Back in 2008, Digital Leisure hit the Wii Shop with Sudoku Challenge!, a somewhat bare-bones sudoku game with one new twist for fans of the popular pencil-and-paper puzzles: Grand Sudoku. The layout of five conjoined sudoku grids, while interesting, was not quite enough to wow critics or sudoku connoisseurs, especially with other problems plaguing the title on the Wii. With the advent of the DSi, Digital Leisure had the opportunity to revamp this game for DSiWare, and this week they released Sudoku Challenge! to a market already awash with quality sudoku titles. Were they able to fix the issues from the WiiWare version and pump out a show-stopping remake, or will this one fall flat on its 9x9 face?
In Sudoku Challenge!, the DSi is held upright, like an open book, and the game is controlled entirely by the touchscreen. When you tap "Start Game," you're asked to choose one of four profiles for your own, and upon selecting one, the game will ask you if you're right or left-handed. Once you're all situated, you're invited to write your name on the profile title, and after that it's on to the game itself.
You have two modes of play available to you: Sudoku and Grand Sudoku. In Sudoku mode, you're given a normal 9x9 grid to play, but Grand Sudoku, as mentioned before, is a layout consisting of one normal grid joined at each corner by another normal grid, forming one massive overlapping layout made of five grids that must be solved all together. Both modes allow you to choose from either Easy, Medium, or Hard difficulty, and unlike the WiiWare version, there are no "Hint" or "Solve" assists. You're completely on your own here in this version. You can only have one game of sudoku going at a time, whether it's normal or Grand, so you'll either have to finish the game you had going before, replace it with the new one, or play on a different profile if you're a stickler for completing what you start.
No matter which mode you choose, the basic gameplay is the same. You start off with your entire grid layout shown on the touchscreen, and as you choose which square you'd like to work with, the grid shifts to the other screen and the touchscreen focuses in on your square, which is now outlined in red on the grid. Tap any of the eight arrows around the square to move to an adjacent one. If you choose "button" for input in the Options menu, upon zooming in on a square you are presented with a row of numbers at the bottom of the touchscreen. To write notes regarding which numbers may go in that square, first tap anyplace inside the square, which brings up a little red outline, and then tap the number you'd like to put into that little square. Tap the number in the square again if you'd like to erase that number and replace it with something else. When there is no red outline defining a notation box within the square, tap any number to fill that square with an actual solution. "Write" input works similarly, though you don't have to tap the square before writing in a note. Just write your number very small inside the square, and it will automatically become a note. You may write a different number over a note if you'd like to replace it with something else, or draw an X over the note in question if you'd like to erase it outright (though half the time, the DSi will register your X as a different number, which gets frustrating after a while). Write in a number larger than note-sized, and the game registers it automatically as a solution for that square accordingly. Be aware that in both methods of input, the "erase" button clears the entire square instead of erasing whatever you last tapped or wrote in, which is annoying if you made a mistake. Use the Zoom Out button at the top of the touchscreen to do just that for ease of moving about on the grid, and pause the game with "Menu." The pause menu allows you to either Resume the game, change your Options, or Save and Quit at any time.
The Options menu is rather massive. You can choose to have the game show incorrect numbers in red and correct numbers in blue, whether to input via writing on the screen or using icons, whether your notes automatically disappear if they come into conflict with other numbers in the same line or 3x3 box, you can choose between left and right-handed orientation again, and you can choose whether you'd like to hear the music and sound effects (no volume control, just on or off). You may also choose to delete your entire profile from the Options menu if you so desire.
However you configure the game via the Options menu, there is one major, glaring flaw in this game: there is no Undo function. Whether you tap the touchscreen and accidentally erase one of your notes or you write in a note a little bit too large and the game registers it as a solution for that square, there is no going back to what you had before. Erase the solution, and everything you had in that square is now lost. This is a gigantic pain in the tail end when it happens, because it completely throws off your train of thought and kills your concentration in the process. In both EA's Sudoku and Hudson's Sudoku Master/Student, if you erase or undo a solution, you are left with all the notations you had in that square prior to solving it, but in this game, you're left with absolutely nothing. This may not have been a huge problem in the WiiWare version (if it existed in that version too), but especially with the DSi's sensitive touchscreen registering every slight brush of a knuckle or errant tap of the stylus, it has blossomed into a gigantic problem here. Provided you're able to make it through a round of sudoku without wanting to throw your DSi into a wall, the Stats feature in the main menu will show you how many grids you've completed in each mode and difficulty, as well as your best time. Reset Stats will erase all your statistics info if you like.
The graphics have been completely overhauled from the WiiWare version. Foregoing the smooth, polished-looking grids, fancy highlighted lettering, and stock-photograph backgrounds, this version uses plain, easy-to-read fonts on simple backgrounds featuring torii gates, puffy clouds, and gnarled trees in white on gradients of bold colors. Though simple and somewhat bland, the style is at least consistent. In terms of audio, the game loops one eight-second sound-clip over and over and over again as 'music', and there are perhaps a handful of other sound effects to accompany menu choices and number input/erasure. It seems that in order to fit their 100,000,000 different puzzles into this game, Digital Leisure had to make a few sacrifices along the way. Considering it would take you a multitude of lifetimes to get through that many puzzles, surely they could have cut that amount by half and spent a little more time making the game look and feel less boring.
While sudoku can be an enjoyable experience on the DSi, the main opposition has always been "Why pay for something on a game console when it can be had for free with a newspaper or magazine?" Digital Leisure did all right in implementing written number recognition (aside from the aforementioned X problem), and Grand Sudoku was a rather ingenious idea, but the complete lack of an Undo feature makes Sudoku Challenge! nearly impossible, and as if that weren't bad enough, the bland graphics and blander sounds join together to kick you while you're already down. Considering you'll have to keep track of your notations on paper anyway (if you'd like to keep them at all), you'll be far better off sticking to sudoku on paper than plunking down your 500 points for this version.