LOOKING BACK ON
Picross DS

By Filipe Salgado - July 5th, 2009

Picross

My girlfriend is browsing my bookshelf, looking for something to pass the time. She asks about Picross DS, so I grab my DS to show her the tutorial. Upon seeing it, she remarks that it looks like Sudoku. I sigh. This is what everybody says when I show them this game. “It’s kinda like that,” I explain. “It’s a nonogram.”

I run her through the basics of the game: There’s a grid with numbers alongside each row and column that represent how many consecutive blocks are supposed to be filled in. On bigger grids, there are usually more than one number for each row or column and it becomes a matter of figuring out, not just what to fill, but what not to fill. Eventually, a picture emerges.

Her eyes glaze over a bit, but after the first few levels she starts to understand. There’s a lot of fumbling going on during the first few 5 x 5 levels, but its when the game first opens up to 10 x 10 playing fields when the real learning begins. Every stage has the same arc; the board is cleared of obvious choices at the start, then comes the deduction phase. There is no guesswork here, only cold logic. The best part, though, is when you get over that hump. There’s a smooth slide downward as the grid almost seems to fill itself, and then a short, colourful animation to reward you. But, as any fan will tell you, the true reward isn’t the destination, but the journey.

The control scheme is clean and simple, allowing for easy manipulation of the grids. There’s an immense satisfaction in chiselling out an image from the chaos of numbers. This is what my high school math teacher was prattling on about when he lectured on the beauty of math. I suspect this same euphoria was what drew reviewers, and subsequently, me and my girlfriend, into its addictive cycle.

I envied her as she started on her addiction, because nothing beats that first high. When I started battling the 20 x 25 sized grids I realized that the good times were behind me. With the smaller maps, there was a perfect balance of effort and reward. Yes, there was work, there was taxing of the mind, but when it clicked, it was pretty late in the process, and the cleaning up of the last few odds and ends was negligible. As the grids got bigger, so did the amount of cleaning up, and so did the tedium. Couple that with no replayability and there’s a problem.

Even the game seems to realize this. After doing some of the biggest puzzles, which coincidently seem to be the least fun, there’s a mode where you’re allowed to tackle smaller puzzles again. The only difference being that while most levels correct your errors, at the expense of adding time to your score, these offer no such luxury, and its easy to screw up and not realize it until you’ve already sunk in 30 minutes into the puzzle. This leads to even more aggravation.

So, as I watch my girlfriend play the game, I cringe a bit, knowing that eventually it’ll stop being fun. I try to warn her, but there’s a madness in her eyes. Us addicts have to learn the hard way.

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    5 responses so far:
  2. By zacH
    Posted on Jul 5, 2009

    This has always been one of my favorite games, and I wish that it would take off like sudoku has… I’d really like to have a small, elegant looking book full of 10x10s to carry around with me. No such luck, however.

    Ideally another Picross DS will come out, with downloadable puzzles to forever whet one’s appetite. In the meantime, I play here:
    http://www.puzzle-nonograms.com/
    Unfortunately no elegant mistake correcting on-the-fly, which is one of the DS game’s best features, and these puzzles don’t seem to make pictures, but it works. I also have the classic games for the original game boy and the japanese snes game, so I happily have a full helping of Picross whenever I like. I agree though, nothing like the first few puzzles.

  3. By Joe
    Posted on Jul 6, 2009

    I downloaded a picross game for my mobile phone – and it had levels where you couldn’t deduce every square, you *had* to guess on some to carry on. After that it lost its charm. I do like the concept though I hope they make a ‘little bit of’ game for DSiWare like they have with sudoku.

  4. Posted on Jul 6, 2009

    Picross DS is absolutely one of my favorite DS games. I just wish my touch screen wasn’t broken; it’s cost me hours in penalty time.

  5. Posted on Jul 22, 2009

    I’ve always wanted to try Picross DS. I’ve played enough of a copy to see how it works.and I’ve always been a fan of logic puzzles but I never got over that learning hump. Like the Wanderer I look forward to actually getting into it.

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