I’ve always loved logic puzzles and the challenge of figuring them out. There’s just something uniquely rewarding about using your brain to come to a logical conclusion to a difficult puzzle that you can’t find in your average video game. My latest puzzle addiction is Picross DS. Picross has been around for twenty or so years, though Picross DS is admittedly my first experience with the phenomena. Picross is a logic puzzle game, according to the fine folks at Wikipedia who enlightened me, known more technically as a nanogram, in which you use numeric clues along the edges of a grid to determine where blocks are placed in order to reveal a picture at the end of the puzzle.
It’s actually very challenging for me to describe exactly how Picross works, so let me try to paint a picture for you. Imagine a 5 square x 5 square grid in front of you. Now, imagine that along the edges of the grid are numbers, both horizontally and vertically, lining up with the squares on the grid. Now, say the top horizontal number is 5. In Picross, that would mean that all five grid spaces are filled in. At this point, you take your stylus and mark each square to fill it in. Now you have your first row.
From this point, if you’re still with me, imagine that the left-most vertical number is 2. Because you have the five already filled in, one of the squares is already filled. Since the “2” implies that the blocks are connected, you can put the new block just below the first one that was previously placed. With that column solved, you’re ready to move on to the next one. Should you have incorrectly placed the square, you would be penalized with a time penalty. Once you’ve accumulated more than 60 minutes on a puzzle in easy or normal modes, you’ll meet the game over screen.
Grids come in various sizes, mostly in-line with the difficulty level. For examples, in easy mode, the grids are only 5X5, but in normal mode, they’re ratcheted up to 10×10 and even 15×15. While I breezed through the easy mode, I spent as much as 20-30 minutes on puzzles in normal mode, and that’s without time penalties factored in. There’s just something incredibly addicting about trying to figure out the solution that, once you start, you can’t stop. Should you need to stop, a handy quick-save feature is included that lets you stop and pick up where you left off.
It all might sound very complicated, but I assure you, the explanation is more challenging to describe than the actual mechanics of the game are. But, despite being simple to pick up and play, Picross DS is surprisingly challenging. You might scoff at the challenges of easy and normal modes, which I pretty much breezed through, but once you get to the incredibly challenging free mode, you’ll be shut up. There are no penalties for mistakes and there is no time limit, which may seem like it makes the game easier, but I assure you, it is much harder. When you’re really stuck in normal mode, you can make an educated guess to figure out your next move. Not so in free mode. You won’t know if you’ve placed a block in the right spot until the game – quite surprisingly – tells you that you won. While I plowed through normal mode, I’m struggling my way through free mode.
There are tons of puzzles included in the game, plus you can download additional levels if you have access to Nintendo’s online service. Not only can you download Nintendo-made levels, but also user-made levels designed through a handy, built in editor. If you want, you can design your own levels simply by drawing a picture, which the game will then convert and rate based on the challenge of your design. As someone who isn’t very artistically capable, my designs all sucked, but I know there are a lot of people out there that will come up with some truly surprising designs.
This review has been glowing, but I have to be honest with you, Picross DS isn’t quite perfect. My main gripe with the game is that the 15×15 puzzles are simply too big for the DS. You’ll be constantly zooming in and out on the puzzle and moving it around, which made it a lot harder for me to figure things out as I’m a “big picture” kind of guy. For some reason, despite the fact that I could see the grid fine when zoomed out, the developers made it so you have to zoom in on the grid in order to place blocks, which means lots of scrolling to the left and right and up and down. It was just a little uncomfortable to work with, though the stylus control is efficient and easy to use.
One of my colleagues here on Thunderbolt said it absolutely best: “Picross is a very good NON-GAME.” Picross DS isn’t really a traditional video game. Despite this, if you like puzzle games, Picross DS is one of the best non-games you can pick up. It probably won’t appeal to younger kids or action junkies, but fans of puzzle games can’t afford to miss this. While the included puzzles are incredibly challenging and time-consuming, the included editor and the ability to download new puzzles means that this game is going to have a long shelf-life. While it may be difficult to describe why it’s so good, Picross DS is a top-notch puzzle game that will almost instantly get you hooked.