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PSP Review - 'Go! Sudoku'

by Andrew Hayward on May 23, 2006 @ 12:25 a.m. PDT

Challenge yourself with four levels of difficultly from easy to fiendish. Relax with a quiet Sudoku challenge or experience the first ever multiplayer Sudoku competitions. Complete with animated background themes, time goals, music and sound, this is the game that introduces PSP to serious Sudoku players - on the Go

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date: March 22, 2006

What is Sudoku, and were did it come from? Within the last 18 months, it has come seemingly out of nowhere to become a worldwide puzzle sensation. The first time I saw it was roughly a year ago, when a buddy of mine was playing it while killing time at work. It was done with a pencil and paper and looked terribly boring, but the simplest games are often the most addictive. If the last year is any indication, Sudoku could soon be as ubiquitous in society as the crossword puzzle it largely resembles.

All right, so we have a basic idea of what it is, but where did Sudoku come from? One might infer Japanese origins from its title, but the name is actually quite deceiving. Sudoku was first published in America in 1979 by puzzle publisher Dell Magazines. According to Wikipedia, the game found its way to Japan in the mid-'80s under the name "Suuji wa dokushin ni kagiru," or "the numbers must only occur once." Shortened to "Sudoku" (or "su doku"), the game was introduced to British newspaper readers in late 2004 and quickly found a rabid audience.

Like any great idea, there are now several video game versions of it, and the one in question here is Go! Sudoku for the PSP. Published by Ubisoft, the game attempts to replace the pencil-and-paper version with flashy backgrounds and music. What results is a fairly average gaming experience. While the gameplay itself is about as good as expected for the format, the execution takes a serious hit with poorly placed loading screens. Perhaps most damning is that this sub-par Sudoku sim will set you back some $30, while the print puzzles can be easily obtained at little or no cost.

While the popularity of Sudoku has rapidly grown in recent months, many still have resisted the urge to get caught up in it, so let me take the time to explain the rules. Sudoku takes place on a 9x9 grid of small squares. Initially, a handful of numbers between one and nine are already present on the board. Your objective is to fill in the rest of the squares, while ensuring that each column, row, and 3x3 box contains the numbers one through nine. This requires you to scan the entire board to make sure you do not place a number that is already being used.

It sounds a bit complicated, and it is – at first. Many gamers will find themselves frustrated with the learning curve, but the true sense of accomplishment comes in time. You may find yourself blazing through the puzzles, which can take as little as a few minutes – or as much as a couple of hours – to complete. In the print version of the game, many put speculative dots in the squares to signify which numbers could still possibly be placed. In Go! Sudoku, this is accomplished by pressing the circle button; pressing the X button will place the actual number you want in the cell. Pressing the square button removes any numbers or candidate numbers from a given cell, and the shoulder buttons are used to scroll through the available numbers.

While this control scheme is fine, one cannot help but wonder if it would play better on the Nintendo DS, which features a touch-screen. Sudoku has its origins in the pencil-and-paper format and is probably best played that way. Still, Sudoku fanatics will find an abundance of things to do in Go! Sudoku, which features 1,000 single-player puzzles. In addition to the single-player mode, several multiplayer gametypes are included. One PSP system can be used for Pass Sudoku, or those with two to four systems can engage in Wireless Sudoku. Battle Mode and Versus Sudoku are playable with multiple copies of the game, though only one copy is necessary to play Game Share Sudoku.

Graphically, the game is sharp and clean-looking, though a game like Go! Sudoku does not require a lot of processing power. You will spend the entire game looking at a 9x9 grid set over one of five themed animated wallpapers. A neat touch is the ability to create a custom background based on images placed on your memory stick. The music is admittedly bland, though it is very much expected in a game of this type. Ambient electronica will permeate your systems speakers until you make the move to turn it off. A custom soundtrack option would have done wonders for this game, certainly more so than the custom wallpaper option.

My biggest issue with Go! Sudoku is in regards to the frequent, seemingly random loading screens that pop up during gameplay. It's a mystery why they were necessary, as the game is as simplistic as you will likely ever see on the PSP. At random intervals, a screen saying "Attention!" will cover up the game board, making it impossible to see what you are doing. One might think that the timer would stop during these screens, but such is not the case. What will really annoy you is the fact that you can still move the cursor around while this screen is up; you just cannot see where it is located. This issue may not ruin the game, but it came close to it for me.

The only real benefit I could find for buying a Sudoku game on the PSP is the ability to wirelessly download additional puzzles, free of charge. For hardcore Sudoku fans, this presents an opportunity to keep the game fresh for months or years to come. That is really the only audience that I can recommend this game to. Unless you are a Sudoku fanatic, save your money and print out a few puzzles from the internet. Go! Sudoku offers zero innovation, and any potential benefits brought upon by its portability are squashed by the inopportune loading times. Many Sudoku options are on the way for Nintendo DS owners, but those with only a PSP would do best to check out Lumines to satisfy their puzzling needs.

Score: 5.5/10

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