Astraware Games for iPod Touch

by PocketGoddess on March 3, 2009

Astraware Sudoku

Sudoku is one of my favorite on -the-go pastimes–it’s easy to pick up and play in short doses, and it challenges the mind as opposed to presenting a mindless distraction. (Not that I have anything against mindless distractions!)

Astraware Sudoku

The Puzzle of the Day feature offers five different difficulty levels (Beginner, Easy, Medium, Tricky, and Fiendish) and allows you to download a new puzzle each day, assuming that you have either an iPhone or an iPod Touch with access to WiFi. Even better, you can enter your own puzzle using the starting numbers and positions from a newspaper or magazine, which means that you can take your favorite puzzles with you, without having to deal with pencil and paper.

The main puzzle screen is nicely laid out; you can choose the fill-in method to change the look of the puzzle to suit the way you work. Beginners will certainly appreciate the automatic pencil mark option, which automatically fills in each square with the potential numbers that can go in each space.

In order to solve a puzzle, you first touch the square you want to fill in and then any of the numbers in the top row ( “ink” ) or bottom row ( “pencil” ). The entry method is fast and easy to use. When you fill in all of the 7s for example, that digit will be grayed out on the bottom of the screen so you won’t waste time trying to put any more sevens into the puzzle. Also, when you press a square the corresponding column and row are shaded, which helps your eye to focus on the possibilities for that space.

The bottom of the screen has a row of icons that take you back to the main menu, undo the last move, provide a hint, and take you to an action menu to fill in or clear pencil marks or solve/reset/abandon the puzzle. The last icon on the right takes you to the Options menu to control sound effects, pencil marks, and whether to allow, flag, or forbid mistakes.

The hint system is quite nice; it doesn’t immediately place a number in a particular space. What it does is “drill down” to help you solve the question on your own. When you first tap the Hint icon, it highlights a particular row for you to study. You might be able to figure it out then; if not, you can tap the Hint icon again and have a particular square highlighted. Tap the Hint icon a final time and it will tell you exactly what you need to place a specific number in that square, such as when the space can only be filled in properly with a single digit that won’t work anywhere else in that row or column. In that way you can improve your Sudoku skills as you go along, eventually progressing to the higher difficulty levels.

You can also keep track of your statistics for each difficulty level, including the average time it takes you to complete a puzzle, the average number of hints you use, and the total number of puzzles completed.

About the only thing “missing” from Astraware Sudoku is an option to highlight a specific digit and see all of the number 5s that have already been entered in the puzzle. I tend to solve my Sudoku puzzles by looking at them as a whole, trying to determine where there is only one possible option for a particular number. It’s a feature you’ll find in Enjoy Sudoku ($2.99), and one that I really miss here.

Overall Astraware Sudoku ($4.99 in the iTunes App Store) is a nicely designed game with an elegant overall look and an endless array of puzzles to challenge your brain. I like it a lot, but Enjoy Sudoku has a slight edge in both price and in the complete package of features.

4 out of 5

Golden Skull

Golden Skull

Golden Skull is a Maki/block breaker style of game in which you tap groups of two or more stones to remove them from the playing board, which allows additional stones to fall from above. The game does have a story that takes you on a tour of archaeological sites as you strive to retrieve a mystical golden skull, but it is completely secondary to the action and easily skipped if you so desire.

The game has four levels of difficulty (Baby, Real, Master, Top Guy) which operate mainly by adding new types of gems to the board. When the game first starts, there are only two different kinds, so of course it is very easy to make matches of large groups of gems. You can keep going as long as you like on each level if you’re concerned about getting the highest score possible; you won’t move on to the next level until you collect the required number of golden coins.

As you progress through the various sites and/or if you increase the difficulty level, the game gets a bit more challenging. I found that even at the highest level of difficulty, the game was quite easy until you got to the seventh site, when it suddenly got very hard. That means that this would be a good game for children to play, if you ever find yourself in a boring place and have a fidgety kid to entertain with your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Golden Skull is 99 cents at the iTunes App Store; a reasonable price for a relatively simple game that can provide a good quantity of mindless fun when you’re on the go.

3 out of 5

GTS World Racing

GTS World Racing is another relatively simple game, but it seems to have a lot more entertainment and replay value than Golden Skull. On the surface, it’s a racing game in which you have a choice of three different cars (sports, coupe, and formula), four different difficulty levels (easy, normal, hard, extreme), and sixteen different tracks. You can play a single quick race or sign up for a more involving experience by trying your hand at the Challenge Cup, Grand Tour, or Championship modes.

GTS World Racing

I’m impressed with this game because sometimes simple can be a lot of fun. I’m not an expert at racing games by any stretch of the imagination, so I appreciate the ability to be able to jump in and play instantly and well, thanks to the intuitive motion controls. Tilt left and right to steer, forward to accelerate and back (up) to brake. Most of the time the controls worked flawlessly, and I had a blast trying to win the races.

There were a couple of instances in which I seemed to get “stuck” going backwards, but after some practice it seems that I was the problem, not the game. You don’t hold your iPhone perfectly flat or perfectly upright to play, but somewhere in the middle. And if you tilt too far forward (flat) you’ll see that the track starts shading toward the red end of the spectrum, which is a very cool effect evocative of redlining your engine.

The game tracks your best lap and race times, but that’s about it–you can’t change the color of your car or change any other options beyond the sound effects and background music option, but that’s fine by me in a game of this type, with this kind of bargain price.

GTS World Racing is $4.99 in the iTunes App Store, and for casual race fans it’s definitely worth the money. If you’re a real gearhead or otherwise addicted to racing games, this might not be the right application for you. But if you are a relative novice, or just enjoy simple games that don’t require you to mess with a bunch of options or suffer through long load times, GTS World Racing is a very good choice indeed.

4 out of 5

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