Product Type: Ubisoft Nintendo DS games
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Playing the Numbers Game
Platinum Sudoku (DS)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Platinum Sudoku (DS)
Date: 07/08/09, updated on 07/08/09 (238 review reads)
Advantages: Absorbing game play. Excellent customisation options. Superb longevity.
Disadvantages: Background music can be a little annoying at times.
I am a wordsmith by trade. Give me a crossword puzzle and I'm in my element. Numbers, on the other hand, drive me nuts. I just don't get on with them. As such, when I opened one of my presents at Christmas, and thanked the aunt who gave it to me, she must have caught the barely disguised scepticism in my expression when she blurted out "I heard you like puzzle games!".
I was quick to reassure her that I was very pleased indeed, and that Platinum Sudoku was a lovely and thoughtful gift. If she could hear the gears in my brain calculating its re-sale value on eBay, she didn't let on.
The game was left, unloved and unwrapped for some time before curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give it a go. Although I had heard of the relatively recent Sudoku craze (you can't really avoid them when you do crosswords as they're usually on the same page of the paper) I had never tried it, and had no idea how to play it. I turned on my DS and booted up the game not knowing what to expect.
For those who don't know how to play, you are given a 9x9 cell square grid with 81 cells divided into 3x3 cell grids. Still with me? Good. Each line, column and 3x3 area must have the numbers 1 to 9 only once. You are given some numbers at the start from which you have deduce the placement of the remaining numbers. The number of these "givens" determines how hard it is to complete the grid.
Random fact: Sudoku is apparently short for "Suji wa dokushin ni kagiru" which means "numbers must only occur once" in Japanese. Not sure how that will inform your buying decision, but it may just win you a pub quiz sometime. 8^)
Your Sudoku "coach" is a striking, funkily dressed svelte young brunette with a bob hair cut (let's call her Suzie), who invites you to relax and engage your brain with some of her puzzles. If Suzie doesn't ring your bell, then you have the option to change her into a buff-looking young man, but the less said about him the better. Once you've checked out Suzie (or the bloke) attention turns to the main menu screen, which gives you the option to dive right in and play Sudoku, Kakuro, or some "Challenges" (mini-games based on Sudoku).
Sudoku is the featured game and allows play across five different levels (Easy, Medium, Hard, Pro and Sudoku X). You start with 100 plus "Easy" puzzles to complete, with access to around 30 puzzles in "Medium" mode. The Sudoku game menu also offers lessons on technique and a tutorial - highly recommended for beginners - which is very well explained, easy to understand and quite accessible.
Also included is a "Custom Grid" creator, so you can make your own puzzles (and play them if they are solvable) and a "Solver Mode" which allows you to enter Sudoku puzzles from other sources and get the game to solve it for you (or help you if stuck).
As you progress through the game, various features are unlocked, such as new skins, fonts, music, mini-games, new technique lessons and of course, access to additional puzzles at the higher levels. These bonuses are paced quite well, and help hold the players interest in the game. Finishing the Easy level (or any other level) completely will unlock a new area called "20 Million Grids" - which is exactly as described - literally 20 million new solvable Sudoku grids - making this the only Sudoku game that you'd ever need.
Kakuro is the secondary game, and is a mix between Sudoku and a crossword puzzle. You are given a set of clues and the goal is to fill all of the blank squares in the grid. You enter the numbers from 1 to 9 so that they add up to the corresponding clues. A number can't appear more than once in the same sum.
Unlike the Sudoku game, you only have three levels of play - Easy, Medium and Hard, and there is no custom grid, solver mode or lessons. To be frank, I haven't spent much time doing these puzzles, as most of my attention has been focussed on the captivating Sudoku.
You can choose the skin, font, and music from the limited options available when you start which adds a nice level of customisation to the play. The game is played mainly on the DS' touch sensitive screen with the stylus. The upper screen is like a scoreboard and keeps track of the number of hint points you have left, your best time in completing a puzzle, the amount of time elapsed since you started, and a bar chart showing how many of each number has been filled in to the grid.
The bottom screen is the fully interactive one. Touching a cell on the grid enlarges it to allow you to scribble the number you want. Alternatively, you can activate a number pad on the right side of the grid, which allows you to enter numbers by tapping the one you want on the pad. The number recognition is quite good, but will depend on your handwriting. I find I tend to use the number pad, as its easier, especially when travelling on trains and in the car. You erase numbers by tapping on the cell and using the eraser icon.
A light bulb icon gives you access to a hint menu, allowing you to use the 40 hint points you are given at the start of each game on three options - (a) identifying which numbers can be placed in a specific cell (2 points); (b) being given a new number in its correct cell outright (4 points); or doing a whole grid check to identify any misplaced numbers (10 points). I found the system quite fairly balanced, and you tend to find yourself reserving hints for situations you really need them for, rather than wasting them because you can't be bothered.
Another icon allows you to subdivide each cell into nine mini-grids, so that you can enter all of the possible numbers for that cell as a visual aid. There are also a redo/undo buttons and a palette icon so you can change the music, skin or font mid-game - a useful option as the oriental-themed music selections can get quite repetitive and annoying, especially when you are frustrated in trying to solve a puzzle!
The game is paused by either closing the DS, or by tapping a pause button underneath the grid. In the latter case, you get a holding screen so you can't cheat! In both cases, time stops, and restarts when you play again. When you complete a puzzle, coach Suzie beams proudly, does a little victory pout and the game plays a strangely inspiring little ditty of oriental origin. Nice.
All in all the game play is intuitive and easy to use. The size of the screen, grid and fonts is adequate and I would expect most people to be able to use it effortlessly. The multiplayer mode is also a thoughtful addition, allowing one cart to be used between two Nintendo DS handhelds with two different game options - either cooperative play, where two people work on the same puzzle, or competitive play, where you compete to solve the same puzzle in the quickest time. Both options enhance the longevity and playability of what is already a cracking single player experience.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
Platinum Sudoku, published by Ubisoft, is a good two years old now and as such, can be hard to get hold of from the usual internet retailers. It's on play.com for £21.49 at the moment, however, it's available on eBay for around the £15 and is staggeringly good value at either price. Although its given a 3+ rating, this is game is aimed squarely at the adult market as unless you have a child prodigy on your hands, there's not much here to keep a younger audience interested.
I took around ten DS games with me on holiday this year, but this is the only one I played compulsively. This numbers game is strangely compelling and very well put together. I can't fault any of the game play - it's a simple concept that is very well realised and executed. As you move between games, you are occasionally presented with a series of Sudoku based mini-games, and given the option to play them or go straight to your puzzle. They are a nice addition, offer variety, and are fun and diverting, but the core of this game is the Sudoku.
I have been playing it consistently for around seven months now, with each puzzle taking an average of between 10 and 20 minutes, so its perfect just to pick up and play when the mood takes you. I haven't made a appreciable dent in the Medium level yet, so this game is proving to be excellent value for money. Platinum Sudoku offers a quality of gameplay that sets it apart from others in the genre - this is the benchmark by which all other Sudoku games must be measured.
I started by saying that numbers drive me nuts. However, Platinum Sudoku has softened my attitude somewhat. I rather like them now. They are still ever so maddening, but in a different and more constructive way. As such, I would unhesitatingly and unreservedly recommended Platinum Sudoku to enthusiast, novice and expert alike.
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: For once a game whose title billing is well deserved.
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