Reviewed: July 2, 2007
Released: June 12, 2007
Most people by now have heard of the popular number puzzle game Sudoku, which now appears side by side with crossword puzzles in many newspapers. Zendoku is a fun Sudoku-variant game for the DS, challenging players to use their logical reasoning skills in order to defeat the CPU or another human player in single combat by completing puzzles.
Some players may be satisfied with the classic Sudoku mode, but Zendoku’s most prominent feature is a Sudoku-based fighting game that uses symbols instead of numbers, requiring players to attack and deflect enemy attacks with well-timed symbol placement – or recover from the blows by completing random mini-games – and ultimately defeat their opponents before their life bars run out.
If you’ve ever dreamed of playing Sudoku on your DS, look no further; Zendoku pretty much covers all the bases. Although the game offers the necessary classic Sudoku mode, its main attraction is “Zendoku,” Sudoku’s more combative cousin, which resembles a combination of Sudoku, fighting game, and WarioWare. It’s somewhat similar in concept to Puzzle Fighter, except using Sudoku as the puzzle game of choice. It makes effective use of the DS’s format: gameplay is almost completely done with the stylus on the touchscreen, while the display screen usually serves to display character portraits, reactions, and life bars.
Zendoku is very similar to ordinary Sudoku with the main difference that the player is prompted to pick any one of eight brawler-style characters (and a handful more can be unlocked through the Quest mode), then pitted in puzzle-based combat against a CPU (or another person with a DS in 2-player mode – no additional cartridge needed). By solving columns, rows, or one of nine 3 x 3 squares of the puzzle, the player performs attacks, gradually depleting the opponent’s life bar when they strike. More powerful combo attacks can be carried out by solving one of each type of shape in succession.
Additionally, in the place of numbers, Zendoku uses nine different symbols that, as with the numbers 1 through 9 in Sudoku, must all appear only once in each column, row, and 3 x 3 square of the game board. Each character uses one of these nine symbols as a “lucky symbol” which, when placed correctly on the game board during an opponent’s attack, will counter that attack and reflect it back at the opponent. Failing to successfully reverse an attack means the player will have to complete a random and bizarre mini-game—such as unrolling a lengthy scroll, blowing down samurai by actually huffing into the DS’s mic, or blocking flying blows with the stylus—before being able to continue solving the puzzle and countering further attacks from the opponent.
Certainly, the mini-games can be a little annoying sometimes, especially at higher difficulty levels when the CPU launches attack after attack in quick succession, but they also act as effective incentives to get the player to work on counterattack technique. Timing the counter can be a bit of a challenge, and getting used to using symbols instead of numbers may throw Sudoku players for a loop at first, but that’s all part of the challenge of Zendoku.
Zendoku includes a generous number of game modes, including the aforementioned Quest mode (which resembles fighting game story modes and automatically saves your progress so you can come back later and continue where you left off), Zen mode (single-player game against the clock), Attack Box mode (where you can play the mini-games), and – perhaps best of all – a Multiplayer mode that allows you to play wirelessly with one other person. Multiplayer games can be played either cooperatively or one-on-one. For people who like Sudoku, there’s probably a little of something for everyone.
Expect colorfully comical cel-shaded characters drawn and animated in a style reminiscent of cutesy Asian cartoons – if you’ve played any number of other games featuring child-like “super-deformed” character artwork, you know exactly what I’m referring to. It may not be quite up to the superlative quality of Capcom art, but it’s bright, cute, and appealing enough.
The graphics used for the Sudoku board, icons, and mini-games are cleanly drawn and are a good size relative to the dimensions of the DS screen. The icons probably could have been designed with a bit more contrast from one other for easier recognition during play, but they’re drawn in fun, Asia-themed shapes and get the job stylishly done.
Zendoku’s sound can be best summed up as a mixture of calming, Asian-esque melodies and the sounds of running water, chirping birds, and kiai-ing martial artists. The sound quality is pretty good, and the music – low-key tunes featuring plenty of flute and koto – remains unobtrusively in the background.
Zendoku currently retails for $19.99, and for the Sudoku fan, this game is pretty much infinitely replayable, so it’s really not a bad deal if the idea of playing Sudoku on the DS appeals to you. For players who are less interested in Sudoku, the game’s replay value may be limited to unlocking the hidden characters and finishing the mini-games – but, really, if you don’t like Sudoku, Zendoku will probably bore you quickly anyway. For a solid DS Sudoku title, though, it’s a good value.
If you have a DS and enjoy solving Sudoku puzzles, particularly if you’re looking for some mild cartoon violence injected into your Sudoku, you’ll probably like Zendoku. Some Sudoku players may find it challenging to adapt to the symbols used in place of numbers, at least at first, but it’s not very difficult to get used to, and you can always revert to playing the classic Sudoku mode if you like it better. All in all, it’s a fun little game with cute graphics that ought to keep Sudoku fans happy.