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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Game Review:Picross DS

Boot camp for your brain - organized with considerable success.

Admit it! You are totally sick of the mini-game compilation and puzzle game crap that the DS has been inundated with since day one. But wait, no, don’t go yet, because Picross DS has brought something else along with it – enjoyment. Amid the Sudoku craze, Nintendo has released Picross DS, which is coincidentally, another number puzzle game that puts both your mathematical and logic skills to the test. Let Picross DS take you along on a brilliant journey … …

Let’s give you an introduction on what Picross is. Well, you probably have not heard of Picross before since most of the games were released solely in Japan. Like Sudoku, a game of Picross features several rows and columns of squares, whose grids’ dimensions range anything from 5X5 to 20X25. At the top and left side of each row and column respectively are some numbers indicative of the number of squares in that particular row or column that you need to stamp a block on. For example, if there is a number 10, it simply means that there are 10 consecutive blocked squares. However, some Picross puzzles may feature more than one number. So, if ‘5,6,9’ are written, there will be 5 consecutive blocked squares, followed by a gap or more in between, then another 6 consecutive blocked squares, and so on and so forth. Complicated? Picross DS will get you started with some tutorials, so you need not worry, and they can still be accessed afterwards at any time. The blocked squares will eventually form a picture after the puzzle is completed and it can be anything – an animal, a spaceship, a fruit, a mobile phone, you name it.

Upon first look, the game may not be too compelling as there are considerably limited puzzles and the first few ones that you are going to attempt are going to be very easy, but dare play further and the game rewards you much much more content. You will be surprised to find out that the game contains more than 200 puzzles! As you progress further, more levels (each consisting of 15 different puzzles) will be unlocked and the puzzles become increasingly difficult. Another 3 mini-games will be awarded after you complete each level, but more on that later. There is also a Daily Picross mode serving Picross puzzles on a smaller scale (like spotting mistakes and a time attack). The puzzles in Daily Picross mode are unlocked based on how many days you have played the game, so in a way, the game is encouraging you to play it every day. Disregarding the Easy Mode (which is a no-brainer) and the first few puzzles in Normal mode, Picross DS is quite challenging, to say the least. Reach the higher levels and the Free Mode (where the game does not inform you of your error, meaning that if you make one, you can’t solve the puzzle) and a little bit or luck and trial and error come into play – to the point of frustrating, but there seems to be a certain charm in the game that keeps you tied into it no matter how hard the puzzles get – it is this prized possession of a guaranteed riveting experience that many puzzle games miss. However, if you think you are alright even if you take as long as 2 hours to solve a puzzle, think twice, because there is a time limit of an hour (or else no slight picture animation). Make a mistake of stamping a block on a square that is supposed to be a gap and you will be penalized time, with the largest time penalty being 8 minutes. Somehow, Nintendo has also managed to squeeze in My Picross mode, which allows you to make you own Picross puzzles and trade them with others online. Want to find out how much faster you can solve the puzzles than someone else? You can do that too, thanks to included online multiplayer. So, do I need to say twice how challenging the game is and how it actually maintains its charisma throughout?

The developer is thoughtful enough to ship the game with double control options, namely the usage of the standard buttons and d-pad and stylus utilization. The stylus option is good for the earlier puzzles where the grids are smaller (5X5 or 10X10), but problems emerge at higher levels when the grids get scaled in size (15X15, 20X20, 20X25). You will have to constantly zoom in and out of the big puzzles, which makes playing the game a chore. But then, if you refuse to zoom in, the game does not allow you to block any squares with your stylus (because each square is probably too small to be poked at!). The standard button and d-pad configuration becomes the best selection. You cannot use this configuration for the 3 mini-games (rewind to the previous paragraph if you cannot recall), though. And oh, I was left putting my heads into my hands several times! The controls are HOPELESSLY UNRESPONSIVE! This is bullshit as the mini-games require precision and response as you need to hit the targeted number of blocks (which will pop in and out just as quickly everywhere) in a strict amount of time. The stylus controls are implemented with disastrous results, so much so that that particular mini-game type known as ‘HIT’ is near impossible to win. The other 2 mini-game types, CATCH and SKETCH are fine, but HIT is a letdown. Definitely. Lastly, the art style in Picross DS is kept as simplistic as possible. It is an odd decision, but don’t ask me why. It is just bad. The music is cheerful, but repetitive, but you cannot really blame it since the game lasts so long and that the music is bound to get repeated over and over again.

Final Comments
Okay, not so brilliant afterall because of the flawed stylus-based controls and the basic art style that has ugly pixellated images all over it. But otherwise, the game is fantastic – it is addictive, fun and challenging. A huge amount of content, together with multiple online options will keep you occupied for a very very long time. What matters now is: Is your brain up for the test?


- Content, content and more content!
- Challenging, enjoyable and addictive

- Hopelessly unresponsive stylus controls for ‘HIT’ mini-game
- Wait, did I just say that standard button and d-pad controls are better than the stylus-based one?
- Art style is simplistic, basic, to be exact.


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