Sudoku Gridmaster [Nintendo DS] – Review

Sudoku Gridmaster - Nintendo DS - North American Cover

Although Sudoku had existed in one form or another since the late 19th century, it didn’t gain in popularity in the United States until the mid 2000s, when it became a feature of practically every newspaper. I was in high school then and devoted crucial time to solving these addictive new logic puzzles instead of paying attention in class, perhaps explaining why I excel at Sudoku but couldn’t tell you much about chemistry… The Nintendo DS was beginning to catch fire around this time as well, after Nintendo realized it could capitalize on an untapped market: the non-gamer. Releases like Brain Age appealed to many demographics and showcased the platform’s unique abilities in handling games such as Sudoku. A wave of software followed and while my experience with Sudoku on the platform is limited I’m nonetheless impressed with Sudoku Gridmaster.

Released in North America on June 26, 2006 by Nintendo, the game was developed and originally published by Hudson Soft in Japan earlier that year. Undoubtedly seeking to get a Sudoku game to the Western market quickly, Nintendo opted to localize Hudson’s effort in favor of developing their own. With solid touch-screen integration, clever aids, and an abundance of puzzles, they chose a winning adaptation. My sole issue with the game wonders “WHY IS THE ERASE DATA OPTION AVAILABLE FROM THE OPTIONS MENU… AND WHY IS IT THE TOP OPTION!?” As you might intuit, accidentally erasing my progress has resulted in some personal consternation. Still, it’s filled the Picross-sized void in my nightly bedtime ritual admirably.

With more than 400 Sudoku puzzles of varying difficulty, it’s reasonable to suggest it would take months for most to “finish” this game. At the rate I play, about 3 puzzles per night, it’d take me roughly 4½ months to complete every puzzle. With an average completion time of 10 minutes per puzzle, that’s nearly 70 hours of gameplay! Now, as someone who’s spent too much time with underwhelming and lengthy RPGs, I’m the first to point out that lots of content does not mean good content. Fortunately, in this case, that equation does add up.

Sudoku puzzles are presented in their entirety on the bottom screen, alongside a panel used to select or write numbers into the highlighted cell. Using the stylus or the d-pad, I chose which cells to fill in and then input a number. Unable to get the game to register my hand-written 5, I opted to use the “dial-a-number” selector. One benefit to this panel: when a number had been fully used, its icon grayed out. Another neat aid highlighted every instance of a number when one was double tapped on the puzzle. This was immensely helpful in plotting out potential spots for unused numbers.

Sudoku Gridmaster - Nintendo DS - Puzzle
Another helpful tool was this guideline feature, highlighting an intersecting row and column and a 9×9 box.

Since my sessions occurred just before slumber, my cognitive functioning steadily declined until I was too tired to play and eventually fell asleep. On one particular night, I mistakenly chose the Erase Data option instead of the Go to Puzzle Selection option. A cautionary window popped up, just as one would if I wanted to return to the puzzle selection menu, but I failed to understand what it was trying to prevent. And just like that, all the progress I’d achieved was gone. I had only played a few hours at this point but it was still demoralizing and infuriating. Why, I thought, would you place the erase data option in the common menu, let alone making it the top option!? It made no sense! As maddening as it was, I began anew the following night and have not made that mistake again.

Each night as I drift to sleep, too tired to play more, Sudoku puzzles fill my thoughts and preface my dreams. My decade-long penchant for these logic puzzles hasn’t diminished since high school although I’m saddened it took me so long to play this game. Seeking to strike while the iron was hot, Nintendo released Sudoku Gridmaster at a point when their Nintendo DS was catching fire and Sudoku puzzles were growing in popularity in the west. A plethora of puzzles, well implemented touch-screen usage, and helpful tricks ensured this was an enjoyable, standard-setting experience on the DS; in spite of the confusing placement of the erase data option. If you’re like me and enjoy Sudoku, this is a fantastic rendition.

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