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Review: 'Ms. Pac-Man,' 'Sudoku' join iPod games lineup

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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Apple's popular iPod mobile media device, with 100 million units sold since 2001, has evolved from a music machine to a digital photo album, video player and podcast platform.

Most recently, fifth-generation iPod owners have begun downloading games from Apple's iTunes Store for $4.99 apiece, ranging from tile and card classics, such as Mahjong and Texas Hold 'Em, to newer puzzle favorites Tetris and Bejeweled.

All family-friendly games are controlled using the iPod scroll wheel and are viewed on the iPod's 2.5-inch color screen. You can listen to music while playing a game.

Two new titles have just been added to the lineup -- "Ms. Pac-Man" and "EA Sudoku" -- bringing the total number of games to an even dozen.

Here's a look at each offering:

'EA Sudoku'

Now you can take all the fun of this wildly popular number puzzle with you wherever you go. If you haven't yet tried your hand at a game of Sudoku, the goal is to fill in the blank squares on a 9-by-9 grid with numbers -- but the catch is that each row and column must contain numbers 1 though 9, with no repeats.

What's more, the nine 3-by-3 boxes that make up the grid must also contain numbers 1 through 9. Sudoku puzzles start with some numbers in the grid so you can begin the deduction process to fill in the rest.

In "EA Sudoku" for the iPod, users turn the scroll wheel around to select a spot on the grid by pressing the middle button, before turning the wheel again to select a number from 1 through 9. If you're not sure which number goes in this square you can "pencil" in possible answers, such as a 6 or 7, which shows up in a smaller font.

"EA Sudoku," which offers a tranquil Japanese Zen garden theme, lets you choose the level of difficulty, including optional tutorial and help. It also lets players select how to navigate around the grid (scrolling or four-way touch, or both) and provides stats such as how long it takes to finish the game and total number of grids completed.

As an interesting feature, players also can enter a Sudoku puzzle from a publication in the Newspaper Mode to play on the iPod or help solve the puzzle with the computer's assistance.

'Ms. Pac-Man'

What better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ms. Pac-Man, which first debuted in noisy arcades in 1982, than by having the game playable on your iPod?

You probably remember how to play "Ms. Pac-Man" -- move the hungry heroine around a maze so that she can eat all the dots to complete the level, but she must avoid the four roaming ghosts who are after her. If Ms. Pac-Man devours one of the four power pellets per level, the chase is temporarily reversed so she can eat the ghosts to gain points.

Complete with retro graphics, sound effects and the cute "coffee break" animations that reward you with between-level story sequences, "Ms. Pac-Man" is a somewhat faithful reproduction of the arcade hit -- down to the four unique maze designs and 256 levels. Players can choose to play in Original, Normal or Easy mode, select which stage they'd like to start at or learn the rules and controls with the optional tutorial.

But a word of warning: It may take a while to get used to the iPod scroll wheel to move the ghost-chomping Ms. Pac-Man around. You must gently tap the iPod wheel in one of four directions to move Ms. Pac-Man around -- and not press the buttons down, or else the game pauses to return to the menu screen.

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"EA Sudoku" for the iPod brings the popular number puzzle to the MP3 player.

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