Review: Sudoku Challenge! (WiiWare)

This WiiWare puzzler truly sticks "by the numbers"

Although books of Sudoku puzzles can be found at your local dollar store, the 100 million puzzles promised in this game will set you up for life and should be enough to tempt any Sudoku fan. But is the game as fun with a Wii Remote as it is with a pencil?

For those who don’t know, Sudoku is a relatively new, but extremely popular, puzzle game that is typically played with pencil and paper. The game is played on a 9 x 9 grid, which is further subdivided into 3 x 3 blocks. The idea is simple: beginning with a few numbers given to you at the start, fill in each row and column with the numbers 1 through 9. Additionally, each 3x3 block must also have the numbers 1 through 9. A competitive player will try to solve the puzzle in less time than his opponent, but the game is satisfying enough to be played alone, with no timer.

Sudoku Challenge takes this game and places it on your Wii with motion controls. This is an obvious choice, because with 81 blocks and 9 numbers to choose from it is much more intuitive to be able to point and click than to have to scroll around with a conventional controller. The Wii Remote pointer works perfectly for this, as long as you have a steady hand and a properly calibrated setup. Young children and novices with the Wii Remote will likely have trouble pointing at such small targets, so the interface could be a problem for Sudoku fans who are not regular Wii gamers. But for practiced Wii Remote pointers, the controls are intuitive and comfortable.

There is one problem with the layout, in that the numbers you input must be selected and dragged to the correct box. This seems a bit backward to us. When playing the game, you find a box that you know should contain a certain number. But to place the number in the box, you must look away and find the number to drag back up. More than once we forgot which box we were dragging the number to and this bogged down gameplay as we checked and rechecked every choice. Had we been able to simply click on the box we wanted and then click on the number we wanted, the game would have moved at a faster pace and we would not have made so many errors placing numbers in the wrong box.

Errors, however, are not as big of a deal in Sudoku Challenge as they are in the paper and pencil game. This is because you can delete anything you want with the click of the trigger button. Furthermore, an ‘Errors’ button can be pressed at any time to highlight numbers that you have placed incorrectly. Alternatively, you can opt not to allow any wrong numbers to be input in the first place. This is a huge improvement over playing on paper as mistakes there can very often result in giving up on a puzzle entirely.

Some might say helpful features like this make the game too simple. Those people will likely lose their heads when they hear about the ‘Hint’ button, which gives you a free number each time you press it. There’s even a "Solve" button that will solve the whole puzzle for you if you’ve given up. Features like these are not really game breaking here because the primary point of Sudoku is problem solving and the sense of accomplishment that comes from finding the solution. Like your mother always said, "when you cheat, you’re cheating no one but yourself." In Sudoku Challenge, excessive use of the "Hint" button will not make the game any more fun. But having the option available when you’ve hit a brick wall might do, perhaps.

Sudoku is very much a casual, solitary game. You don’t need a friend, but two people can easily work on a puzzle together for a cooperative experience. Sadly, there is no multiplayer here: not even on-line. “Competitive” Sudoku may not be as popular as “lazily playing while watching a boring television show” Sudoku, but it still would have been nice to have something more than just single player.

The best feature is "Grand Sudoku." This is where you take five Sudoku boards and overlap them at the corners. All five boards must be solved to finish the puzzle, and solving one can provide clues to the one it shares a corner with. This is truly a hardcore Sudoku format and it may take you hours to finish even one game, depending on your personal skill. It is unfortunate that there is no save feature. Ironically, the pencil and paper version has that one technological advantage over this Wii game.

The game claims to have three skill levels, but we found them all to be equally difficult. A computer likely generated all of the 100 million puzzles and subdivided them into skill levels, so perhaps the computer could not tell the difference between a smart human and a dumb human. Or perhaps this reviewer is a dumb human! The hard difficulty level is definitely challenging even for skilled players, and there is a timer for you to challenge yourself to get the best time. Sadly there is no leaderboard to commemorate these best times.

Conclusion

Sudoku Challenge is a bare bones Sudoku game that serves as an acceptable platform for an addictive puzzler. Although there is plenty of room for improvement, the presentation here is functional and most players will be satisfied with what is on offer here. The bottom line is that the Sudoku puzzles included are difficult enough to challenge players of all skill levels and there are some options available to make the game easier for beginners. As for repeat play value, well, let’s assume that you are really good and only spend a mere 10 minutes to complete each puzzle. If so, then this game will take you just over 1900 years to complete, and that’s not taking into account bathroom breaks!