Picross 3D Review – This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Noughts and Crosses

Picross 3D
A puzzle game for the Nintendo DS
score: ***** outta five

Puzzle games are a mixed bag of treats. With other genres, such as racing games or FPS games, while the overall presentation/atmosphere and precise mechanical details may vary, the games are at their most basic very similar: you may have your dark chocolate and white chocolate and mint chocolate, but it’s all still chocolate. The puzzle genre differs in that sometimes a new puzzle game can be an entire genre’s breadth apart from an old one . If  Tetris is white chocolate and Puyo Puyo is dark chocolate, ChuChu Rocket! is a purple jellybean (or something like that, I am stretching this ridiculous metaphor a fair bit here). That is to say, there seem to be many wildly varying genres within the genre, and great room for creativity.

Picross 3D, the sequel to Picross DS, takes its predecessor and invents a treat that tastes distinctly different, new, and delicious, even if you can still taste Picross DS at the center (now I have officially stretched it to its limits).

Picross was, is, a videogame adaptation of the Nonogram (or Paint by Numbers), a logic puzzle wherein you are presented with a grid and numbers at the end of each row and column of said grid. These numbers dictate how many of the squares in the row or column of the grid should be coloured in. Using elimination (you can put a cross on squares that you think aren’t part of the picture) and other magical mathematical logic, you would eventually be left with the single correct solution, a blocky 8-bit looking picture which depicts something or other (revealed to you in full colour at the end). Nintendo’s first adaptation, Mario’s Picross on the Gameboy, no doubt had lots of puzzles resulting in 8-bit Mario shapes, for example. The DS version follows in the tradition of this game while adding lots of content, such as multiple difficulty levels, online features and whatnot.

Picross 3D, however, doesn’t settle with being a beefed up version of the original game, or even the original game formula. Rather than presenting you with a 2D grid, each puzzle is a 3D segmented cube or rectangle (think Tetris piece). Many, but not all, of the faces of the miniature cubes that make up the shape have numbers on them, and like in Picross DS these numbers dictate what shape the final product will be. Rather than crossing out the cubes, though, you rotate the block around with your stylus and destroy each unneccessary cube, painting the right ones (so you don’t accidentally demolish them) and breaking it down into your final solution. The controls are simple: hold a button down to destroy, hold one down to paint, use the stylus to rotate and act on the cubes. You can also edit the view of the shape to view any cross-section within the shape.

At first this sounds like a daunting and confusing enhancement of Picross DS. But the execution is beautiful: the game eases you into the gameplay with video tutorials (I was able to play this long before its localisation, something pretty impressive for a newish concept) and the controls feel like an extension of the gameplay. If Picross DS was Paint by Numbers, this is Sculpt by Numbers, and I feel much more like a sculptor here than I did a painter there. The game is also, arguably, more difficult than its predecessor without being that difficult to grasp (as the saying goes, easy to learn, hard to master): here you have to think of 3D space, and that’s a lot more information for your head to model. This also makes it a lot harder to guess your way through to the solution (something that, to an extent, could be done on 2D Picross games: merely guessing the shape without using the logic in the numbers is a copout and I never do this, but it was possible).

The rest is familiarly polished and full of content. As expected, each puzzle is presented as a timed affair (going overtime deducts rank, and can cause you to fail the puzzle; you can also fail by breaking too many of the wrong blocks), and when you reveal the final solution you are greeted with the animated form of your blocky sculpture, a nice little mystery revealed after each level (an incentive, if you will). There are multiple difficulties, each with many puzzles to solve, and sometimes special challenges (no mistakes, faster timer etc). Multiplayer mode, like before, allows you to design and share your own puzzles (albeit they won’t be as animated as the presets) with buddies, effectively making the game last a lot longer and adding as much replayability as you require (without it, there would be no replayability; every puzzle has a single solution, after all). The game’s addictive nature will keep you playing it, probably in lots of short bursts rather than an extended period of time (this is a handheld title, and works well as one). Even without the custom puzzles there’s plenty to get through, introducing additional rules variations throughought the single player, as well as the goal of perfecting puzzles (beating them without making a single mistake or overdrawing the timer, getting you the highest rank; though admittedly, this becomes a bit easy once you already know how to solve the puzzle once). Everything is presented in a simple and I would even say cute style (you can only call the big blocky animations cute). The music is awful and makes your ears bleed, though: eventually I just turned it off.

Picross 3D is an example of creativity and innovation done correctly (as much as that word has been worn down to meaninglessness). By improving and renovating the mechanics of its predecessors, using the capabilities of the DS and its control scheme fully, and basically not stuffing much of anything up (well almost, anyways; urgh, the music), Picross 3D is a respectable and well-designed title that deserves to be in your library of handheld games. As long as you’re partial to the flavour.

The Rating System:

* crap; in all likelihood, avoid
** meh; not quite worth your time
*** decent; nothing or not much new
**** good; polished, solid, give it a chance
***** great; among the best of its kind

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About Safeer
What is Safeer? A miserable little pile of secrets. But enough talk, have at you!

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