<img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-title.jpg" /><br /><br /><b>Product Category:</b> Games (Amazingly Addictive; Puzzle)<br /><b>Manufacturer:</b> <a href="http://www.mastersoftmobilesolutions.com">Mastersoft Mobile Solutions</a><br /><b>Where to Buy:</b> <a href="http://www.mastersoftmobilesolutions.com/sudoku_ppc.php">SuDoku</a> / <a href="http://www.mastersoftmobilesolutions.com/kakuro_ppc.php">Kakuro</a>.<br /><b>Price:</b> $14.95 USD Each or Double that and buy both!<br /><b>System Requirements:</b> Pocket PC and Windows Mobile devices including VGA, QVGA and Square 240 x 240 <br /><br /><b>Pros:</b>
- <li>Easy game play;<br /><li>Intuitive controls;<br /><li>Impressive wizards & hints system.
- <li>Absence of always-on-screen numbers;<br /><li>Inability to play one-handed;<br /><li>Large install size.
<b>Summary:</b><br />For quite awhile, SuDoku intimidated me, and the idea behind Kakuro just plain scared me! After a few friends tried it, I figured I'd give it a go, and found two very addictive, fun, and stimulating games that now have a home on my devices. Download the trials if you like engaging and rewarding game play. Buy the software when you find you're hooked!<br /><br />Read on for the full review!<!><br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><span><b>SuDoku, Kakuro, What's The Difference?</b></span><br />From the pocket sized books now familiar in U.S. grocery stores to the tomes of puzzles you can find at your local bookstore, SuDoku has become hugely popular in the last two years both here and around the world. I'll go into its history a bit in a moment, but first, what is it? Well, simply put, it's a puzzle game which is easily solved by eliminating possible candidates for each square until you are down to the only remaining candidate. While most commonly played with numbers one through nine, SuDoku could just as easily be played with any other set, such as colors or letters. Mastersoft's implementation of SuDoku lets you explore these other sets through skins, which can increase the difficulty (by taking you from what you're familiar with) and the fun. Mastersoft even includes a picture SuDoku option, effectively doubling its built-in levels of difficulty. As for those of you who fear you may develop a severe addiction and run out of games, Mastersoft assures us that there are more games in their products than are playable in a lifetime. It's a comforting thought to me when I go on a SuDoku or Kakuro binge.<br /><br />Kakuro is the new guy on the street in the Puzzle world. A cousin of SuDoku, they have similar rules. However, Kakuro has a twist - the values in any given column and row must add up to a value provided in the margin. Whereas SuDoku doesn't normally require you to guess except in the hardest of games, guessing is common in Kakuro, as you sharpen your skills as a Kakuro Master! Again, Mastersoft's game play here is similar to SuDoku, allowing the user to customize the game board colors and style to his or her choosing, including skin support.<br /><br />All of the features do come with a price, and both games are quite large on the install size. Mastersoft officially recommends placing them in Main Memory, however I put both on my SD and Mini-SD cards without a problem. They each take up about 4 MB once installed, which, while smaller than other games I enjoy (Such as Spb Air Islands), is still a bit of a chunk. Due to its size, it also takes a fair amount of time to completely load (approximately 10 - 20 seconds), however the wait is worth it!<br /><br />Since I believe many people don't try these games as they look a bit intimidating, I've put two sample games into the review, one Simple SuDoku and a simple Kakuro, to walk you through how they play. After that, we'll discuss Mastersoft's implementation, and the pros and cons of their offerings.<br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><span><b>A Bit More On SuDoku</b></span><br />According to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SuDoku">Wikipedia</a>:<br /><br /><i>"Sudoku...is a logic-based placement puzzle. The aim of the puzzle is to enter a numerical digit from 1 through 9 in each cell of a 9×9 grid made up of 3×3 subgrids (called "regions"), starting with various digits given in some cells (the "givens"); each row, column, and region must contain only one instance of each numeral."</i><br /><br />Which sounds a lot harder than it actually is! I admit it - I stayed away from SuDoku for a long time even after my friends started playing because it simply looked too annoying. I've got a grid with a bunch of numbers and I'm supposed to figure out what goes in each blank? Looks like I'll be guessing and poking around forever! Then I found out why the game isn't frustrating in the least - in all but the hardest SuDokus, guessing isn't even involved! <br /><br /><span><b>A Sample SuDoku</b></span><br />To allow non-SuDoku players to appreciate this review, and to help those new to the game, I decided to write up a quick walk through of a simple SuDoku. I'll take you through the first few moves, and then you can finish the sample on your own. (Answer provided at the end
).<br /><br />Here is our beginning board, with a nice simple SuDoku:<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simp1.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 1: A Simple SuDoku. Notice the timer and points values below the puzzle. The points count down as you take longer to work the solution out, with a higher starting point value for harder puzzles. You can hide them from view with the blue arrow to the right - it helps relieve some pressure as you build up your score and climb the ranks!</i><br /><br />Now, the first thing to remember is that we don't have to guess - this puzzle can be simply solved by process of elimination. Take the region in the middle for example. In it, we have a 7, 8, 2, & 9. This means that we're missing a 1, 3, 4, 5, & 6. If you look in the regions to the left and right of it, you'll notice that both of them have 3s, and those 3s are in the second and third rows of the region. Perfect - this means our 3 has to be in the top row of the middle region. Why? Well if it's in any other row in that region, the entire row (spanning from left to right) will have a duplicate 3 - a SuDoku no-no. So the 3 has to be on the left or right of the 9. One of the cool features of Mastersoft SuDoku is the candidates entry - a small "scratch-pad" for your thoughts as you're solving. I'm going to enter into candidate mode (notice the small numbers) and enter in a 3 for both of those spots - as I know one of them <i>has</i> to be the 3!<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simp2.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 2: Notice that the entry window can be moved, and even stuck in one corner of the board if you choose.</i><br /><br />But wait - there's a 3 in the third column in the region below (the region with 1, 4, 7, & 3). If we put a 3 on the right side of our 9 in the middle region, there would be two 3s in that column. So our 3 has to go to the left of the 9. I'll switch back to regular entry mode (by hitting the little grid icon in the lower right of the entry window) and put a 3 in the only spot it can be, and clear out my false 3 candidate.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simp3.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 3: The entry screen can also enter values in different colors, in case you want to color code your entries for easy reference. Some SuDoku programs utilize an always-on-screen entry panel, which I believe would be an excellent option for those who might not like the pop-up panel.</i><br /><br />There are a couple more in our puzzle just like that - easy eliminations. For example, in the middle region at the top (the region with 6, 8, 5, & 4 in it), we know we're missing a 1. The 1 can't go in the top row (as there is a 1 in the region to the right) and it can't go along the first column (as there is a 1 in the bottom region), so it must go above the 9:<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simp4.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 4: A very cool feature of Mastersoft's version is the yarn ball (look below the 19 in the timer to see the icon). It allows you to roll-back the puzzle to an earlier time if you see a mistake. You can also place flags along your path so you can roll back to known good points.</i><br /><br />I'll go ahead and fill in some more values for you to get you started - see if you can figure out the solution!<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simp5.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 5: A good head-start - can you complete this one?</i><br /><br />When you're done, check out the solution to this SuDoku <A HREF=http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simpsol.jpg>here</A><br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><span><b>That Wasn't Too Bad, How About Kakuro?</b></span><br />We'll start with an Simple Kakuro. You'll notice in the image below that only some of the board is used, this is to keep us sane as we learn
. The margins show us what each row and column are supposed to add up to. A number in the upper right indicates row total, a number in the lower left indicates column total.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simpk1.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 6: This really isn't as scary as it looks!</i><br /><br />Let's look at the last column, the one we know has to add up to 9. What values could go there? Well, the first row has to add up to 16. We could make 9 with 8 + 1, but then the other value next to the 16 would have to be an 8, making 2 of the same value in that row - a no-no! Let's try 7 & 2, making the first row 7 & 9. I'll add in a flag in case we have to roll back with the yarn-ball feature!<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simpk2.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 7: Ah, flags. Multi-colored even. If you set a flag, by clicking Yarn-ball you'll see a slider with your flags in place, making it easy to roll back.</i><br /><br />Ok, now we know that the next row has to add up to 9, and the first column has to add up to 3. What, plus a low number, and plus 2 might make 9. Given that the second column has to add up to 23, perhaps we should think of a high number. Maybe 1 + 6 + 2. We'll try that approach.<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simpk3.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 8: Oooh... we're getting close to knowing if we've done well or screwed up. We could always use the calculator in Windows Mobile if we need help with a quick calculation!</i><br /><br />Ok, now we have one value left. The question is, can we find a value that is true for both of these problems: 9 + 6 + ? = 23, and 2 + ? = 10. YES = 8! So we enter 8 and get the glory & prizes<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-simpk4.jpg" /><br /><i>Figure 9: Winners we are!</i><br /><br />Ah, alas, I'm struggling (maybe that's because I just re-installed the release version from the beta...
). Now that wasn't too bad, and I feel like I've had a great mental exercise!<br /><PAGEBREAK><br /><span><b>Masterful Mastersoft Additions</b></span><br />Mastersoft has been a pioneer bringing SuDoku and Kakuro to the Pocket PC world, and they have built in a number of great features into their clients that allow new players as well as veterans the chance to improve their game and tailor it to their current skills. Both offer many levels of difficulty, and because their engine solves puzzles as a human would, their difficulty ratings are pretty accurate. Rarely will I come across a mis-labeled difficulty (more often a hard puzzle that is actually pretty easy), and this happens so rarely it could just be my momentary glimpses of insight that are the cause, not their solver!<br /><br />Two features that I particularly like in SuDoku are the extensive customization features and the flip feature. The customizations let you use any sort of set you'd like instead of just boring old numbers in your SuDoku. In the screen shot below, I chose People, don't they look happy to be in my puzzle?<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-people.png" /><br /><i>Figure 10: With the skinning feature, I suppose I could use little pictures of my friends... wouldn't they be delighted!</i><br /><br />The flip feature is also interesting and useful. If you hadn't thought of it already, here is a thought: SuDokus retain the same solution regardless of how they're oriented, as long as the relative positions of each number remains the same. Mastersoft has built in a neat ability to send your numbers flying around the board either directly flipping or rotating around to give you a new perspective on a puzzle you may be stuck on. Behold the before and after shots below!<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-preflip.png" /><br /><i>Figure 11: Stuck In The Rut.</i><br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-postflip.png" /><br /><i>Figure 12: Rotated!</i><br /> <PAGEBREAK> <br />Kakuro is also choc full of nifty features, many the same features found in SuDoku. Additionally, Mastersoft provides you with a cheat-sheet of combinations and a full combination calculator that can quickly provide you the possible combinations for a given value. You simply provide it with the target sum and how many spaces you have to find it, and some of the mental strain is lifted!<br /><br /><img src="http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/images/web/2003/westfall-sudukoreview-calculate.png" /><br /><i>Figure 13: No more nightmares in math land with this calculator!</i><br /><br />One lacking feature that I think Mastersoft might want to attempt adding would be the ability to navigate the screen and play the game using one hand. While I generally only play when I have time to sit down, take out the stylus and work, I can see others potentially playing while standing in a subway car or glancing at their game in 2 - 3 min. of downtime (I find that when I'm really stuck, closing the game and coming back later really helps me find my sticking point). So, perhaps one-handed operation would be a plus in future releases, however, don't mistake me - I wouldn't want the sacrifices needed to ensure one-handed operation be made at the expense of the current method of play, just as another option if users chose to switch to it.<br /><br /><span><b>Conclusions</b></span><br />I've used a Pocket PC for a few years now, and can tell you that while I own licenses for a good number of games, I rarely install them while setting up a unit after a hard reset (in other words, they don't make my "must have" list). SuDoku (and quickly growing on me, Kakuro) is on the list, however, beating off titles that I know are quite a bit more popular and diverse. Why? Well it's probably obvious after reading the review: Solving a SuDoku or Kakuro is immensely rewarding after spending time debating your moves, improving your skills, and exercising your mind. The implementations by Mastersoft are clean, easy to use, and do the job. My only suggestions would be what I've listed as Cons: the install size is a bit big, it would be nice to have an always-on-screen number entry area option, and one-handed operation would probably be a plus to most users (although I doubt I'd use it much). If you're looking to start mentally exercising or just to find something to kill the time you spend idle with your Pocket PC, I highly recommend Mastersoft SuDoku and Kakuro.<br /><br /><i>Jon Westfall is a lot of things to a lot of different audiences. Full-time graduate student, part-time system admin, and all-the-time Pocket PC enthusiast, he can normally be found in the evenings relaxing at home, stealing his cat's beanbag chair, playing SuDoku and putting off going to bed!</i>