Saturday, September 30, 2017

Review: Picross S


As one of my favorite puzzle game series on Nintendo systems I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Picross titles. The mix of strategy, planning, deductive reasoning, and cute pixel art has never really worn thin for me. While I am hoping to see a 3D Picross title come to the Switch next Picross S is still a welcome reminder of what the series does very well and playing it is a little like sitting in your favorite chair to relax for a little while.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the series we’ll go over how it works. You’re given a grid that will represent some sort of pixel art picture at the end. Your job is to fill in the proper spots to help make the desired picture. In order to clue you in to which squares should be filled there are groups of numbers across the top and down the left side. These represent the different groups of squares that will be filled in within that column or row. For instance, if you see one large number you’d have a continuous group of that many squares selected in that row or column only while if you saw 1 1 2 it would mean you’d have two distinct stand-alone squares and a single group of 2 in that order from left to right or top to bottom in that row or column. Using these numbers you’ll then be able to fill in some rows or columns either completely or at least partially and then begin using a process of elimination and sometimes intuition to guide you on your way to completing the grid successfully.


In terms of the implementation on the Switch there’s both good and bad. On the good side the game plays well and works reasonably enough with the controls. However, in a move that seems to have shocked everyone, touchscreen controls are not supported in the game and this is a disappointment as it would have theoretically sped play up substantially if it had been supported. I’m hoping in the future they’ll patch the game to include this functionality as its exclusion is peculiar. Fitting in with the Switch’s themes of game sharing it is possible for you and a friend to try to complete puzzles together, though I found this to be a bit aggravating overall as my process for solving puzzles is often quite methodical and someone else interfering with what I’ve checked and marked off made things far more confusing. In addition there is an included assist functionality that does a reasonably good job of nudging you in the right direction if you begin to find yourself stuck, something that is sure to happen at some point with puzzles like these.

In order to bring a fresh sort of challenge to the table there is a new mode included as well called Mega Picross. In order to amp up the difficulty in this mode the rules have been changes a little bit. Along with the normal single column and row numbers this will also include Mega numbers that represent more than one column at a time. All you need to keep in mind with them is that the numbers represent the total number of connected spaces in a given group. These can amp up the level of challenge substantially as they leave what may be in a given row or column much more to chance, and will force you to begin creating new strategies to determine how to figure them out effectively, particularly where they intersect. This adds a welcome new twist to the mix, though you could certainly just opt to stick to the original mode to get your fill as well.


While there are 150 puzzles in the game available in both modes one of the gotchas, to some degree, is that the pictures for the puzzles are shared between the traditional and mega modes. While they’re not included in the same order, to help prevent you from knowing the pattern for any given mega puzzle in advance if you’ve already completed the normal puzzle for it, there is still then some degree of familiarity possible if you choose to tackle the Mega Puzzles after the Normal ones. I’d imagine that this effect would only be worse if you chose to do the Mega puzzles first and then the now-easier Normal ones second though.

For fans of the series the fact that there are no glaring issues with his new edition for the Switch will probably make it an easy game to pick up, unless your heart was set on being able to play the game in touchscreen mode. For people new to this series who are interested in a very cerebral type of puzzle experience it is an excellent entry in an already terrific series and should provide a substantial amount of content for most people at its reasonable price point. While not everything about this edition is what I’d hoped it is still one of the premier puzzle games on the market and it is well-represented in its first outing on the Switch!


Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • As always, it is an excellent test of your powers of deduction
  • The new Mega Picross mode ups the ante and difficulty substantially
  • There is a helpful assist system available to you when you find yourself stuck to minimize frustrations


Cons:
  • The puzzles not being unique per mode is understandable but still a bummer
  • The lack of touchscreen support is a bit baffling, it should be patched in
  • There are certainly people who this sort of gameplay simply won’t connect with


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