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Sudoku Ball Detective Review

By Neilie Johnson, 11/23/2009

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Since 2005, sudoku has become a mainstream sensation with enough variants to entertain casual and hardcore gamers alike. Upon first hearing about Sudoku Ball Detective earlier this year, I was excited to think it would represent a new evolution of the popular logic puzzle, one that would seamlessly blend narrative with puzzle gameplay. Sadly, that didn't happen and the game is sorely disappointing. So much so that the only way to discuss the ways in which it betrays its potential is by addressing the failure of each advertised feature separately.

Unique Sudoku Ball feature for new puzzle experience

Yes, the sudoku grid is wrapped around a 3D ball that you turn by using the stylus. Ultimately though, all that does is make you feel like you’re seeing the grid through a fish-eye lens.

3 difficulty settings from beginner to expert

Ok, I’ll give ‘em that one. There are indeed three difficulty levels, represented by there being more or fewer numbers on the grid at the start.

Challenging and engaging storyline with 20 levels

The story manages to be neither challenging nor engaging and is flimsier than Keanu Reeves’ acting credentials. It begins at Sir John Coleridge’s mansion where a swanky birthday party is being held for him. It’s not all brandy and tea-cakes though when the Sir John suddenly drops dead for no apparent reason. You play Edward G. Bannister, ex-Superintendent of Scotland Yard and it doesn’t take you long to realize Sir John’s death is no accident. Naturally, you look to Sir John’s socialite wife, brother, mistress and friends in order to discover the culprit. It’s a decent, if unimaginative, murder case set-up but after the story intro, things go quickly downhill.

While looking for Sir John’s killer you’ll spend your time interviewing suspects and traveling between locations using a pointlessly spherical 3D map of the town. Back and forth you’ll go to the crime scene, Jonathan Coleridge’s law firm and Dr. Dinsdale’s crime lab, solving slight variants on the traditional 9x9 sudoku grid. Sometimes you’ll dig up clues by solving all sides of the sudoku ball; sometimes you’ll pick locks by finding only the middle number on the grid; sometimes you’ll chase a suspect by racing the clock to solve only the sudoku grids painted with red footprints. The thing is, in every case you’re doing more or less the exact same sudoku.

There are a lot of variants on sudoku out there, variants that use larger grids, overlapping grids, crazy-shaped grids, grids that play diagonally as well as horizontally, even sudoku that use symbols instead of numbers. With all of these alternatives to choose from, you’d think Whitebear might have tried to incorporate at least one of them, just to mix things up. Instead, they force players to play through the same monotonous vanilla sudoku over and over. And if you’re thinking the story bits must do something to break up the tedium, think again.

Voice acting and animation might have gone a long way to add charm and interest to the game but there is no voice-over acting or animation in the game. All character interaction is achieved through the use of 3D stills and text, which makes an already dull game a veritable snooze-fest. The characters are fairly well done (except for Dr. Dinsdale who looks like he‘s wearing an orange clown wig and fake mustache) but their dialog is so boring, it’s impossible to care about them. In his straight-laced stuffiness, even hero Edward G. Bannister is impossible to identify with or admire. Murder mysteries are supposed to be suspenseful and exciting; Sudoku Ball Detective is about as exciting as watching a show about knitting.

Easy to learn and play

This is certainly true. Once you’ve figured out the first puzzle, your brain will never be taxed again.

Distinctive art style

I guess that depends on what you call “distinctive”. If to you that means “a cast full of stuffed-shirt English gentlemen with less personality than a row of ironing boards” then yeah, I’d say the art style’s distinctive. Or maybe they were talking about Dinsdale’s hair?

Compare your best scores with friends and family

The only way you’re going to get other people to play through this game long enough to have comparative scores is with threats of physical violence, or perhaps blackmail.

Stand-alone Sudoku Ball, Story puzzles and original Sudoku modes with over 240 Sudokus in total

For truth in advertising, the subtext to this so-called feature should read, “240 opportunities to solve the exact same Sudoku!” If you have the stamina to get to the end of the ory mode, I salute you. If after that, you still want to slog your way through a couple hundred repetitious 9x9 grids, then you’re a masochist and probably in need of an intervention.

I really wanted to believe in Sudoku Ball Detective , even when gut instinct told me it would never work. Wait--scratch that. It could have worked, if the development team had substituted an interesting puzzle mix and well-written mystery for the repetitive gameplay and lazy narrative they ended up with. Ah well. If wishes were horses eh? Anyone thinking of buying this game, I have a better idea--do yourself a favor and set fire to a twenty dollar bill.

Overall: 40%



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