In 2007 I played Slitherlink for around 250 hours. Discovered after my friend Stu recommended it to me, this obscure Japanese product had received no Western coverage that I had seen. Slitherlink, or Puzzle Loop, was a long established puzzle - sometimes you'd find one or two of them scattered amongst a supermarket sudoku collection. But I'd never encountered them before.
And at first I didn't get it, I thought it was too hard. There's a grid of numbers, about which you must weave one elaborate loop of lines. If there's a 3, then three sides of its square will be filled. A 1, then one. And based on this knowledge, you must discern the pattern the loop will make.
When it clicked, it clicked like the lock of a vast safe door in an echoing chamber. It's hard, yes, but it's purely logical. The game taught you a few tricks in its tutorial. Two 3s next to each other, then you know this, this and this.
Then I found my own. 2 and 1 in a corner, ah yes. 3,1,3 in a row, I can do this. My skillset grew with the challenges, the puzzles eventually vast. And it was exquisitely well designed for the DS. It's one of the most perfect games.
(There's one flaw, one I wasn't aware of when I wrote the review in 2007 after playing it for at least 150 hours. In the final stages the puzzles become too large for the DS's processor to cope, and they start to stagger, making it impossible to get maximum stars on them. It's a shame. But it's a tiny weed in a mountain of flowers.)
After Slitherlink came both Illust Logic games, then Pic Pic, then last year the beyond-stunning Rittai Picross. I've played each twice through, potentially a thousand hours or more. I've played them so much that I almost forget I'm playing.
They accompany other activities, they're a comforting background hum, a passed bus journey, a fiddle while watching television. They are my constant companion. Playing on my DS is the last thing I do each night before I fall asleep. But I can't remember the last time I looked to see what new DS games had come out.
We've both changed. In many ways we've changed together. But I'm concerned about where we are.
This is so hard to say, but something's very wrong in our relationship. We've settled, and settling is so wonderful in so many ways, and of course I still love to fall asleep in your arms. I wouldn't know what to do without you.
But our interests are just so far apart. Everything you care about now, everything you talk about, everything you want to spend time doing - it's so far from anything I understand. You have so many new friends, friends I can't identify with, friends I can't get on with.
I feel like our relationship is a fading echo. We're clinging to a spirit of wonderful times, but it's melting through our fingers, turning to smoke. I don't know if we love each other, or if we love the memory of each other.
I miss us.
The Nintendo DS has become something else. Perhaps it began with Brain Training. Perhaps it was an inevitability of time. But to look through the release lists for the DS now is to make a mockery of that article I wrote three and a half years ago. Every third game is an RPG no one asked for nor will ever play. And the other two? Here's a sample of games that appeared in recent weeks:
- My Little Baby
- Wedding Planner
- My Friends
- The Biggest Loser
- Jigapix: Pets
- Hello Kitty Party
- Horse Life Adventures
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