Zendoku Review

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Graphics: 5.0
Sound : 6.0
Gameplay : 8.0
Multiplayer : 10
Overall : 8
Review by Lenny Eusebi
Zendoku is a fun, fast-paced way to fill your craving for more Sudoku puzzles. By pitting you against an opponent (AI or multiplayer), the game provides an interesting twist on the standard Sudoku play, with interspersed mini-games in addition to a timer turning it into more of an action-puzzler than a crossword.

For those unfamiliar with the recent craze, Sudoku is a style of puzzle in which an 9x9 grid needs to be filled in with the numbers from 1 to 9 such that each on appears exactly once in each column, row and 3x3 box (there are 9 boxes in a 3x3 grid filling the 9x9 grid). Zendoku uses a series of symbols instead of numbers – there are 9 unique symbols. The use of symbols makes the game feel a little more like a board game and a little less like a number puzzle, but other than that has little effect on the play. All of the symbols are on the screen during play, spaced around the grid, so you can quickly get the hang of which ones are missing from a row, column or box. After a while you learn them pretty well, though it can still take some quick mental list-checking to figure out which one is missing.

Speed is important in Zendoku, as you are paired against an opponent who is filling in his own puzzle at the same time. You tap the image of the symbol you’d like to place to activate it, and then you can tap squares you wish to put that symbol on. Every time a row, column or box is completed, the player who completed launches an attack. The attack travels across the top of the screen and when it reaches the opponent, a mini-game occludes that player’s screen, preventing further progress until it has been beaten.

There are a variety of mini-games that can appear, from snow flakes covering the screen, which must be wiped away with the stylus, to candles that must be blow out (by literally blowing on the microphone), to blocks that must be cracked by repeated taps of the stylus. The most challenging games involve some character appearing on the screen and throwing objects at you, which you must block by tapping them before they get too close. A certain number of successful blocks in a row is require to clear the game, but once the objects get going it is frequently very difficult to move fast enough to get the proper number in a row. Since the mini-game often appears while you are in the middle of a thought about what symbol to place, and the particular game is randomly chosen, it can be quite frantic to try to get through it and back to the puzzle. And the whole time, your opponent is getting that much closer to his next attack or even completing the puzzle.

Fortunately, there are some tools to help you in your quest. First of all, the difficulty in story mode (think Japanese fighting game story mode) ramps up gradually, allowing you time to get the hang of the symbols, the interrupting mini-games and paying attention to your opponent without stomping you right away (though it does eventually get to the stomping). In addition to that, there is a practice mode, where you can play the mini-games in a time-trial format the records the high scores (or low times, as it were). This lets you figure out useful things like the best technique for sweeping snow, how many taps each breakable block needs, and what order to hit the flying claws in.

The other tool you have for dealing with mini-games is your lucky symbol. Depending on which character you’ve chosen to play, you have a different lucky symbol. Placing that symbol in a correct spot while an attack incoming reflects that attack back at the opponent. Of course, you can’t do much attacking of your own without placing some lucky symbols, so this creates a dynamic where you want to conserve locations for them that you’ve already figured out, without slowing down your progress of making attacks and completing the puzzle.

The single player game of Zendoku is entertaining for awhile, but eventually fairly repetitive. There’s fun to be had in both practicing the mini-games to improve your scores and beating tougher and tougher opponents in story mode, but the fun is straightforward and eventually predictable. Like many similar games, it is fun to pick up again now and then, but won’t be a game you play every night for hours.

Multiplayer is a similar story, but much of the fun of that comes from the person with whom you are playing and thus it can remain fun for much longer. The random exclamations when an attack slips in, or a particularly frustrating snowflake hangs around too long can be priceless, and Zendoku provides ample opportunities for fun of this sort.

Overall, Zendoku is an interesting and amusing take on a Puzzle Fighter-style game. Between comical mini-games, fast-paced play and an interesting core puzzle game, this scores quite well as a casual multiplayer game – perfect for various waiting times (as long as you don’t mind blowing on your DS in public). The single player game lacks the sparks of amusing that come from good-natured competition, but it does a fine job of what it set out to do. If you enjoy Sudoku it is well worth a look.