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Pic-a-Pix Deluxe (Switch) artwork

Pic-a-Pix Deluxe (Switch) review

"A little bit of color to add a twist to the Picross formula"

Every once in a while Hollywood will announce a colorized version of an old classic black and white film like Casablanca or It's a Wonderful Life. And you'll inevitably hear critics and film snobs saying that this isn't needed and instead ruins a classic, that black and white should be good enough for these brillilant films even in these modern times. Sure, you would presume the videogame equivalent is remastered versions with updated graphics or sound or whatever, but we're talking about Picross here. So in this case, the analogy is very literal. As that is the very nature of Pic-a-Pix: it's Picross, now in Technicolor!

Picross, and by extension this game, is a reasonably simple concept, albeit not the easiest to describe in text. You're basically printing a crude pixellated picture into a grid based on clues about what each row and column look like. So, each row and column will have a list of numbers in different colors, which tells you what is present in that row from top to bottom or from left to right. (not including the white background). For example, a 10-pixel wide row might have a green 6 in it, telling you that a block of 6-pixels in that row is green (but, critically, not WHERE in that row the 6-pixel long block is). So you can fill in the middle two pixels, since no matter where that block falls within the row, the middle two pixels will definitely be green. Or the row might have a blue 1, a red 1, another blue 1, and a green 4. You can't do anything with the other two colors, pixel 7 must be green, since that green block can be anywhere from pixels 4-7 to pixels 7-10. Get it? Then you can use that pixel to help you solve the clues in that column, and so on until you've painted everything in.

The twist with this game, of course, is the different colors. It's easy enough to deal with (just use L or R to switch palettes, with a handy indicator of your color on the left side of the screen), but does change things up. In normal picross, there must be at least one empty space between any two numbers in a row or column. But here, as long as the numbers are different colors, there may or may not be empty spaces in between. To be honest, this represented most of the challenge when I first started, since I was simply so used to normal Picross that I kept messing up using these rules. Needless to say, that's my fault and not the game's, and it disappeared soon enough. What does change is the number of strategies available to you to solve the puzzles. For example, imagine if the only number on the last column is a red 3 on a 10x10 grid. In a black and white game, you can't do anything with that. But here? You can look at the rows, and only the rows in which the last color is red (and in which there are three rows in a row in which the last number is red) can fit this block. You may be able to fit that block in, and thus the entire column completed, just based on that information alone. Likewise, you can use the colored clues in the middle to narrow down your options in a similar manner. With Picross, the game is a matter of starting with long blocks, preferably at the edge, and slowly working your way to the shorter ones. Here, the "unknown space" is much smaller from the beginning, so you can start and move around in many more places.

This, of course, begs the main question: does that make the puzzles too easy? Sure, you can claim it is "easier", as the color provides an extra tool to start filling the puzzle in, meaning that you are less likely to get stuck at any point. I have not been permanently stumped by any puzzle, but on the flip side there's been a grand total of one Picross puzzle I've ever played that I got permanently stumped on. Picross generally isn't about failure: it's "light" exercise for the brain rather than heavy exercise, and they're mostly about relaxation. And I think this version of Picross does stretch your brain a little more, just because you can choose multiple approaches to tackle it. Picross can be pretty mindless at times, with the best case scenario that you need to think one move ahead (ie, "if this square is a block, I can check how that impacts this column, and if that column does not work out with this, then that means this square must not be a block"). With color, if you are momentarily paused, you can cycle through several different strategies to move forward. I find that to be more interesting than just the odds of losing a puzzle. And yes, there have been a few puzzles in the game that I needed to sit back and reset my brain and start looking at it in a new light. That's good enough for me.

Fortunately, there's enough puzzles there to keep you interested. The base game comes with 150 puzzles, of which 60% are at least 15x15 grids (up to 25x25). And if you don't like the color, then there's also 150 traditional black and white puzzles too! So you get 300 games off the bat, and there's more downloadable puzzles at a reasonable price.

But other than that, this is a pretty bare-bones game. If you're expecting a variety of music or pretty backgrounds or a story mode or online leaderboards or statistics or acheivements or anything of that sort, just forget about it right now. You have a timer for each puzzle, and that's it. Puzzles aren't even grouped into different themes or anything, just all 150 of them that you scroll through at once. Will this annoy you and make you think twice about buying the game? Perhaps, but it doesn't bother me one bit. Frankly, this is the type of game I'll play while listening to my own music, thank you very much. I'm just here for the puzzles. But hey, if that's a deal breaker for you, well, at least I warned you.

Another negative that I've heard people mention that the pixellated puzzles don't really look much like the pictures they are supposed to represent. Yes, that's also true, and there are certainly times when I have no idea what they are trying to show until the puzzle was completed and the title appeared to tell you what it is and it was basically "oh, yeah, I guess I can kinda see that". Again, is that something that will hurt your enjoyment? It didn't to me; I find trying to guess what pixels go where based on what I think the picture is to be kinda cheating, so I don't do it. The pictures could just be abstract blobs for all I care.

Jupiter (who's been releasing Picross games since the 90s) released their own game on the Switch as well, and they're both the same price. I chose Pic-a-Pix over the traditional Picross, and I don't regret the decision. It's a nice change of pace compared to the traditional approach, and even if you miss the old formula it also has several black and white games as well. The puzzles are also larger in this one than Picross, which is important to me given how many of these things I've played and how comfortable I am with the formula. But even if you're a newcomer, you should have no problem learning about the fun of Picross from here, and the little twist of adding color actually did aim to give the game a little bit of fresh paint that should be interesting for anyone.

But Casablanca? Nah, black and white forever.


mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (May 22, 2018)

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