The XBLA is home to many types of games: shooters, puzzlers, FPS, party, strategy, RPG, sports, you name it. In fact, Microsoft has just announced that some games are going to taken off the XBLA line-up because there is now so much to choose from. Even though there are well over a hundred games available for download, Merscom has released the first ever Sudoku game to the XBLA marketplace.
Normally reserved for long car rides or plane trip, Sudoku is a simple to learn pen and paper brain simulating game. Basically, it acts as a great time waster. With this in mind, it is kind of strange seeing this title released to the XBLA, but the developers have added a few tweaks to keep the gameplay interesting.
Many electronic versions have been released on many platforms over the last few years, but play control is the one thing that always changes. Buku Sudoku takes advantage of the dual analog control scheme by moving the cursor around the game board with the left analog stick while the right stick actually selects the individual number. And using real life tactics, there is even an option to scribble a “note” to yourself on what the answer might be. It is also noteworthy to state that this game is also compatible with other types of controllers such as a DDR pad or even the 360 media remote.
Using the two analog sticks to control the cursor works well, but no matter what you do, it just does not move fast enough. Tapping right or left doesn’t exactly mean that the cursor will move this way. If you just moved right, and want to move to the right again, there is this strange delay that hinders gameplay. There is no rapid fire movement here. Not being able to move the cursor as fast as the player wants is an annoyance, especially since the game bases your score on how fast you complete puzzles. There were plenty of times that I knew I could have shaved a several seconds off my time if the cursor just moved faster.
Keeping the game user friendly, there is a tutorial mode that walks the player through the rules of the game and there is even a bunch of “helpers” that can be turned on or off. This in-game hint system can basically tell you which number(s) will work due to elimination, taking all the think work out of the gameplay. Unfortunately, turning on these hints can also be seen as a form of cheating. After playing for about an hour with these hints on, I was able to fly through puzzles and quickly sore through the ranks of the Xbox Live Leaderboards. Because there is no way of knowing which player has been using this hint system, the Leaderboards for this game do not really hold any bragging rights.
Buku Sudoku would have been a rather bland game if it was not for the multiplayer mode. The co-op and vs modes really give this game that extra something that cannot be found when simply filling out a Sudoku puzzle in a newspaper. Over Xbox Live, players can work together to complete the same puzzle or can face off to see who can finish a puzzle first. The co-op mode is a more of a relaxing, laid back experience while the Vs modes can actually become quite intense. Only through audio clues can you tell if your opponent is completing the puzzle faster than you. Hearing a “bling” noise indicates that your opponent has solved a portion of the puzzle, increasing the completive edge and giving the player a sense of urgency.
The graphics and presentation are nothing really to write home about. Yes, the game supports high def graphics, but the typical “home office/desk” set-up doesn’t really add to the overall enjoyment of the game and walks away with a “meh” attitude. This take-it or leave-it position also extends to the audio department as well. While neither good nor bad, the music does suffer from the occasional bad loop syndrome, where the track restarts in the wrong place. And what is up with the baby crying noise when you start 6×6 game? By far, the worst and most annoying sound effect in the game.
This game succeeds in holding the hand of newbies while pertaining to the hardcore. But just like Anakin used the power of the darkside as the quick and easy path, players can abuse the in-game “hint” system to quickly climb the ranks of the Leaderboards, rendering your rank pretty much useless. At 800 MS points, this game might seem like a steeper purchase just because free Sudoku puzzles are present in nearly every publication nowadays. But that $10 purchase price gives gamers something that you cannot find in a newspaper Sudoku puzzle: co-op and vs mode play. Just like the graphics and musical score and even XBLA’s Word Puzzle before it, players will either take it or leave it.