Picross DS (DS) review
"Picross is a surprisingly veteran puzzle series, one that has spanned Nintendo consoles since the days of the Game Boy and SNES, and has now touched down on the DS under the guise of the Touch Generations series for the system. With the uncontrolled explosion of crossword and sudoku titles for the handheld, can Picross provide enough incentive for gamers to pick up, learn and adore yet another puzzle game? Do the DS features give it enough reason for existing fans to invest time and money into a..."
Picross is a surprisingly veteran puzzle series, one that has spanned Nintendo consoles since the days of the Game Boy and SNES, and has now touched down on the DS under the guise of the Touch Generations series for the system. With the uncontrolled explosion of crossword and sudoku titles for the handheld, can Picross provide enough incentive for gamers to pick up, learn and adore yet another puzzle game? Do the DS features give it enough reason for existing fans to invest time and money into a new installment, and is it friendly enough for newcomers to enjoy?
Picross plays like a cross between sudoku and minesweeper, with the objective to reveal the image hidden behind the tiles by filling them in either black or white. Each puzzle takes place on a symmetrical grid of (for example) ten by ten, with numbers along the top and left sides acting as clues on how to fill in the grid. Examples of how these numerical clues work are as follows; if a row clue is 10 then you'll know to fill all the squares in that horizontal line, 4 and 4 tells you that there are two lines of four with at least one square blank in the middle, 1 says that just one of the ten needs to be filled in, and so on. Combined with the numbers on the top you whittle down the rows until you have the picture finished.
Sounds kinda complicated? Initially it is, yes. Picross can be a difficult game to grasp and one that personally left me dumbstruck each time I attempted to learn it on other systems. However Picross DS guides you through one of the most effective tutorials seen in a puzzle title, alongside a learning curve of puzzles that gradually teaches you how to logically and strategically figure out what you should be doing. If you are new to this series or previously confounded as to what it is all about, after a brisk spin of the tutorial you'll be cracking puzzles in no time.
The beauty of the game is that each puzzle is worked out entirely by logic; there (should be) no guessing involved and there is always a way onward no matter how hard it seems. Most puzzles can be figured out through a variety of methods, while at the same time require you to think holistically about the picture as a whole, where filling in tiles in one place help you out in other places as well. The sensation of finally getting a breakthrough, after sitting there for ten minutes tapping away in frustration, is terrific and really gives you a sense that you earn each victory over the task at hand. As soon as you finish a puzzle successfully, you always feel inclined to give another a go.
The control scheme is done entirely by stylus, although buttons act as additional shortcuts between the tile filling tools. As much as a blessing that the touch controls are for severally shortening the play time, inaccuracies (although mostly down to human error) get in the way. As you logically deduce the tiles and fill them in you can (and will) accidentally overstep the area you want to change and mark tiles incorrectly. The game tells you that tiles are right or wrong straight off the bat, with each puzzle working on a timer that ensures you minimize mistakes in order not to cheat your way through. While such a principle does work, when you are a few minutes under the time limit where one mistake will tide you over, and that mistake is made and was completely accidental by misjudging the tile boundaries, it really dampens the thrill of working against the clock. Similarly working out a puzzle entirely by logic is spoiled when you accidentally guess tiles by filling them in unintentionally. Again, while such occurrences are down to human error, you can't help but feel to blame the touch sensitivity for having a role to play. Perhaps if the tiles were slightly larger, or the area that registers recognition is limited to the center of the tile could such errors be minimized, and controlling the game would turn out to be a less stressful affair without having to worry about how exact you place the stylus.
Barring such sensitivity quibbles Picross DS is still extremely fun to play and gives you a lot of bang for your buck. There are hundreds of puzzles spanning several difficulty levels to keep you going for a long (long) time, perfect both for short playing sessions on the move or when waiting for the kettle to boil. The side additions of daily tasks and minigames, such as guessing what is wrong with the puzzle solution or tapping the moving squares within the time limit provide just enough diversity in the package to keep you thoroughly entertained.
Game length is extended further through a puzzle editor and the ability to share your creations over the Nintendo WiFi Connection service. While this is a very exciting addition on paper, the software limits the extent of your designs by ensuring that each one is able to be finished logically. Sounds fair, but when you have to skew your works of art by adding additional squares to bridge gaps can take a while and often transforms your puzzle into something unrecognizable. Not ideal for budding artists who would like a bit of flair and originality in their designs. The WiFi service on the other hand works like a dream – swapping friend codes and sharing puzzles with people around the world is perfect, as well as a trickling stream of new puzzles to download from Nintendo every so often means you'll always have something new to have a crack at.
Atheistically the game is clear, bright and pleasing to look at, with a clear cut and angular scheme that suits the package down to a tee. Each new round of puzzles has its own theme, such as animals, planets or the ocean, with appropriate colour schemes to match. The range in quality is quite high, from being totally immersive to just a plain hindrance, and although you can always use the bog standard scheme it's a shame that you cannot reuse earlier ones in later puzzles. The sharp and sweet sound effects chirp over what can only be described as soul destroyingly repetitive music. With only two tunes to go on, by the end of the first set of puzzles it'll be muted for the rest of its life span. At least that saves on battery life, right?
Besides some of its qualms Picross DS is a superb puzzle package that will embrace you in its binary grip and won't let you go for a long, long time. It is a very unique puzzle title that'll easily convert you and addict you like few others can. The amount of content and features is staggering, however the drab music and near-unforgiving touch screen sensitivity limits it from being a true classic. It is a stupidly fun way of immersing yourself away from commuting or to just simply pass the time, and as a budget title, something which you'll have little excuse not to try out. Prepare to get addicted.
+ A unique, addictive and incredibly satisfying puzzle game
+ Tutorial and learning curve is perfect for new players
+ Nintendo WiFi adds a lot to the package
+ Hundreds of puzzles and variety of modes to choose from
- While the touch screen controls work well, “human error” will get in the way all too often
- Severe lack of musical diversity
Community review by Crazyreyn (December 18, 2007)
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