Sudoku Gridmaster DS Review

Sudoku. It's so hot right now. Sudoku.

It's tough to pin down the relative value of Sudoku Gridmaster. On the one hand you get 400 full-featured, touch-screen-enhanced Sudoku puzzles for just $20. On the other hand, Nintendo's Brain Age includes 100 Sudoku puzzles of its own, along with all its other supposed brain-enhancing activities, and its also $20. So what is a "Touch Generation" gamer to do? Ultimately that depends on just how into the Japanese puzzle you are. The more addicted you are, the more you should probably consider Gridmaster over Brain Age.

But enough about Nintendo's other Sudoku-enhanced titles. This is a review of Gridmaster after all, and the game is more than capable of standing on its own two feet.

A quick recap for those who don't know what Sudoku mania is all about: the goal is to fill a 9X9 grid, using the numbers 1-9. There's absolutely no math involved, however. It's purely logic. Each number can only appear once in every column, row, and individual 3X3 cell. And that's it. It's a little hard to visualize just hearing it described, so if you're a Sudoku newbie, just check out WebSudoku.com and try out a couple puzzles.

The first thing that stood out to me about Gridmaster was its surprising relaxing music. Sudoku puzzles, for me anyway, can sometimes be more stressful than relaxing. Especially difficult grids. Gridmaster's soothing menu and in-game music made me stick around longer than I normally would, and genuinely helped me relax while playing, instead of just winding me up as I tried to sort out what numbers went where. The ever-ticking clock did a lot to undermine the relaxing nature of the music, however.

When you complete one of Gridmaster's puzzles you're awarded 1-4 stars, according to how quickly you arrived at the solution. As you earn stars, you're able to compete in challenges to open up more of the puzzles. Earning the stars and "unlocking" the new puzzles is largely superficial, but the timer still stressed me out, especially since earning all four stars requires a completion time of under five minutes.

Where Gridmaster really shines is in its thoughtful additions to the interface. Tapping on any number will highlight every appearance of that number in your grid, allowing you to easily spot mistakes, or other areas the number can go. Clicking on any cell also highlights that cell's row and column, allowing you to easily scan for numbers already placed. Little features like this prove that electronic Sudoku really can enhance the puzzle and make it more enjoyable, instead of just being a cash-in.

Numbers are entered either by writing them with the stylus, or tapping on a numerical keypad. The writing recognition was so poor that we had to stick with the keypad, however. The keypad system works well, though. It allows you to quickly enter numbers without interrupting your view of the entire grid. Gridmaster also supports the ability to make numerical notes on the outer edges of the grid, which Sudoku veterans know becomes extremely necessary on more difficult puzzles.

There's no denying that Sudoku Gridmaster is a somewhat boring release, but its very clear in what it is and what it is attempting to accomplish, and I feel it accomplishes it quite well. I think it's a better Sudoku experience than what's included in Brain Age, but that probably only really matters to those that are really into the puzzle.

What's Hot: Genuinely enjoyable, soothing music. $20 pricetag.

What's Not: Emphasis on puzzle completion time.

3/5