I’m a big fan of puzzles; sudoku, crosswords, it doesn’t really matter. I like things that challenge my mind. One type of puzzle I’d seen, but couldn’t wrap my head around was Picross, or as they’re more commonly known nonograms. Nintendo has been releasing these games fairly regularly since the days of the Game Boy. I’d seen them numerous times, but never picked any up because they looked to complicated for me to figure out.
Before writing this review I had never done any kind of Picross puzzles, ever. I only had a basic knowledge of what they are. Essentially they are a number puzzle. You are presented with a grid of squares that has numbers along the left side and the top. The numbers correspond to the number of squares in that row or column that need to be filled. For example if the row has the numbers 4, 2, 1 you would have to fill in four consecutive squares followed by 2 squares and then a single square. There must be at least one empty space in between each set of numbers. Once you’ve completed the puzzle you have also created a pixel art picture.
Pokemon Picross takes advantage of the popular pokemon series of characters and has you creating pixelated versions of Pikachu, Oshawatt or Mr. Mime. If you don’t know what a Pokemon is ask your kids. They probably know all 700+ of them by name. It’s not just a standard picross. This game takes advantage of some special features that are only possible in a digital version of the game.
Each puzzle you solve allows you to capture the Pokemon that you created. Those pokemon each have special abilities that you can use to help you solve puzzles. These will be things like once you start a puzzle revealing a handful of squares to get you started, checking a puzzle to see if you’ve made any mistakes or correcting mistakes as they happen. Some of these Pokemon abilities can be used every round some require a time limit to expire before being able to use that ability again. If you’re new to picross games these can be incredibly beneficial to helping you understand just how the puzzles work.
There are challenges to complete with each puzzle as well. These challenges range from finishing the puzzles in a set amount of time, only using a specific number or type of Pokemon or different challenges based on Pokemon special abilities. Many of these challenges are fairly straightforward or easy to complete and doing so earns you bonus picrites. Some however, especially later in the game, will be incredibly challenging and may require you to attempt puzzles multiple times with multiple Pokemon types. They definitely add a nice bit of replayability to the game.
There is also a nice ramp up in the difficulty of the puzzles, though you’re not completely free to choose how difficult you want them to be. The first few levels start with very small grids that ease you into solving them. You’ll ramp up to 7×7, 10×10, 15×15 grids and so on as you progress. The bigger the grid the more difficult the puzzle is to complete. There are tips and tricks to help you out and the game does a good job of trying to teach those to you early on so you’re not completely overwhelmed from the start.
The game uses what Nintendo likes to call their Free-to-Start payment method. You can download the game for free and start playing right away. Like many free-to-play games you have an energy meter that limits the amount of time you can play. In this game the timer goes up by one minute every time you fill in a square. It slowly refills over time.
You earn items in the game called Picrites, which act like the in-game currency. You use these picrites to unlock new areas of the game. Clearing puzzles, completing challenges in those puzzles and doing the daily training exercises earn you picrites. However, they come at a fairly slow rate so after the first few times you use them you will have a hard time advancing through the game without paying any money. It is possible to do, but you’d have to replay puzzles numerous times to earn enough. Nintendo, though, has done something with their free-to-play games that many other companies should adopt. They put a cap on the amount of money you can actually spend on the game. Once you reach that threshold (in this game it’s 5,000 picrites or about $30) they unlock unlimited picrites for you to use to advance. This turns the game essentially from a free-to-play game into a standard retail style release and keeps you from blowing your monthly budget on in-game currency.
If you’re a fan of picross puzzles then you’re sure to enjoy this game. The new additions add a nice twist to a familiar formula, but you still have the ability to keep it as “traditional” as you like. If you’re new to the series the Pokemon abilities and daily training opportunities may help you understand the game. It took a few hours to really understand what was going on, but once I did I really enjoyed solving the puzzles. Will this replace sudoku as my go to puzzle of choice? Probably not, but it was a nice introduction into a new style of puzzle that I previously though incomprehensible.
Pokemon Picross (3DS)
Developer: Jupitor Corporation
Release Date: 12/3/2015
Price: Free to Start with up to $30 of in game transactions possible