Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Empire Interactive
Release Date: March 3, 2007
It was not so very long ago that I reviewed a title called Toon-Doku. As stated in that review, sudoku is one of my favorite pastimes, and it was postulated in that review that if your game is only designed to do one very specific thing, it should do that thing very well. Unfortunately, the aforementioned title proved disappointing on all fronts, a grim crime against all puzzle gaming that never should have seen creation and shook my belief in the potential for a good sudoku portable title. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that everything the DS title had done wrong, Carol Vorderman's Sudoku had done right, and then some!
Carol Vorderman is a UK television personality with a charming accent, and it seems that she knows her sudoku pretty well. One of the most interesting features of this game is an in-depth tutorial, narrated by the titular character herself. Not only are the fundamentals of the game explained in such excruciating detail that your grandmother who accidentally picked up your PSP would be able to play after listening to what Vorderman has to say, but there are also tips for different skill levels. There are plenty of tips for easy puzzles, using terminology like slicing, dicing and mini-grids (all of which are more than adequately explained), but perhaps more interestingly, there are also a number of tips for the more advanced sudoku player. Even the best players will be able to learn something from the more advanced tips, picking up tricks that they might have otherwise never figured out on their own.
The visual elements of Carol Vorderman's Sudoku are crisp and clear. Every number is clearly visible and recognizable, and the grid is large enough that you won't often find yourself misclicking and putting the wrong number in the wrong place. The only possible gripe with the graphics one could possibly bring up is that, when clicking on a square in order to place a number, it's possible for someone who is paying little to no attention to mistake the 7 for the 1. This is a comparatively minor complaint, and is the only one that is readily apparent. The background to the board is a soothing light-blue color, nothing garish or unnecessary. On the right, a graph tells you how many instances of each number you have placed, and a timer counts the number of seconds you have spent on that puzzle, with the rating scrolling by just above. The numbers are even thick and dark, with plenty of contrast so that those of us with less-than-perfect vision will have little to no trouble discerning which numbers have been placed where.
There is, in fact, little that can be said about such a game's audio. Honestly, what do you do with a puzzle game when it comes to sounds? Plenty, as it turns out. Vorderman's speeches and tutorials are all crisp and audible, clearly spoken and readily understandable to anyone who doesn't sport a hearing aid. Completing a row, column or mini-grid also gives a satisfying completion noise, enough to please the ears and give a real sense of accomplishment. Even the music is calm and soothing, serving to steady the player's nerves and do a great deal to assist in actual gameplay. The only issue I can possibly find is that there is only one song to which the player can listen, though the music is quiet, unobtrusive and easily ignored ? especially by a player who is, as he should be, focusing on the puzzle elements of the game. You can simply turn off the music if it grows to be too much of a distraction, so it becomes very difficult to find anything to complain about here.
The actual sudoku game itself is where this title really shines. With two different control schemes, options for "Assists" (you can choose to have the game tell you when you make a mistake, when you've broken a rule, or even pencil in possible answers for you) and an option to turn off autosave for those particularly embarrassing puzzles gone wrong, there's plenty to like ? and that's just in the pause screen.
Included free of charge is a Sudoku Solver function for those of you who would like to make their own puzzles, but the real draw here is the variety of play modes. Classic mode allows you to simply play Sudoku in the classic way: solve puzzles as quickly as you can, choosing your difficulty from easy, medium, difficult or super-difficult. Arcade mode actually gives several different ways to play: You're given a certain amount of time to complete a puzzle in Beat The Clock, you receive extra time to complete the puzzle as you correctly place numbers in Extra Time, you lose time whenever you make a mistake in Perfection, and you're only allowed three errors before the puzzle terminates in 3 Strikes. Add in a Career mode where difficulty scales and a Challenge Carol mode that gets extremely difficult in short order and only gets harder from there, and the variety of play modes included in this title are impressive enough that even the most jaded of puzzle-solvers will find myriad new ways to exercise their brains.
Complaints about this game are few and far between. It would be nice if there were some way to turn off Vorderman's "History of Sudoku" lecture that pops up when you first turn on the game (though once it starts, it can be skipped with the X button), and it would have been interesting to see something besides ranking done with the points that are earned whenever a puzzle is solved ? possibly some manner of unlockable content, though I can't imagine what, given the variety of choices given from the outset. In truth, after careful consideration, those are the only flaws that I can find in this title, and when only a few cosmetic flaws are visible, that's really saying something for the game's execution.
Overall, I would recommend Carol Vorderman's Sudoku without a moment's hesitation to any PSP owner who likes, is interested in or would like to know about Sudoku. The transportation of this puzzle genre to a handheld system borders on flawless, and experienced players will really appreciate the depth of the options that are presented.