Review: Sudoku Ball Detective (DS)

Platform: Nintendo DS/DSi (also on Wii/PC)

Developer: Whitebear

Publisher: Playlogic

# of Players: 1

Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10+)

Official Site

Score: C+

Remember when the sudoku craze was the big deal about four or five years ago? While I’m sure Japanese gamers were pointing and laughing at us because we were more than a little late to the logic party, there were actually some decent video games based on the classic number puzzle. Of course, these days you have to wonder just how many gamers remember Dr. Sudoku, Platinum Sudoku or even the goofy Toondoku which replaced numbers with cartoon characters in an effort to convince the less-informed who still thought sudoku was math related that it wasn’t (it isn’t, by the way).

As far as the audience for these games, it may be smaller now (especially since Sudoku can be played for free online), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any original gems left to discover. Playlogic’s Sudoku Ball Detective is a bizarre mix of story-driven murder mystery with a unique take on sudoku that makes it a curiosity piece worth tracking down for those looking for something unique. While the main game is a bit brief and there’s no puzzle edit function or multiplayer modes, it’s one of those offbeat titles that will find its niche and roll around comfortably in it.

The game’s story riffs on a few classic English mysteries and detective stories while even adding a film reference or two for good measure. Playing as Edward G. Bannister, Oxford scholar and retired Scotland Yard inspector, you leap to the occasion after the guest of honor suddenly drops dead at his own birthday party. Deducing that there’s been a crime, you need to interrogate guests, search for clues, pick locks and more… all by using a “sudoku ball” to solve timed puzzles. Yes, it’s weird (very weird), but the mix of logic puzzles and logical deduction actually works… provided you’re a fan of both genres. Coming in cold might be a bit frustrating for some players who need time to think things through or sudoku newbies that are still figuring out how the flat paper versions of the game work.

It’s that timed nature of the sudoku ball puzzles that will determine how much fun you’ll actually have. Getting the hang of the ball is pretty simple. but requires a bit of trial and error until you nail it. As noted above, everything you do in the game outside of dialog revolves around solving a sudoku puzzle to proceed. As you fill in numbers (or shapes) in some sequences (such as a chase section that requires some quick thinking), you’ll get hint arrows that show where to rotate the ball next. It’s up to you to place the right numbers in the grid as quickly as possible before the timer runs out. While it might seem dull doing one thing over and over throughout the game, it’s actually quite compelling as you get into it.

There are only 80 different sudoku in the entire game, but that number triples when you do a bit of easy math. The 30 Classic Mode, 20 “alternative” Story Level Mode and 30 standard “Flat” Sudoku puzzles come in Easy, Normal and Hard variations, so there’s a bit of replay value here for anyone that picks this up. Some sort of puzzle editor would have been brilliant, but for twenty bucks, what’s here is just fine. Developer Whitebear has done a decent job with the presentation, placing the game world on a globe that you rotate with the DS stylus, mimicking the main gameplay element. There’s a nicely whimsical illustrative look to the character models that’s likable (no anime-style characters can be refreshing at times) and even the music is pretty cool.

Still, for twenty bucks, the cheapskates out there who want endless value will find this one lacking in features when stacked up to something like Platinum Sudoku’s 20,000,000 puzzles for the same price point. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a curiosity piece you’ll play, put away and come back to from time to time or pass along to a fellow sudoku fan looking for a new diversion, you might want to track this one down before it rolls away. Good, but not quite great, Sudoku Ball Detective makes for a respectable way to whittle away a few hours with a good (albeit familiar) mystery story with a neat puzzle twist.

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