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GBA Review - 'Dr. Sudoku'

by Katarani on May 16, 2006 @ 3:47 a.m. PDT

Dr. Sudoku features 1,000 hand created puzzles, Original Mode, which lets you create you own Sudoku puzzles, a tutorial mode, help for those moments when you really are stuck, the ability to "pencil in" possible solutions, and a puzzle problem creation mode.

Dr. Sudoku

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Mastiff
Developer: Success
Release Date: May 3, 2006

Put away the Pokémon, shelf that Hello Kitty merchandise, flush the Tamagotchi - the newest super-addictive craze to come out of Japan is Sudoku. Something like the deformed, twitching splicing of crosswords and picross, sudoku uses numbers only insofar as they're numbers. The concept is simple once you know it, but for the life of me, it's going to be an utter hassle to explain. Basically, you're presented with a 9x9 grid, split into 9 smaller 3x3 grids, along with a few numbers already placed in for you. Simply, every number from 1 to 9 appears once, and only once, in each horizontal row, vertical column, and 3x3 grid. Got that? If so, good. Sounds boring?

If you said "yes" to that, you'll probably want to press the back button on your browser now. Dr. Sudoku won't make the idea any more appealing. The problem here is twofold. One, the game is for the ailing Game Boy Advance, a system that is on its way out for sleeker, shinier systems with more screens. I won't mention names. The idea of playing a game that you could find in a copy of a newspaper such as the New York Times on a portable system seems clunky at best, and impossible at worst. Two, the name is a bit misleading: Dr. Sudoku has nothing to do with doctors, either real or fictional.

Let's tackle that first problem, well, first. Sudoku puzzles are much like crosswords, in that they're typically solved on paper, not on a digital medium. You can buy books full of puzzles, or find them in daily newspapers, and even buy programs for PDAs, which at least allow you use of a stylus. However, putting it on a system with six buttons and a directional pad causes things to be a little cumbersome. Ultimately, the face buttons are self-explanatory: The A button confirms, and the B button cancels. First, you select a square, confirm, and then a selection not unlike a telephone pad comes up to let you select which number to place in.

It's when you get the L and R buttons involved that things get annoyingly difficult. The L button toggles a subscript mode, where instead of actually inputting a number, you simply mark it in the corner of the square - assumedly to jot it down as a potential candidate. As one would expect, you can jot down numbers in all four corners, and with a quick B button press per corner, clear them out. It's not too clear at first, warranting a glance at the manual to learn if you're playing normally – the B button is so rarely used in this game that you may forget you had it until that crucial point where you need to clear a note-cluttered puzzle.

The R button, on the other hand, is a godsend. It toggles the Help Mode, which with one press of the A button, lights up all of whatever number you select, and with another, turns the entire grid into something that looks like it was vomited up by a football playbook. It's a little disorienting the first time you see it, but the idea is quite simple: the game marks off all the squares that you can't place the number you selected, as per the rules of Sudoku. At that point, it's a matter of elimination – if there's only one unmarked cell in a row, column, or square, then the number obviously goes there. It works as an excellent starting step for folks to learn how to start doing the puzzles without tearing out their hair in frustration.

The second problem is more subtle, and isn't just a gag. Much like Majesco Kids Cardz, a game I reviewed earlier, Dr. Sudoku could have been programmed on the back of a postage stamp with room to spare. Granted, they managed to pack in a veritable boatload of puzzles – 20 levels of 50 puzzles apiece for a whopping 1,000 puzzles, plus the ability to create your own – but at the same time, part of me wonders if they could have fit in something to make the game a little more, well, doctor-like, such as Dr. Mario or something similar. Graphics are simplistic, containing a few immobile backgrounds and the aforementioned Sudoku grid, and music consists of a few tinny, repetitive pieces of what can only be described as muzak. Go ahead and play this one with the sound off – you won't miss a thing.

What we have here is a game that knows what it has to do to succeed, and what it has to do in order to just get by. In this instance, Dr. Sudoku just gets by. For those of you that absolutely must have your Sudoku puzzles on a long road trip, the game's a better value at $20 than the books you'd find in a bookstore with 400 puzzles apiece for $10 or more. If you have a Nintendo DS, though, this game is easily passed by, and for one reason – Brain Age is the same price as Dr. Sudoku, and has far more than just Sudoku. Keep it in mind, though, if you want to use your noodle and only have a GBA to bring with you.

Score: 6.5/10

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