A slip of the stick can be devastating too. There’s a PAC-Man like loop that can take you to the other side of the grid but, accidentally draw a square across this loop, and you can erase a frigging huge number of squares. More than once we had to agonisingly replace what we had already drawn. A confirmation prompt for deleting more than one square would have been lovely.

We’re on the fence about the degree of challenge, too. We never thought we’d say this, but this Puzzle by Nikoli W game might be too easy. It’s a criticism we’d never level at their other games. But we found ourselves going through some motions rather than having our brain being hung-drawn-and-quartered like it normally is. That will be subjective, and depend entirely on what you look for from this kind of game. We just found it a little too transparent.

Still, there’s the usual Puzzle by Nikoli W stamp of quality. Aside from some control quirks, this is a classy compendium of puzzles, well tutorialised and with a fine gradient of difficulty. Basic controls are good, the presentation is clear, and while it’s as clinical and personality-less as their other titles, Puzzle by Nikoli W – whoever they may be – have done another bang-up job.

We might complain about how easy and on-the-nose the puzzles are, but there’s a place for this kind of challenge. We still played all the way to the end, enjoying every moment. We just didn’t feel as tormented as we usually do.

And at some point those behind Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku will have to reveal what demon pact they’ve signed. It’s the only way to explain how they keep creating original puzzles that we haven’t encountered before in the wild. We’ve never played a Shikaku before, but we’re Shik-hot at them now.

You can buy Puzzle by Nikoli W Shikaku from the Xbox Store

#### Pros:

• Another original puzzle from Nikoli W
• As expected, classily presented
• Completely intuitive
• Well explained

#### Cons:

• Some control hiccups
• Lacking challenge for our tastes

#### Info:

• Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to – Purchased by TXH
• Formats – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One
• Version reviewed – Xbox One on Xbox Series X
• Release date – 12 April 2023
• Launch price from – £3.99

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