Review: Electronic Arts Sudoku (Num-pre)
If you haven't yet heard about sudoku, here's a brief primer: now internationally popular, the popular Japanese pencil-and-paper game provides you with a 9 by 9 grid full of numbers (1-9 only) and empty spaces, then a single challenge: fill in the empty spaces with numbers such that no horizontal or vertical line repeats the same number twice. Making this task easier is the fact that each 3 by 3 section of the grid is governed by the same non-repetition rule, so the number of possibilities for every empty space is limited in three ways: if the number you're thinking of picking is already on the same horizontal or vertical line, or within the marked-off 3 by 3 section, think again. [Updated July 23, 2008: We have added a new section to this January 22, 2007 review with information on the iPhone/iPod touch version of Sudoku, as well as updated rating information. Please see the end of this review for the new details.]
Using graphic designs and music very similar to its impressive rendition of Mahjong, only with Japanese rather than Chinese aesthetics, Electronic Arts has created a charming fifth-generation iPod version of Sudoku ($5, now also known as Num-pre in Japan) - one that’s more approachable and fully-featured than the pencil-and-paper versions that preceded it. Besides providing you with pre-configured easy, medium, and hard sudoku puzzles akin to the ones featured now in major newspapers, the iPod game provides Auto-Fill, a button that shows every option for every empty space, plus Hint, which will fill in blank spaces one at a time if you’re having problems.
Together with the soft, interesting music and shoji-themed art, these features allow even a novice sudoku player to have fun, and can be avoided if you’re an experienced player, or just harder core. An extensive help system is included to guide you through the game’s modes and settings, and nice on-screen timers and an iPod battery meter are also visible.
Serious sudoku fans will appreciate another feature - Newspaper Mode - which presents you with an empty grid, and allows you to fill in whatever numbers you’ve been provided by a newspaper puzzle, then either play through that game, or solve the puzzle automatically. And some sudoku players - quite possibly many, and definitely including us - will like the user interface, which EA has designed to permit either rotary use of the Click Wheel, four-direction tapping to navigate the grid, or both features at once. To the extent that the 5G iPod could be made a good sudoku device, Electronic Arts has tried.
Our only reservations about Sudoku are these: aside from the fact that the core concept here is relatively low on excitement, equivalent to a crossword puzzle minus thesaurus skills, we continue to want to see more user-selectable music and art in such simple iPod titles - as with the original versions of Tetris, these little things can add considerably to an otherwise dry piece of software. Variants on the sudoku theme, such as Nonomino, Dodeka, Monster, or Giant, are similarly absent, presumably to be saved for subsequent releases. And despite EA’s best efforts, hard-core sudoku fans won’t find the iPod an ideal substitute for using good old fashioned pencils and paper to do their puzzles. You’ll have to give up on hand-marking spaces with dots; EA lets you turn an error-checking feature on or off if you want even less assistance.
Overall, EA’s Sudoku is a strong but not perfect implementation of a simple, fun newspaper game - one of the better releases thus far in the iPod games collection. People inexperienced with sudoku, those needing additional help understanding the game, and those who want assistance solving newspaper puzzles, will find it especially impressive; those seeking action or the authentic pencil experience should look elsewhere. Though it’s not the first title we’d choose to play ourselves, any gamer interested in brain teasers - and any sudoku fan looking for an instant newspaper puzzle-solver - will find it worthy of the $5 asking price.
iPhone/iPod touch Version
Unlike Electronic Arts’ Tetris, which received a major gameplay and visual overhaul for the iPhone, its translation of Sudoku ($8) takes the same strategy as Scrabble: keep everything the same as the Click Wheel iPod version, and charge more. As we noted in our iPhone Sudoku Gems roundup, EA’s transition screens and music have a wonderfully Japanese look and sound, but there’s no user customization of the experience to match the best other Sudoku titles we’ve seen. Consequently, you’re stuck with a clean but single on-screen grid arrangement with one font, plus button-pressing, versus Gameloft’s cool 16 fonts, 14 backgrounds, and 11 songs—all sold for $5 versus EA’s $8.
EA’s Sudoku continues to offer a newspaper puzzle solver, easy mini markings for square possibilities, and an easy to understand interface. Five levels of difficulty are included, the latter two unlockable, and an error checking mode can be turned on or off. You can also tap a button or shake the iPhone to show all of the possible options, a feature called Auto-Fill Helper. Overall, this is a nice Sudoku game thanks to its Japanese theme, but you can do better for the price on the iPhone.