A Puzzling Slow Start in the West
Picross (a portmanteau for ‘Picture Crossword’) games haven’t always enjoyed stateside success. When Nintendo’s nonogram-based puzzler, Mario’s Picross, was released for the Game Boy in 1995, the title met with middling reviews from outlets like Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro. Commercially, the game fared no better, prompting Picross games to remain in Japan for the next twelve years. But eventually, the West warmed up to the logic puzzles, prompting a procession of Picross games from Nintendo as well as a multitude of copies from third-party developers.
Currently, the Switch library is brimming with nonogram titles. Jupiter, the developer behind Mario’s Picross, has two franchises- the fairly straightforward Picross S series and the delightfully cute Kemono Friends Picross. While the latter does feature a collection of Kemonomimi (animal girls), like Jupiter’s other Switch efforts the game lacks touchscreen support. That’s was one of the key advantages of Lightwood Games’ Pic-a-Pix Deluxe. With the release of Pic-a-Pix Pieces, the developer continues their efforts, incorporating Micross-like play into their follow-up.
Colors, Numbers, and Gratification
Like most Picross titles, Pic-a-Pix Pieces’ brainteasers are based on grids which range from 10×10 matrices to 20×20 monstrosities. Numbers that flank the grids’ axes reveal the number of consecutive blocks in columns or rows. So, a “4 – 4” indicates two bands of four blocks that are separated by at least one or more spaces. Whereas early Picross games just focused on black and white squares, Pic-a-Pix opts for color. So, a brown “4” and a yellow “2” indicates a succession of four coffee-hued squares and a pair of canary blocks, which may or may not have a gap between them.
Soon, you’ll learn that solving a puzzle requires deductive reasoning, often cross-refencing the vertical and horizontal axis to gradually fill in the grid, and systematically making marks to indicate blank squares. Like any nonogram games, guessing can get you into trouble, and it’s best to constantly reassess the periphery of the puzzle with your newly corroborated markings. You’ll also be able to place an “x” in squares that you know lack any coloring, which proves to be an imperative approach. Yes, it can all be a bit confusing in print, but you’ll gradually learn the strategies for success on your own.
There’s a Way Out of Gridlock
Fortunately, there’s a generous help system help system in place for those who need assistance. A ‘Fix’ option can tell you the number of errors with the puzzle, letting you know how far you are from finding the solution. Double down on the support, and the game can automatically correct any errantly coded blocks. If you’re really stymied you can tentatively color in any squares, apply the ‘fix’ option, and eventually unveil the answer. But doing this will not provide you with a medal for the puzzle, pushing perfectionists back into the problem.
Pieces draws distinction from its predecessor by the incorporation of micros elements. Traditionally, completed Picross puzzles form images that look like sprites from an 8-bit game. They’re simple, and once you figure out what the image is, it’s easy to cheat by filled in squares with the appropriate color. But here, each puzzle is part of a larger image, ranging from a 3×2 mosaic to a substantial 6×4 grid that’s actually 120 by 80 pixels in size. Because each collection of puzzles is a small part of a larger image, it’s harder to predict the color of boxes when working on an individual piece. Before purchasing you’ll want to know that there are ten large puzzles with two, three-dollar DLC add-ons that contribute two additional puzzles apiece.
Visually, Pic-a-Pix Pieces adopts a workmanlike approach. Grids are easy to read, and with a muted backdrop, are easy on the eyes for long periods of time, while the game’s font recalls the kind of typeface used by eight-bit games. As an indie title, puzzles solutions lack familiar characters, offering pixelated renditions of common objects instead of licensed images of Mario, Yoshi, or Princess Peach. Sonically, Pieces opts for energetic chiptune soundtrack, which matches the retro aesthetics. It tends to repeat, so players might want to reduce the volume across protracted play sessions.
Beyond a ten-page in-game instruction manual, Pieces also imparts wisdom through its gradual learning curve. Progress through the game in sequential fashion and you’ll tackle straightforward 10×10 puzzles before moving onto more intricate, larger ones. Pleasingly, there’s no rigid path for unlocking of stages, allowing advanced Picross players to head right into the tenth and final brainbuster.
Touchscreen Support for Delicate Fingers
With the Switch undocked, players can take advantage of the system’s touchscreen functionality, which works well for the smaller puzzles. Once the grids increase in complexity, larger finger might have an issue with accuracy. Alternatively, players can use the trigger on the Joy-Cons to cycle between colors, before painting boxes appropriately, which works quite well. Interestingly, the game also includes a multiplayer component where participants can work together to solve a nonogram. Unless there’s close cooperation between players, cooperative puzzle solving turns into a chaotic but minorly entertaining affair.
Unsurprisingly, a purchase of Pic-a-Pix Pieces hinges on a player’s partiality for nonograms. For those who appreciate Picross-style puzzles, having the title in internal memory makes for an engaging recreation that’s an ideal respite between sessions of intense action games. While Pieces might lack the iconic visuals of Nintendo’s offerings, it wins points for affordability and efficient design.
Pic-a-Pix Pieces was played on the Nintendo Switch with review code provided by the publisher.