Version tested: DS
Every now and then, you play a mini-game - either in a collection of such games, or as a distraction in a larger game - and think to yourself, "hey, this would work as a full-size game!"
This isn't a thought that crossed our mind when we first encountered a NEVES-style puzzle. Simplistic in the extreme, the game's core idea will inevitably be familiar to most people - given a collection of geometric shapes, you need to slot them into position to make up a single shape. It's a classic puzzle game, but not, perhaps, the kind that makes for a full-scale game experience that you'd pay actual money to play.
After going through a worrying phase of NEVES addiction, however, we're not quite so sure. Conflicted, if anything. It's not that NEVES turns out to be any more complex than we'd expected - there aren't any hidden depths to discover here, unless you count a fairly straightforward two-player single-card mode. Instead, it simply transpires that the basic idea itself has significantly more legs than we'd expected.
The game offers up 500 puzzles to be solved, which should occupy a pretty substantial chunk of your time, and pitches the controls very nicely for the DS' stylus. It can take a little while to get used to spinning the pieces with the stylus, but once you pick up on it, the actual act of assembling pieces will be second nature - leaving you with a very pure puzzle-solving experience, whose interface never steps in the way.
You do have the option of turning on a count-down timer if the whole thing is altogether too sedate for you - and you can even enable a mode that gives you no room for experimentation, demanding that each piece is put into its correct position first time. However, there's a certain brain-teasing, Sudoku-like charm to simply solving the puzzles in your own time, spotting patterns in the pieces and learning to build up more complex shapes as you progress.
NEVES isn't going to win any awards for originality, or even for presentation - great controls aside, it's all incredibly minimalistic. But despite coming to the game with a deep well of cynicism in our souls, we've found ourselves rather taken with it. Perhaps not a full-price purchase, all the same - but it's a charming, relaxing little game, and further proof that the DS richly rewards those willing to take a simple idea and do it well.