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Picross DS (DS) artwork

Picross DS (DS) review

"It's much more like playing a newspaper game than playing Tetris, but if you're into that, it's great."

First review of 2016!!
I had a very weird experience playing Picross DS. I played quite a bit of it a few years ago, and recently decided to start the whole thing over. The strange thing is, my copy is busted. It deletes its save data every day or so. Interestingly, there is a wealth of content available from the start of the game, so my save system became a sticky note on the front of my DS and an excel spreadsheet I made so that I could copy down my progress in longer puzzles to be re-created later by hand. I figured I wasn't missing out on much, except the bonus levels you get to play for beating certain numbers of levels. I got to play a few of them when my save game happened to last for a few days, but they weren't that great (with a few little exceptions), so I figured I wasn't missing out on much. Just a few days ago, I read online that there are actually tons more puzzles that unlock as you play, and I totally missed out on them. But after completing all of the puzzles the game starts you out with on easy, normal, and about half of free mode (which is somewhere close to 150, I believe), I felt that I was ready to move on anyway.

I feel like I can review Picross in one sentence. If you like number based logic puzzles like sudoku and ken ken, you will probably love Picross; if you're not into them, you probably won't like it. Each Picross puzzle is a grid of squares. Most are 15X15, but there are smaller ones too. And if I'm not mistaken, there are bigger ones too if you unlock them, which is my one regret about not having the ability to save; I would have liked to have tried some of the bigger puzzles. Next to each row and on top of each column are numbers that tell you how many of the squares in that row or column need to be filled in. If you fill them all in correctly, you will form a sprite-style picture. There are often multiple numbers by a row or column, and these tell you in order the number of squares that will need to be filled in. There will also be at least one space between each group of filled-in squares. So for example, if the clue said 1 2 4 2, then there would be 1 square followed by at least one space, then 2 squares followed by at least one space, then 4, etc. Almost all of the puzzles can be solved without guessing (more on that later).

You can solve them without guessing by applying sudoku-like logic. For example, if you are working on a row with 10 total blank squares, and the clue is 9, then you know that the middle 8 squares all must be filled in, and the 9th square is either the top or bottom square. So you fill in the middle 8 and you now have a bit of information to go on about the 8 columns that run along that row. For example, if one of those columns has a 5 as the top number of its clue, and the row you just filled in was the top row, then you know that the top 5 squares of that column have to be that 5. And now you have information about the 5 rows that you just passed through filling in those five squares. Back and forth you will go, as each time you fill in a square in a row or column, you get more and more information about the other rows and columns you intersect.

Just as important as filling in squares is putting in X's in spots you know can't contain a block. For example, whenever you complete a number, you can put X's on either side of it as there has to be at least one space between each number group. This can be very revealing about other locations on a grid. You will often finish a number on one line, X out the edges, and then discover that there is now only one solution left on an intersecting line. This often leads to a chain reaction of information and once you get really good, a moment where you suddenly fill in half the grid and finish the puzzle in mere seconds as your brain makes connections like lightning.

This can be quite a rush, although there are plenty of hard, slow moments in Picross. It doesn't pull its punches, and many of its puzzles are newspaper-sudoku-hard and may take you close to an hour to solve. You will develop many techniques for logically figuring out one block here and one block there. It was pretty amazing how I found myself developing new tools to figuring things out as I went. I felt like I just naturally developed new strategies and techniques, which was a pretty cool feeling.

One weird element of Picross is free mode. In this mode, the puzzles aren't necessarily solvable using only the given clues. You may have to guess a bit. There is an overlay mode that lets you experiment with guesses. I kind of hated this idea. It sort of breaks the whole idea of a sudoku-like puzzle. About halfway through the starting free mode puzzles, I ran into one of these, and after 2 or 3 tries using the overlay to attempt to guess my way through, I decided it wasn't for me. This type of puzzle could be thought of as a super advanced logic puzzle that can only be solved through experimentation. That is true, but it also looses the feeling of straight forward logic that drives these kinds of puzzles in the first place.

The game also has a daily mode where you are thrown weird challenges every day and your skills are tracked (which, again, I missed out on since I couldn't save), and a mode where you can make your own puzzles. Cool.

The game's music is horrific. Once I figured out how to turn it off, it was off for good. This is a shame, as some good chill music would have been nice. The sound effects are cool. Many of the levels have a theme where the grid is made out of something, like fruit or grass, and you cut your way through it as you fill in squares. The visuals to these cool skins are really neat, as are the sound effects of the grass being chopped or the bubble wrap being popped. The sprite work on the pictures you solve is really good too. After you solve each one you get a little animation that is based directly off the sprite you just made, and it is incredible the amount of detail that the artists evoke using only the tiniest of grid space.

The interface in Picross works great. You use the touch screen to fill in blocks and X's, and it is perfectly responsive, even when sliding through whole lines. I was a little worried about the 15X15 puzzles, which are actually larger than the bottom screen, but a few smart touches make this work like a charm: you use the stylus to scroll, and can only edit the puzzle when you hold up or down on the d-pad to access the “fill-in” or “x” functions. Also, the number clues stay on the edge of the screen no matter what, so you don't have to scroll to the edge to see the clue. Another cool interface feature is that the number clues change color when you solve each individual number, but they are very smart in that if it is still unknown which of a repeated number you have found, it doesn't change color. So if you don't know what of the 5 1's you just located in a row, the clues don't give it away. It's like it's reading your mind.

Picross DS is a quite cool puzzle game. It's much more like playing a newspaper game than playing Tetris, but if you're into that, it's great. The music needs a total overhaul, but the interface is awesome and even hardcore logic puzzle fiends will find a lot of challenge here, especially if they dive into the ridiculous free mode. That said, beginners to this type of puzzle will have a lot of content to play around with too before things start getting real challenging. Picross DS is a 3 out of 5.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (January 16, 2016)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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