Sudoku you, too!
During this period of social distancing, mobile games are becoming increasingly more important. Between GameStops closing, XBox and Nintendo servers being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of players online at once, and money tight with people out of work, free-to-play mobile games are, in a surprising turn of events, here to save the day.
Of course, it’d be fantastic if there was a game out there that stimulated the brain instead of rotted it. One that didn’t have too many ads shoved down your throat. Multiplayer might be nice as well, and maybe something with simple, quick bursts that didn’t take up too much time — you know, so we can all get back to “working from home”. Perhaps one that gave new players something fun to learn and existing players a twist on a favorite challenge? Of course, it’s got to be fun above all, and it being free would be a generous touch. Does such a game exist?
Yep — Sudoku Scramble, the free-to-play mobile game from 81monkeys. I previewed this delightful little mobile title a few months ago, and I’m happy to say the game is finally here. The game has been in a playable state for months, but the development team wanted to make sure all bugs were ironed out before it got into the hands of players. “We’ve tried really hard to prioritize our player experience,” said director Stephane Cotichini, explaining why the team wants to get everything absolutely perfect. I’m happy to say that, as someone who played months ago to now, the improvements I didn’t know were needed are there, and the game is smoother than ever.
For the uninitiated, Sudoku Scramble takes Sudoku — a popular numbers puzzle that was definitely more in fashion a decade ago — and makes it multiplayer, either by playing against the computer, couch co-op, or ranked battles online. Fans of traditional Sudoku, like myself, might find themselves scratching their heads at a multiplayer version of the brain-pleaser; all I can say is, the team made it work, and creatively so.
It works like this — instead of taking a 9 x 9 grid composed of blocks with numbers 1 – 9 each where individuals try to solve it all as quickly and correctly as possible, Sudoku Scramble pits two players together with only a few numbers each on the same lightly-filled puzzle. Each player starts with seven tiles with numbers 1 – 9 on them and must try to slot them in where possible on the board. Be quick, though — with 60 seconds on the clock, you don’t have a whole lot of time to figure out which pieces go where. Once the timer runs out, it’s your opponent’s turn. Keep taking turns until one of you runs out of tiles and a victor emerges. Collect your coins, rank up, and try again — lather, rinse, repeat!
With the basics of Sudoku Scramble figured out, the strategies can begin, and this is where it gets interesting. Each round, players have the option to challenge their opponent, meaning they can check against the computer to see if the tiles they placed last turn are in their correct space. If the challenge is successful, the opponent takes some of your tiles. If the challenge fails, however, you take the tiles from your opponent, so don’t challenge indiscriminately.
There’s also the matter of timing — after a rousing round of Sudoku Scramble with a random player where we tied at each turn, the tie-breaking aspect was determined by how much time was left over after each round. My opponent was smart and ended each round early if they weren’t able to figure out their next move; I, on the other hand, let my clock run out to search for as long as possible. That ended up paying off for my opponent, who ended up with the win. Where they took the match, I took note, and ended my turns as quickly as possible from there on out and beating them in every rematch.
After each Sudoku Scramble match ends, players earn experience, ranks, and coins. Gaining experience means new features are granted, like daily scrambles and monthly goals, ranks help in ensuring ranked battles are well-matched, and coins can be exchanged for avatars. There are also cute lil baby pencils to find and collect, which will yield a prize after all are found.
With any free-to-play game, ads are typically a part of the equation, and I’m happy to report that ads are handled really well in Sudoku Scramble. There are optional ads to boost your coins earned at the end of each round and optional ads to watch each day to earn new avatars or other prizes, but they are, again, optional. There’s only one instance of forced ads, and it’s found at the end of each ranked round. While forced ads aren’t my favorite, these act like a breather in-between rounds to reset the brain, so in that sense they’re somewhat welcomed. Ads have definitely been handled worse in other games, so, if anything, I’d praise Sudoku Scramble for how ads were handled.
The micro-transactions on offer in Sudoku Scramble are your typical fare, but don’t cost as much as other similar games. Now, I won’t fault developers from trying to pay their bills, but there are some mobile games out there that definitely abuse their currency systems. Not here — just looking at the six available options, it’s evident that Sudoku Scramble is not a cash-grab, but a genuinely good mobile game. The developers weren’t kidding when they said they wanted to prioritize the player experience.
I won’t lie, it feels weird to review and rate a mobile game so highly, but as a die-hard Sudoku fan, Sudoku Scramble is that long-awaited twist on a beloved classic. With fantastic multiplayer options, unobtrusive ads that reward you for watching, and quick play mechanics that can keep you entertained for 6 or 60 minutes, Sudoku Scramble pretty much achieves everything it sets out to do. And, for the price of free, it’s hard to argue against giving it a whirl. So go ahead and add this little gem to your mobile device, and enjoy this number cruncher on the couch while you practice social distancing. Be safe, play games!
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Mobile (reviewed); Developer: 81monkeys; Players: 1 – 2; MSRP: FREE
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Sudoku Scramble provided by the developer.