Sudoku games for the Pocket PC’s have almost been flooding the software stores and honestly, many of them are very capable. Quite a while ago I got myself copies of Astraware Sudoku and Resco Sudoku (the classic version) and I’ve used them both a lot. They both have their advantages, each of them has several characteristics that can make it the perfect choice for some, but not for others. After that I’ve let all other Sudoku games pass by since none of them seemed to really stand out and offer something unique that would justify getting a third Sudoku game. Well, none except one. Resco Sudoku Touch, which was released almost 4 months ago, is advertised to be touch-friendly, which is something I’m very interested in this summer. Going on holiday I have to spend several hours in the car on bumpy roads, or on the beach where you don’t want to use the stylus (what if you drop it and it gets covered by sand?), touch friendly interfaces are worth testing out.
So today we’ll be taking a look at Resco Sudoku Touch (which I will abbreviate with RST for the rest of the review). We will see how accurate the controls are, which Sudoku-specific features are offered, and how the looks of RST can be customized.
Starting up RST immediately gives you a rich and classy looking menu screen with only a few items in it. Most importantly is a wheel with the four difficulty levels (easy, medium, hard and expert). Simply swipe your finger across the screen to slide through these menu items and press Go to start playing. This is “menu-navigation done right”, since you don’t have to navigate through various screens to start playing a puzzle. Even better, if you’ve stopped playing a game in the past, the very first (and easiest to select) menu item is Continue, which you can use to almost instantly continue a previously started game of Sudoku.
The last two items on the wheel are Enter Own, which allows you to enter your own Sudoku puzzles (for example to solve the puzzle from the newspaper on your device) and Choose Wallpaper. The classic version of Resco Sudoku allowed for a very high degree of customizability, but that has been limited in this Touch friendly version. Right now you can only pick from a set of included wallpapers but they are different enough to provide probably anyone with a satisfying background while playing Sudoku.
While the ability to enter custom puzzles can be very important for people who are looking for a new Sudoku game for the Pocket PC, this feature doesn’t set RST apart from it’s competitors. So let’s just move on to the game screen.
Most of the in-game screen consists of, naturally, the Sudoku game board 0f 9×9=81 squares. Some numbers are already filled in, and you have to complete the rest of the puzzle following the Sudoku rules which are probably well known for everyone by now. (If they aren’t, I recommend this Wikipedia entry which explains the most important techniques). But where most of the Sudoku games also have number pads on the screen to allow the player to enter digits, RST just has a small top bar with a highscore and the current playing time, and a scrollbar (consisting of two sections) giving you access to most important game features. Entering numbers, however, is done in a quite different way. While the 81 squares may look too small to tap with your finger, I’ve never missed the square I wanted to tap in the several puzzles I completed. Tapping one of the (empty) squares brings up the input panel. (Note that it doesn’t just appear, it comes in with a nice animation. Animations are scattered through the application and appear everywhere – when navigating though menu’s, when changing settings, etc.) The input panel has the numbers 1-9 in large boxes, so tapping the right one is even easier than on the 9×9 playing field. If you tap a number it gets highlighted and the box is filled with that number. If you’ve accidentaly entered an incorrect number you can just tap it again to remove the highlight (and delete the number from the box in the playing field).
But what about pencil marks, you ask? Well, I need those too. While easy puzzles can sometimes be solved faster without pencil marks, they are often key to solving more difficult puzzles. To enter them into your playing field, simply slide the slider in the input panel to the right. Then, if you tap a number, it will be inserted as a little pencil mark.
A nice addition to the game is that you can see the properties of a number by it’s color. The numbers that some of the fields have been prepopulated with are in black. They can’t be removed and you know that they are correct. Numbers you enter are displayed in dark blue. However, once you’ve filled in all nine 1’s, they will fade out. So the black 1’s will turn grey and the dark blue ones will turn light blue. This helps you identify the numbers you still need to work on. In the example below to the right, if we look at the 3×3 square at the top left, we see that all 1’s, 2’s, 7’s and 3’s have been filled out. Therefore, only the 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 need your attention. I think this is a smart addition since it ‘fixes’ an issue I have when solving sudoku’s on paper: I often go number by number and check each column to see if they’re there already. For example, in the screenshot below to the right, look at the columns in the middle (with 4,2,3 at the top). You see that 8 is in the center column, and a little lower you see that it is also in the column to the right. Therefore in the bottom box the 8 has to go in one of the three fields on the left (in this case, the top left one of the box in the bottom middle, the left one with the pencil marks). Fading out the numbers I’ve solved already makes it easier to see for which numbers I have to follow this procedure.
Solving a puzzle will give you the Information screen that can also be accessed from the [I] icon on the toolbar in the bottom. It shows you that you’ve finished the game and how many time you’ve used, along with your best and average statistics. If you haven’t finished the puzzle yet, tapping the [I] icon will show you your progress by notifying you of any errors made. For example, entering a number that is already present in a box will display “SOME VALUES ARE DUPLICATED! One or more rows, columns or blocks contain the same digit twice.” This is a subtle way of error detection since it doesn’t immediately flag the incorrect number.
We’ve already seen one of the screens that can be accessed from the toolbar, but there is obviously more to discuss. The home icon simply takes you back to the beginning screen, while solving your current game. You can always go back to the game you were playing by choosing “Continue” from the beginning screen.
Then there is the Information icon which shows you the status screen we’ve discussed in the previous section.
Next up is the screen you can see below, which is accessed by tapping the third button on the toolbar. You can save your game state, which will make a checkpoint in your gameplay. You can then try some possible moves, and if they don’t work for you, you can simply go back to the saved game state and try some other possibilities. (That’s what the Restore Game State is for, obviously ;-).) I don’t think this is a very important feature since Sudoku’s should be able to be solved without guessing. So if you’re at a point where you want to use this Save Game State feature, you’ve probably missed the next logical step that can be done to progress in the puzzle.
Also available from this screen is a Flag mistakes and Auto Marks option, which will be discussed in the next section. Finally you can ask for a Hint here, let RST solve your puzzle (please don’t do that, what’s the fun of it?) or restart the puzzle if you think you’ve been wasting your time making too many errors in your current game.
After these three buttons there are two small arrows. Tap them to move to the second section of the toolbar. Most of the features that are offered here are not new, the first three are the Save, Restore and Hint items that can also be seen in the previously discussed screen, However, some people might prefer to access them from the toolbar instead of from an additional popup screen. Whatever suits the player best. :-)
The last item is an Undo arrow which can make your latest moves undone.
In a way, I like the toolbar a lot. It’s simple to use and it’s graphically attractive. However, I think that if Resco didn’t duplicate the Save, Restore and Hint feature, they could have placed the Undo button on the first toolbar. This would eliminate the need to switch between two toolbars and it makes asking for a hint a bit more difficult because you need to open a new screen for it.
Auto marks, hints and flagging mistakes
There are three features which could be accessed from the toolbar (from the previous section) that I wanted to bring out a bit more.
The first is the Auto marks, which instantly fills the entire screen with pencil marks for every number that can possibly go into a field. This makes it easy, as you can see in the top right corner of the left-most screenshot below, to fill out some of the fields right away. I do consider this as cheating though, since you can also manually fill out the pencil marks and the only reason to let RST do this automatically is to save time. On the other hand, filling out those pencil marks can take lots of time, and if you don’t care too much about the highscores you can save yourself the trouble of going through almost 81 boxes to see which numbers can possibly go into each and every one of those boxes.
Next up is the Hint feature, which is implemented very well. It will give you step-by-step hints, starting with just highlightin a block in blue. (Here you can see that only the 5 and 7 are missing, and their correct positions can both be determined from the 5 in the second row and the 7 in the third row, and from the 5 in the 5th column and the 7 in the 6th column.) If you tap the Hints button a few times the hints will get more specific and eventually it will just enter a correct number in a correct spot.
Finally there is the Flag Mistakes settings which, when enabled, marks your mistakes in red (in the example below, the 8 appears twice in the center block on the right). This is defenitely cheating, because when you’d fill out a Sudoku puzzle on paper you’d only find out about your mistakes later in the game when you have two identical numbers in one block, row or column. Indicating errors immediately when they are made should only be used by beginning Sudoku players who can then immediately learn from their mistakes and try to investigate why that certain move was illegal.
So, the final verdict. Being a newcomer in the Sudoku market is not easy. (Even though RST is 4 months old it’s certainly one of the newest players.) If you’ve gotten used to a Sudoku game in the past there might be features you will miss in RST. For example, I like that in Astraware Sudoku you can play level packs, which gives you more goals to solve. It lets you download Sudoku of the day puzzles which gives you daily assignments. These are not present in Resco Sudoku Touch, which is much more about playing individual puzzles whenever you feel like it. (Except for the Best and Average time highscores.) The beginning screen is designed for that by enabling you to start a game almost instantly.
In my opinion Resco delivers a Sudoku game with gorgeous looks and a finger-friendly input method that can hardly be improved upon. If you’re in the market for a Pocket PC Sudoku game you will want to try several alternatives to see which one has most of the features you are looking for. However, in the current days of finger-friendliness and cloning parts of the iPhone layout, Resco Sudoku Touch is an implemention you will want to include in your list of trials.
It may not have the skinnability that Resco Sudoku Classic has, or some of the extra’s that come with other Sudoku games, but it has the basics (hints, auto pencil marks, undo, flag mistakes) and even fades out numbers you’ve finished. For me this is more than I typically use when playing Sudoku, so it very sufficient. And with the easy input method, I expect that it will be my game of choice to play Sudoku puzzles on during the holidays.
Name: Resco Sudoku Touch
Developed by: Resco
Price: $19,95, or $24,74 including Resco Sudoku Classic, or $27,42 as part of the Resco Touch Suite including Resco Diamonds and Resco Brain Games ( the latest is reviewed here).
Download a trial: here.