Created by Electronic Arts / Rated 4+ / 1 Player / iPhone + iPod Touch / 6.0 MB / $4.99
Review written by Tim

SudokuSudoku is popular enough now that I don’t feel the need to explain how it works. This puzzle sensation has really become the new ‘crossword puzzle’, except you don’t have to deal with crappy hints for B-List actors who died before you were born. Sudoku is simple enough that it’s hard to screw up, but popular enough to have 35 variations already in the App Store. So is EA’s version worth that steep price tag? Let’s find out…

In this review, I really can only compare EA’s version with the free ‘Lite’ versions available alongside it. I wasn’t about to purchase 35 versions of Sudoku to find out which was best, but I was willing to download all the free ones I saw to compare. I’ll tell you right now that EA’s version was certainly the best of the Sudoku games I played. However, in terms of gameplay, it was right in line with most of them. While a couple versions had pretty backwards controls, the typical Sudoku game allowed the player to tap on a square to select it and then tap on the number at the bottom to fill it in. Pretty simple and effective. If this is all you want in a Sudoku game, the free ones may do the job. While the free ones are ‘Lite’ versions and have limitations (like only one puzzle per day), the paid variations are still cheaper than EA’s version, so the demos should help you figure out if that’s enough for you.

SudokuAnd therein lies the biggest problem with EA’s Sudoku: the cost. At $8, it’s EA’s cheapest game, but the most expensive Sudoku game available for the iPhone. In order for me to recommend this version, it would have to do some really amazing things to separate it from the pack. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The main game gives you five levels of difficulty (two locked at the start), error checking (kind of cheating in my opinion), note-taking (essential for harder puzzles), ‘Hints’ (which are much more than hints as it actually solves squares for you), and Auto-Fill (which reveals all possible ‘moves’ for all squares). While the difficulty settings and note-taking features are essential, the other options are all frustrating to me. Yes, you can turn off error checking, but the Auto-Fill and Hints can’t be turned off and I occasionally pressed those buttons accidentally. This gives unwanted help and lowers your score in the process. At that point, I just felt like quitting the puzzle I had worked so hard on and starting over. If they felt the need to include these options in the game, they should have been implemented more like the error checking, with the ability to disable them from the start.

SudokuThere are some little touches that help EA’s version stand out a bit though. A ‘Newspaper’ mode lets you enter numbers on a blank Sudoku grid to match the puzzle in your local newspaper, eliminating the need to get your hands dirty from the paper. This mode could also be used to create your own random Sudoku puzzles. One nice graphical touch is number highlighting. When you touch a square that already has a number played, all instances of that number are highlighted on the grid. For example, touching a number ‘8’ lights up all other 8’s on the board, making it easier to see where you still need to fill in 8’s. Also, when a row, column, or 3×3 square are filled, there’s a little animation showing you it’s done and giving you a sense of progress on the puzzle. These little touches aren’t things you’d find on a free version of Sudoku and they do give the presentation a nice professional feel, but then again, they aren’t vital either. The overall presentation is pretty nice with a traditional Japanese look and feel. Graphics are sharp and even the tiny numbers used for note-taking are easy enough to read. The music tries to match the Japanese theme, but has a beat that sounds a bit too modern, like it belongs in a hip hop song. Also, it’s a bit jarring when the song loops due to an obvious break in the music, like a record skipping. Finally, I’d like to point out that Sudoku has the same menu annoyance as EA’s other games, Tetris and Scrabble. The menu makes you scroll for ONE more item when it’s clear from the first screenshot above that there’s room for it!

So EA does a good enough job of making Sudoku play like Sudoku, but I can’t say it’s really enough to justify an $8 price tag. Had it included some Sudoku variations, time-based challenges, or incentives for competition through high scores or best times it may have been worth the price of admission. In the end, it just does a prettier job of what most of the other 34 variations of Sudoku do just fine: Sudoku. If you’re a real fanatic about Sudoku and care a lot about presentation, this won’t disappoint. On the other hand, if you’ve filled your iPhone with every free app the App Store has to offer, I doubt you’ll be giving this game a very long look.

[Update]: EA Mobile has reduced the price of the game from $8 to $5, a smart move in my opinion. While I don’t plan on changing the review score, it does bring the game more in line with other Sudoku games and should really be considered. Would the score have been different if the price was $5 when I reviewed it? It might have been a half star higher, but my initial thoughts about the game still stand. If you were thinking about buying the game before, now is your chance to save $3!

Version Reviewed: 1.0.24

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