- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2009

A popular numerical puzzler helps junior investigators solve a murder in Sudoku Ball Detective (Playlogic Entertainment, for DS, $19.99).

I’ll admit pairing a mystery loaded with English characters and that frustrating number game sounds a bit strange. However, what could have been exhaustive sessions of solving never-ending streams of grids takes on a new urgency when tied to moving a story forward.

Through nicely illustrated moments and streams of text, the player becomes part of a not very happy birthday party, as successful lawyer Sir Jonathan Coleridge dies right in front of his guests.

The crime finds the player helping the superintendent of Scotland Yard, Edward G. Bannister, sort through possible suspects and catch the murderer. Helping, of course, means tapping on a map to enter locations and solving a battery of Sudoku grids by drawing numbers with the stylus after clicking one of the many empty cells.

After beating a puzzle, events lead to actions such as collecting clues, picking a lock and revealing evidence in the forensics lab.

So how does one pick a lock using a Sudoku puzzle? The logic detective has a set amount of time to fill in the blank cells of a center grid, surrounded by more three-by-three grids, and can make only four mistakes. As he completes the grids, the center number of the board becomes part of the combination that eventually opens the lock.

Yeah, the game is hard even on the easiest setting and I needed a pen and paper to keep track of missing numbers and help restrain stress levels.

Reconstructing clues with forensics is a bit easier as the player has to fill in a certain number of cells contained in nine fields. A test tube of red liquid drips away as he works, and if the tube empties, some of the numbers on the board disappear and must be filled in again.

When chasing a suspect, it’s about filling in grids marked with red footprints to catch the rascal.

Adding another twist to the addicting fun is the actual puzzle board. Unlike filling numbers in on the traditional, flat grids seen online or in newspapers, this Sudoku variant comes wrapped around a three-dimensional ball. The game offers 90 balls spread across three difficulty settings.

The twist means the right number can solve multiple rows of grids that intersect throughout the sphere while wrong choices can completely short-circuit a player’s confidence.

Those not in the mood for a mystery can select specific spheres or play 100 or so traditional Sudoku games to get their fix.

After dabbling in this logic-inspired, sensory-overloaded whodunit, most anyone will feel like Braniac and Sherlock Holmes.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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