Picross DS is not the first in its genre. Many years ago Mario’s Picross was released on the original Game Boy and the NES. The Japanese game didn’t sell all too well on the Western market, but those that bought the game really enjoyed it because of its simplicity and originality. Today, a little more than ten years later, Nintendo tries it again with a version on the Nintendo DS. Is it going to score better now – in times where a simple Google-search gives you tons of free alternatives? The fact that an American release is sill uncertain reveals that Nintendo itself is still not sure about that. We’ll see!
When you start the game for the first time a tutorial is thrown in your direction, and that’s exactly what you need. I’ll try to explain the goal of the game as good as possible, but since it’s pretty much impossible for you to understand it without standing next to me, I recommend doing the Google-search mentioned above.
You get a raster that’s divided into little squares. Above each column and next to each row is a series of numbers. Each number tells you how many linked squares you need to fill in, and in between each number (and thus each link of squares) has to be at least one empty space. To make it clear with an example; imagine a raster of 5×5 squares. Above the first column is a 5, so you can fill in the whole column. In front of the first row are two 2′s, and since you know there has to be an empty space between each number, and since you know the row consists of only 5 squares, the only possible combination is [X][X]__[X][X]. That way you have to fill in the complete puzzle, after which a picture becomes visible. Do you get it? No? Though so.. Bad luck, but I’m going on!
Once you know the basic rules, which doesn’t take that long, you can commence the real game; solve a whole bunch of… puzzles. When playing the ‘Easy Mode’, you’ll be disappointed by the childish easiness, but in ‘Normal Mode’ it will get much harder, up to a point where you’ll be glad to solve a puzzle in the time limit of one hour. An hour seems a lot, but when you take the time-penalties for filling in a wrong square into account, that “hour” can last only a mere five minutes. In ‘Free Mode’, your faults won’t get corrected, but you won’t get a time-penalty either. In this mode, you’ve got a sort of scratch-book to practice the puzzle first and then overlay it into your real game, but I still haven’t figured out the use of this option.
Puzzles of 10×10 squares get projected in full on the screen below, the touchscreen. The upper screen shows the time and the drawing, appearing slowly but certainly while solving the puzzle, without the raster and the numbers. You fill in the squares with the – well duh! – stylus. There’s also a button-control, but why would you use that on your Nintendo DS? Besides, the stylus-control is much quicker. Bigger puzzles aren’t fully shown, so you’ll have to drag over the puzzle in zoomed mode. Hereby, the upper screen serves as an overview, where the complete raster wíth numbers is shown, although in a quite small print. In the beginning playing like this is very inconvenient, but it’s just a matter of learning to play with it, after which you’ll realise it plays just as simple. More frustrating is when you forgot to switch from “drag”-mode to “fill in”-mode and you point at a wrong square, leading to the inevitable timepenalty.
Grafically you don’t have to expect wonders of this game. It does what it has to do very well; showing a virtual raster. Both screens are filled with happy colors, as we’re used of Nintendo, and the menus and complete presentation is very sober but clear. Too many unnecessary things would only distract the player out of its concentration. When it comes to sound I have 1 simple message: turn of that junk and put on your own music. The three (3!) available songs (Jazz, Reggae and Bossa Nova) give the impression of a lack of inspiration and are extremely enervating with their repetetiviness. They should’ve spent just a little more attention to this part.
Nintendo has lengthened, next to more than 300 puzzles, Picross DS with online possibilities, allowing you to download new puzzles and play against others. You’ve also got an editor to make your own puzzles, there are minigames and Daily Picross, a mode where you can play a series of different puzzles, keeping track of your progress.
In the end, Picross DS is a more than decent title. The puzzles demand a little thinking in the beginning but they are really fun. Soon you’ll find yourself grabbing your DS right before school or work, between two bites of a sandwich, in the train, on the loo, during the loading-times of another game, in your bed, and so on. Of course you can play a free internet version, but the portability of this game really is a big fat plus, as is the price; Picross DS is in stores for just under 30 euros. I suggest you try one of the free versions and if you like it; just buy the game.