Review: Dr. Sudoku (Game Boy Advance)

In this review, we put away the pencils in the Game Boy Advance game, Dr. Sudoku. We find out how well this puzzle game plays.

This game was released in 2006. It is based off the pencil and paper puzzles, Sudoku.

There’s obviously no story about this game as it’s a simple puzzle solving game.

The general idea of this puzzle is simple. You are working with the numbers 1 through 9. As the game insists, this is not a math puzzle. Instead, it is a simple logic puzzle.

With those numbers, you are placing them on a 9 by 9 grid. The grid is subdivided into 9 3 by 3 boxes. Each box contains the numbers 1 through 9 with no repeats. In addition to this, each line contains the numbers 1 through 9 with no repeats. On top of that, each column features the numbers 1 through 9 with no repeats.

In addition to this, you start the puzzle with a certain number of clues as to the location of all the other numbers. Your goal is to use those clues and fill in the empty spaces until you have a number in every box.

Obviously, with this game, there are a number of strategies one can employ. The first is to start with the number 1. Scan the grid to see the positions of all the number 1’s. If there are locations where the 1 is the only possibility, fill it in. Continue until all the 1’s are filled in. From there, repeat with 2, 3, and so forth. Obviously, you won’t get a nice clean slate as there are going to be numbers that you can’t add with total certainty. In those cases, skip to the next number until you hit 9. Then, back it up to the beginning to see if the rest of the numbers fall in place.

Another strategy is to examine every 3 by 3 square and see if you can place numbers in each individual square. If you can’t place any more numbers in the block, move to the next number. As long as you can fill in a number at some point examining the whole board in this manner, you are making progress and you can repeat until the numbers simply fill in.

A third strategy is to examine every row or column one at a time. Figure out what number you can fill in and skip to the next when you run out of possibilities. If you can’t make any more progress, switch to columns (or rows if you start with columns). As long as you are able to fill in at least one number, that is all the progress you need to keep going.

Those three strategies are not just our strategies we’ve employed, but also strategies the game itself recommends in the tutorial. Regardless of skill level in these puzzles, watching the tutorial is definitely recommended in order to get an understanding of the game itself because there might be controls you missed.

One possible feature that can be missed is the ability to insert notes. Sometimes, even after executing the first three strategies isn’t enough. So, inserting notes becomes the next natural strategy most puzzle solvers take. In order to insert notes, you need to tap the “L” button. This will shrink your selector to one corner. From there, insert numbers as you would normally to leave yourself a “memo”. These memo’s are crucial as the puzzles grow more difficult.

Another feature is the help mode. To access the help menu, tap the “R” button. From there, select a number that you want to know more about and it will highlight them in the puzzle. Select the same number again and the game will draw lines visually on where the remaining numbers cannot be. Lines cover numbers in other boxes while “x”s indicate that the number is in the same box. What’s left over are possibilities where the remaining numbers can be. This is great for double-checking your notes.

One strategy not mentioned in this game is the use of deduction. Look at a square you are wanting to know more about. Start counting up from 1 to 9. If a 1 cannot go into that square, eliminate it from the possibilities. Do the same with 2 through to 9. If there is only one number left, then that is your answer for that square. This strategy can be useful when you are running out of idea’s on how to solve the puzzle.

A second strategy not mentioned in the game is using simple number patterns to eliminate possibilities. This can be very useful if you find yourself with a large slate of stubborn two number possibilities. Look at a particular row. If you see two spaces where, say, only a 4 or a 7 can go, then you can eliminate those two numbers from the rest of the row. This is because if a 4 goes in one square, the 7 must go in the other (same the other way around). As such, the 4 or 7 cannot go in any other position in the row. You can apply the same logic to columns.

In the extremely rare case, you can even utilize this logic for 3 numbers side by side. If you see a row where three squares can only have a 1, 3, or 8, you can eliminate all three numbers from the remaining positions in the row. Same idea for columns. This is a very rare strategy because it’s so unlikely that you’ll find such a scenario, but it is actually a strategy that can possibly come up and be useful.

The game discourages players from guessing. There’s a very good reason for this. There is nothing stopping players from inputting a wrong number somewhere along the line if that guess is permitted under the basic rules. The game will stop you if you try and insert duplicate numbers, but if you skirt those rules and insert a wrong number, the game won’t necessarily stop you. What you wind up with is a puzzle that is unsolvable, forcing you to either somehow backtrack or reset altogether.

These techniques won’t solve every puzzle out there, but they do help a lot in solving a lot of them. There are certainly interesting and more complex strategies out there to solving different possible puzzles that require just a bit more skill, but if you are just starting out solving simple puzzles, these tools should be more than sufficient to get you by for a while.

Otherwise, controls are quite simple. Tap ‘A’ to bring up the number menu. Select the number you need and tap “a” again to insert it.

In total, there are 50 puzzles for each level. There are 20 levels in the game. As such, there is exactly 1,000 puzzles of varying difficulties available.

A side feature is the ability to create your own puzzles. You have up to 20 free spaces to use. The game gives you a blank puzzle where you can insert clues as you see fit. The game will tell you if you have a puzzle that can be solved. Rather than simply try and pick numbers, it may be more ideal to use the auto fill feature so the game can place numbers in all the necessary spaces. You can always go back and erase different clues until you have a puzzle you have created. Keep checking to see if the puzzle is solvable as you go along or else you may need to start the process over again should you forget a number.

One thing I do like about this game is the fact that a lot of the features needed to solve the puzzles are there to some extent. While the learning curve is a little steep for a few of the features, everything that I can think of is all there.

One point there is to make about this game is that this is definitely not one of those games you can simply binge and play through to the end. This really aimed at more casual gaming where you pick up the handheld and play for about twenty minutes or so because you had some spare time somewhere along the line. Think of this game as a digital equivalent to one of those Sudoku puzzle books you can pick up at the till of a supermarket.

Having said that, there isn’t a whole lot of variety to this game. It may be something you can hope to be included in a multi-game game cart. As a single game, it can have rather limited range. More specifically, if you are interested in learning how to solve Sudoku puzzles or you have experience solving them, this game is probably for you. Otherwise, I can see this game having limited reach.

So, generally speaking, this game has everything you can ask for in a game revolving around Sudoku puzzle solving. While it may be borderline single purpose, it does exactly what it says on the tin with the odd feature here and there to add a little extra to the overall experience. Still, it’s maximum reach to gamers may be limited as it is definitely designed for the more casual gamer. Still, a very goo realization of a video game version of Sudoku puzzles.

The graphics is definitely on the more limited side. If you exit a puzzle and access the menu, you can choose between three different colour templates. You can’t really access this in the pause menu or anything, so the ability to change this is a bit convoluted. Even then, three different templates winds up being quite limited – especially for a game released when it was. granted, there are only so many ways to make this puzzle game interesting, more could have been done on this front.

Audio is also limited here. Again, you have to go back to the main menu to change the music. Even then, there are only three tracks and silence. This is definitely a limited library in my view. The sound effects are pretty simple, but I’m not sure you could really ask for more in a game as simple as this. Still, could have been better.

Overall, this game is definitely aimed at a more casual gaming audience. It’s one of those games that you pick up and play around for a few minutes before putting away again. It’s reach may be limited given how narrow the game is in the first place. Still, it does offer all the tools players need to solve the puzzles in the first place. Audio and graphics are very limited and buried in the start menu system, unfortunately. A reasonable game all around, but not something you can really binge play.

Furthest point in game:
Level 1: 20 puzzles solved.
Level 7: 1 puzzle solved.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 68%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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