Sitting in a comfortable chair in your favourite café, supping a large cup of java and turning your attention to the Times crossword is many people’s idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon.
Of course, we now have the numerical equivalent of the crossword for those who are better with their 1s and 2s than their As and Bs. Or for those schmucks who hang off every word Carol Vorderman says. Which reminds me, I must consolidate my debts…
Sudoku has established itself as the nation’s puzzle of choice, and hence has slipped its way into the affections of the café-loitering crowd. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s the perfect match for Digital Chocolate’s Café franchise, where the game at each title’s heart shares equal billing with an achingly hip social café hub.
We’ve seen one such game make its way to N-Gage already in the shape of Café Solitaire, based on that other socially acceptable solo pursuit. Café Sudoku carries over the structure and visual sheen of its predecessor, but we’ll briefly touch on these aspects for those who skipped it.
The café hub places you in your own coffee-selling establishment, filled with comfy couches, designer lamps and many other knick-knacks that could have been lifted from the pages of the latest Ikea catalogue. The décor is no veneer, as it can be customised by you as you unlock more items through success on the sudoku grid.
Also customisable is your slightly cartoonish avatar, who can be decked out in all manner of trendy gear - again through success at the sudoku table. The purpose of such rampant consumerism? The same reason as always of course: to look cool in front of others.
Yes, Café Sudoku - like every other game in the series - allows you to get online and visit other people’s cafes, and compare your avatar with theirs. One improvement from the mobile versions is the visibility of your café’s name and star-rating in large lettering on the wall, which is a nice personal touch.
Other neat touches abound, especially with the visuals, which have been subtly improved for the N-Gage platform. So, light sources have an attractive glare to them and the sudoku board itself has your shadow cast over it.
There are also little context-sensitive elements, such as the snow-caked boots stacked by our café door in recognition of the time of the year (though evidently not in recognition of our depressingly snowless country).
But let’s not lick all of the icing off the cake. On to the moist sponge of the sudoku itself. Café Sudoku plays an excellent game of numbers, even when stacked up against the myriad alternatives out there (although this is the game’s first outing on N-Gage).
It’s the usual deal of fitting the numbers 1 to 9 onto each line of a 9x9 grid without permitting any repeats either horizontally or vertically. Suffice to say, the few who don’t know what it’s all about but want to start here are well catered for, with an excellent tutorial and a well judged difficulty curve.
Digital Chocolate’s attention to detail is again seen with the fully customizable controls, which allow for landscape gaming (by default) using the media keys on the likes of the N95 to scroll through and select the numbers.
I found this slightly laborious, preferring the portrait view and the ease of control afforded by the number pad. Of course, you can combine the two and use the number keys in portrait, but my brain’s just not wired up that way.
One thing I did find a little disappointing was the lack of a feeling of progress in the game. It’s understood that the aim of the game is to earn points, level up your café and drape your avatar in the latest rags, but I still felt curiously unrewarded for completing a grid.
There’s no tick-list as you progress, no stamp of approval when you finish each puzzle.
Doubtless there are many who will find that moulding their environment and showing it off to the world is a worthy goal in itself, but for others it will fall flat. Even the cursory nod to competition - the facility to upload your score to the N-Gage Arena - seems curiously out of place for such a solitary, non-competitive experience.
Regardless of this, Café Sudoku presents a high quality, supremely polished take on the popular game. It’s worthy of consideration both for experienced number crunchers and those seeking an entry point.
But the café element is just the froth on top of the cappuccino - a notable part of the product’s appeal, certainly, but we wouldn’t want a whole cup of it.