Earlier this year we were pleasantly surprised by Lola's Alphabet Train, a rewardingly sweet journey through simple spelling drills. It was colourful, engaging and inventive. Now we have a sequel in the form of Lola's Fruit Shop Sudoku, and while the previous game's charm is intact, it's a bit less impressive overall.
You'd be forgiven for shaking your head at the presence of yet another Sudoku title on DSiWare — after all, we have Crazy Sudoku, Telegraph Sudoku & Kakuro, Simply Sodoku, Sudoku 4Pockets and Sudoku Sensei, to name just a few — but this time, at least, the game's aimed at a much younger audience. This instruction manual claims that it's suitable for four-year-olds, and yet is still challenging for children as old as eight or nine. Anyone older is not welcome at Lola's Fruit Shop, which is fine by us as we're not sure we'd really want to be there.
The game is, to put it flatly, simple to a fault. There are three levels of difficulty, but they never really require much thought. On the easiest difficulty level, for example, you just use a stylus to drag a few fruits into spaces on the board that are unoccupied. There is no punishment for an incorrect placement, apart from Lola shaking her head disappointedly. Unfortunately this also means there's no chance for the child to learn what he or she did wrong: place a watermelon into a row that already features a watermelon and Lola will shake her head. This lets the child know that he or she did something wrong, but does not identify what, and the game becomes one of rather blind trial and error.
The middle difficulty setting features a larger grid and more fruits, and the toughest setting replaces the fruit with the traditional numbers of Sudoku. This setting certainly does offer more of a challenge for somewhat older children, but the game is stuck in a rather frustrating paradox: the rules of Sudoku are rather complicated for children to understand, meaning that this wouldn't be very suitable for the young ones it seems to be aimed at. Any child capable of understanding and interpreting the rules is already beyond the scope of the challenges in this game, and that's a genuine problem.
The presentation, however, is just as winning as ever. Lola is cute, the graphics are sunny and bright, and the music soothing. After every few rounds you get to pick a new fruit for Lola to display in her shop, which is similar to choosing a toy in Lola's Alphabet Train, but does feel like something less of an incentive. Also this release does not offer the multiple language support of its predecessor, which is worth nothing for those who might expect another useful tool for teaching a secondary language.
On the whole it's a step back for Lola, but it's evidence that the developers are spreading their wings a bit, and it's nice to have another title on the service that's as unabashedly child friendly as this one. We like Lola, and we're interested to see what activity she decides to teach next. It's just that numbers and fruit aren't quite as much fun as toys and trains. Go figure.
Lola's Fruit Shop Sudoku is without question easy to play, but how well it will hold a child's attention is another question. The rules of Sudoku are just complicated enough that this one might be a less than ideal fit for its target audience. On the plus side it looks and plays wonderfully, but unfortunately there's very little content on offer, and even the most interested children are likely to find it tedious before long.