Jeremy Jastrzab
13 Aug, 2007

Zendoku Review

PSP Review | Zen-wah?!?
The Sudoku craze from the last couple of years seems to have died down recently. Well, at least to the point where the morning commute is no longer populated by every second person holding a pen-and-paper in hand. Maybe they're all playing it on their Palm-Pilots or iPods now ... either way, this hasn't stopped developers from doing what developers do, as a steady stream of Sudoku-based games are still finding their way into the market. This latest title provides a bit of a twist - Zendoku, for both the DS and PSP, manages to twist the Sudoku formula and is released at a somewhat budget price.

Still, these factors have never really guaranteed the success of a game, and we still haven't answered the big question; what on Earth is this Zendoku business about? Basically, the game is split into two halves. On the one hand, you have a fresh twist on the traditional Sudoku formula, making it look like it was inspired by the mercurial Puzzle Fighter. On the other, you have the option to play pure Sudoku. Most of your time will likely be spent in the Zendoku half.

The actual Zendoku half of the game has a rather strange story. Seventeen of them in fact. Basically, you start by picking one (of initially eight) of the characters to be presented with their motive for going on a journey of discovery. Along that journey, you will take on each of the other characters in the game in Zendoku battle. Upon victory, you will move onto the next fighter. While you're essentially playing through the same process each time, there are a lot to go through and it's presented in a light-hearted satirical manner, taking the mickey out of numerous Eastern-orientated stereotypical story beginnings.

Ayumi's worried you might start playing something else soon.

Ayumi's worried you might start playing something else soon.
The characters that you have to choose from include a martial artist, a sumo wrestler ninjas and numerous other stereotypes of that nature. Apart from the main story, you’ll have a couple of other options, though it would have been nice if some of them were at least nicely explained. One of them lets you practice the mini-games that you'll be coming across, while the other is just a twist on your regular sudoku, except in the "zen" style. Zendoku has a couple of multiplayer options as well. You can take someone on in a battle or try your luck at co-op. The game also has a game share option, if you're the only one with a copy.

The actual fighting in Zendoku is somewhat along the lines of Puzzle Fighter. You’re placed in a nine-by-nine Sudoku grid, and with every line or three-by-three box that you complete, you will launch an attack on your opponent. If you make a mistake, your opponent will attack. It isn’t particularly well explained but fairly easy to figure out if you’ve played a lot of puzzle games. Basically, each time that you fill a row/launch an attack, you're distracting the opponent from completing their grid.

When your opponent launches an attack on you and you’re unable to successfully rectify your error, you’ll be pushed into a mini-game. There are several different types of mini-games, and they revolve around trying to break tiles or cut logs or some other benign activity. On the PSP, you use the d-pad and face buttons, while on the DS you use the stylus. The DS controls prove to be a little more interactive, so it could be argued that the DS controls have a slight edge over the PSP setup.

There is one thing that is particularly odd about this game and that sets it apart from your average Sudoku game. That is, the numbers have been replaced by numerous Eastern symbols, including a dragon, panda, sword, sumo wrestler and yin-yang. Essentially, instead of lining up nine numbers in the one column and then making sure that the three-by-three sections only contain the nine numbers, you have to do this by taking the nine symbols into account instead.

It’s definitely something different. However, it’s a design choice with some serious concerns and probably could have been handled a little better. The reason? Well, the numerical aspect of Sudoku had familiarity and logic to it, so dealing with symbols makes it rather confusing. Rather than thinking “O.K. I need a 2 to fill that line”, thought patterns are more likely to read “O.K. I have eight symbols, which flipping symbol do I put in next?!?”. It takes the intuition out of the game of Sudoku and takes some time to get used to. Still, this is an area where more accomplished developers excel. What we thought, well, the dragon symbol almost looks like a two, and the sumo wrestler could have passed for an eight. Maybe it would have been a decent idea to try and get the symbols to at least resemble the numbers…

These are all the screens we could find.

These are all the screens we could find.
You’ve also got the option of playing traditional Sudoku. As you’d expect, difficulty levels can be set and if things get out of hand, you can always ask the game to finish it off for you. If you’re presented with a preset grid, you can change any addition you make to it, but not the numbers or symbols that were already there. One glaring omission from the game was that of pencil option, which really should be stock standard in Sudoku games. This doesn’t ruin the game but we’re not sure why it hasn’t been included. In terms of controls, the PSP d-pad and face buttons work reasonably well, though some may prefer the convenience of stylus and touch screen controls.

If there is one aspect of the Zendoku that does quite well for itself, it’s the audio-visual presentation. It manages to add a personality to the game that wouldn’t be found in your run-of-the-mill Sudoku game. The style that we see in the Zendoku mode is rather cute and light-hearted but it complements the premise and setting quite well - it may be cute and exaggerated, but it works and manages to look reasonably good. Apart from the layout, the PSP and DS versions are pretty much identical. In terms of sound, the relaxed eastern track fits in with the game nicely as well, and only further compliments its casual nature. The sound effects are relatively basic though, with no voiceovers available.

Zendoku is a solid and charming little game but a few things work against it. Namely, the fact that your using symbols as opposed to numbers that takes some of the intuition out of the game of sudoku. The developers really should have considered some sort of bridged design, though that's really another matter. Also, the game simply can't really compete with jet setters like Super Puzzle Fighter Turbo II. The DS is probably the slightly superior version, due to the way that it asks you to interact in the mini-games but both are solid little budget titles that really could have turned out much worse.
The Score
Zendoku's charm and budget status go a little way making up for it's otherwise lack of puzzle-fighting appeal. The DS version probably has a slight edge over this, the PSP version. 6
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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6 years ago
These are all the screens we could find.
Aren't you able to take your own?..
6 years ago
PALGN doesn't have a PSP debug.
6 years ago
A bit disappointing after the history behind the developer.
6 years ago
its really lacking in not having the abiity to write the numbers in the classic mode (ala brain training) - but its fun IF your looking for a twist on the classic game - unlike 80% of the other sudoku games on the DS that are all pretty much the same.
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  Eidos Interactive

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