Thursday, July 12

Review: Fill-a-Pix: Phil's Epic Adventure [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Pixel art puzzle games have come in quite a few forms on the Switch to date, and each has had its own spin on how they work mechanically to reach a similar end. While there are examples of titles that have pushed you towards larger puzzles as you ramp up the difficulty for the most part the scale of your challenge has tended to begin humbly. That isn’t the case with Fill-a-Pix, a game that starts you out in the deep end and stays there, adopting a mechanic similar to the classic Minesweeper to help you fill in the dots. The resulting gameplay requires meticulous work and may be just what puzzle fans who’ve become bored with smaller-scale challenges are looking for.


Getting started can be a bit overwhelming but thankfully the in-game tutorial does a pretty good job of walking you through what will become your process. As with any other title like this you’ll look to begin with your gimmes, in this case 0s (meaning all 9 spaces around the 0 are empty) and 9s (meaning all spaces are filled in), or things like 6s on the edges or 4s on the corners. From that somewhat humble start you’ll need to begin to fill in your masterpiece and you can do this pixel by pixel (probably not recommended if you want to retain your sanity) or by looking to leverage the spaces you’ve filled in correctly and using a 9-pixel zone to auto-fill areas where it is clear how remaining spaces need to be filled.


What you’ll find is that you’ll need to shift between the 2, going quickly to fill in some spaces but then working one at a time to plot out certain areas. Thankfully the numbers themselves will give you cues, turning grey white when the right number of spaces are filled, grey when the entire block is full and correct, or red when you’ve filled in too much. If you’re frustrated or lost it will try to guide you to another promising area by using a hint or will even correct your mistakes if you find yourself unable to reconcile an area with quite a few numbers that you’re just not able to balance. Taking a small step back and considering patterns that are forming can often help, though if you’re not sure what you’re trying to recreate these can also be deceiving if you’re not careful.

Since Fill-a-Pix carves out its own path that feels similar but has many differences I would anticipate mixed reactions from puzzle fans. The scale is most likely going to be the point of contention with some people absolutely loving the added challenge which, across 120 puzzles, will keep you working for quite some time but others possibly drowning in the scale you immediately begin to work at without much ramp up. Since the puzzles are so large part of the struggle is learning how best to use the shortcut tools the game provides and then not feeling like it’s cheating. Using the 9-space grid to autofill spaces that are filled enough to know their full pattern requires that you did the work, and working with so many pixels using that ability as much as possible is more practical, it just takes some getting used to for how to approach it efficiently.


Props to the folks at Lightwood Games for putting together something both familiar and different with Fill-a-Pix, it’s absolutely something different and the scale of the puzzles is pretty incredible… though at times intimidating as well. The implementation of the tools and helpers is both thoughtful and impressive, and really helps you keep from completely drowning as you contemplate the substantial grid of numbers and spaces everywhere. Help is always there if you need it, but if you’re insistent on doing it yourself you can always opt not to use it. If you love pixel puzzles and are up for a new challenge it’s well worth checking out.

Score: 7.5

Pros:
  • 120 puzzles that will take you quite some time to complete
  • A unique marriage of Minesweeper and pixel puzzles
  • Help is available in the forms of hints and visual cues that make the scale more manageable

Cons:
  • Some will find the scale overwhelming
  • Finding the balance between it being too easy (constantly using hints) and too hard can be tricky as the hints are very tempting