Thursday, May 27, 2010

Game Review: Picross 3D

picross3d We gamers, we like our guns and explosions plenty. We like our open-ended worlds and our ridiculously contrived stories, our endeavors to create art and our abstract puzzle-platformers, our epic adventures and our goofy courtroom dramas.

Picross 3D, part of Nintendo’s casual-friendly “Touch Generations” lineup, is none of those things. It is, in fact, a puzzle game.

Puzzle games were “casual” games before the casual game zeitgeist was a glimmer in Satoru Iwata’s eye – games like Tetris had everyone from you to your little sister to your mom passing around the Game Boy on long car trips, so it’s no surprise that puzzle games continue to lead the charge in the war to get your grandmother into video games.

Picross 3D is neither action-packed nor thought provoking, but despite this it’s very much worth your time and money, so pay attention.

Picross 3D is a sequel of sorts to 2007’s Picross DS, which was itself a modernized take on Mario’s Picross for the original Game Boy.

Wait wait,” I hear you saying, “what the hell is Picross?”

Well, my swear-happy friend, Picross stands for Picture Crossword. In the two-dimensional version of the game, you are given a square grid with some numbers listed above it and to the side. The numbers denote how many squares in the line will be filled in. This is probably better described in pictures than words, so:

picross_21sep2007 As you can see, a horizontal line with a number 1 next to it denotes that one block will be filled in, et cetera. It’s an extremely addicting game – finding the one block that makes the rest of the puzzle fall into place can be tremendously satisfying.

Picross 3D takes this basic concept and adds a third dimension – now, instead of worrying about just height and length, you also have to pay attention to depth:


This is how I’ve spent the half-hour before bedtime every day for the last couple of weeks.

You’re given a solid block at the outset, and based on the numbers on the sides you need to chip away until you’ve found the object and completed the puzzle. The bigger puzzles employ “sliders,” which allow you to hide columns of blocks from view and look inside the puzzle.

It’s a little abstract to explain on paper, but the game includes an excellent tutorial level that eases the player into the game – it’s much easier to understand than it seems. There’s also a decent set of demos on the Nintendo Web site that explain the core concepts well enough. Once you’ve got the basics down, you just solve puzzles one after the other until you’ve solved them all. There are tons of puzzles included and even more available for download, so the game should keep you busy for awhile.

The game has a very gradual difficulty curve, and while the puzzles themselves are fairly challenging the hardest part of Picross 3D is simply wrapping one’s head around a three-dimensional puzzle. Every hint you need to solve every puzzle is there, but mistakes are inevitable.

The graphics, sound, and presentation are obviously not the game’s focus, so it would make sense that none of the three are particularly noteworthy. Big, colorful graphics get the job done, and the game’s inoffensive background music is easily turned down in favor of silence or tunes from your MP3 player of choice. Once finished, the puzzle pictures are often animated in charming ways – otherwise, the focus here is all on the puzzles themselves.

Games like Picross 3D make me believe that Nintendo is onto something with its casual approach. At their best, “casual” games neither frustrate newbies nor alienate experienced gamers. The number of games that I can play with my girlfriend is small – best not to talk about what happened when we tried New Super Mario Bros. Wii – but in this one our game saves are always within a couple puzzles of one another. It’s not a particularly ambitious game, but it is a good one, and that’s fine.