Monday, July 21, 2008

Crosswords on a console?

Released to Xbox Live Arcade this last week was Coffeetime Crosswords. Because Arcade games have a trial option, I downloaded this to see how it would work. I usually love that feature of Xbox Live Arcade, because it gives me the chance to try out games that I would never risk my hard earned cash on. In this case, though, I'll make an exception. I wish I never even had a chance to try this one.

I already had some doubts about how a crossword puzzle would work with a controller, but it seriously seemed like they tried to make the interface as clumsy as possible.

A few things were done right. You can use the stick to move around the puzzle, or press the triggers to jump from word to word sequentially, and a quick tap of X switches between across and down. Then a tap of A (I think it was A) brings up the letter input wheel.

"Ah ha", I thought. "This is like Shadowrun. Or even that Buku Sudoku game. I just push the stick in the direction of the letter on the wheel I want and..." Bzzt. Wrong. Pushing the stick, you see, moves you around the puzzle. To input letters, you have to use the bumpers to cycle around the wheel until you get to the letter you want, and select it. Only half the letters are visible at a time, so you either cycle around to the "switch" option to switch it from A-M and N-Z, or you press and hold both bumpers for a second or two.

"Well, that's awfully inconvenient," I thought. "Fortunately, I have a chatpad attached to my controller with a full keyboard. I'll just use that to type the letters I want." Bzzt, wrong again. The chatpad is completely not supported. Nothing happens when you type letters.

The time required to enter the answer for "a Hawaiian feast", the short word "LUAU" (which requires flipping the letter wheel back and forth for each letter) — that alone was enough to make me delete this game with prejudice.

I don't think a user interface has ever before made me quite so angry so quickly. I quite nearly felt insulted.

Even if they added keyboard or chatpad support, I'm still not convinced that a console is the best place for a crossword puzzle. Buku Sudoku was, by contrast, pretty well done (although it did expose the flaw in my controller, in that it doesn't recenter itself from a slight drift left — apparently a common problem, and a big issue in navigating the sudoku board), but I still wouldn't play that on a 360 when I have a PC. Even the most basic of freeware is easier to use when you have a full keyboard and mouse. Achievements and Xbox Live can't make up for that.

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