Picross DS - Another Handheld Gem From Nintendo?

   06/02/2007 at 20:30       Richard Horne       13 COMMENTS.
Mario's Picross was one Mario game that I suspect the vast majority of you have never heard of before.

Released for the original monochromatically challenged GameBoy in 1995, it was one of my all time favourite GB games and accompanied me on many bus journeys for a good number of years after its initial release. Fast forward a few years to 2007 and Nintendo recently released a new up to date version of Picross that should (and not a moment too soon I might add) become a cult, no never mind cult, should become a genuine and outright hit on the Nintendo DS.

There is one problem it faces however, and that's the fact that Picross is one of those games that when you try to describe it to someone is like trying to persuade them to saw off their own leg with a rusty spoon. It can best be described as a Minesweeper/Sudoku/painting by numbers hybrid, but then this really doesn't do it any favours as I can already hear the mouse clicks of 50% of the people reading this piece closing their browsers after that unfortunate comparison. But for those of you still here, hello and thanks for staying! The game presents you with a 5x5, 10x10, 15x15 or 20x20 grid/board containing tiles which can be all be chipped away at to reveal a hidden image - usually of a random object such as a 1up mushroom, a dog, a pig or even a piece of pie! Above each column and before each row are numbers which indicate how many pieces of the image are contained within that particular row or column. You then have to use logic to decipher which pieces in said row or column are make up part of the image. Picross also allows you to mark pieces you've eliminated as not being part of the image with an X. And that's essentially all there is to it.

As a handheld title then, Picross is absolutely sublime and happens to be yet another stunning example of that peerless 'pick-up, put-down' gaming mechanic that has proved to be the foundation of the DS' success. For the past week I've continually found myself doing the odd puzzle here or there, while on the bog, on the phone, walking the dog and even while bug fixing the AATG forum! It's just a perfect game for dipping in and out of when you get the odd two minutes to yourself - particularly as that's how long it will take you to solve the easier early puzzles. There's no storyline to follow, no characters to keep pace with, it's just puzzle after puzzle after puzzle and rather refreshingly, feels perfectly at home on the touch screen as you'll use the stylus to actually draw over or tap on the tiles you want to reveal. There's also the welcome addition of d-pad and face button controls for those playing while enjoying a bumpy bus ride or hankering for the more traditional controls of the original. Picross actually happens to be a lot of fun and proves to be much more addictive than both Sudoku and Minesweeper, especially when you appreciate how the underlying strategy of the game works and once you to start to understand how to solve the harder puzzles it just seems to clicks mentally and is marvellously both therapeutic and satisfying.

Enough of the lavish praise then, all of which aside from the obvious benefits of the touch screen can also be applied to the GB original. The question is - what helps to make this new and improved DS version a worthy purchase? Well as my Japanese is non existent I've had to research this a little, but if you do need further incentive to consider Picross, the DS version features an edit mode which allows you to create your own puzzles. There are also Wi-Fi options in the menu which I would hope allow you to share user defined puzzles with your friends. Plus, taking a leaf from Dr Kawashima, there's also a daily test mode which presents you with 5 random Picross puzzles which must be completed as quickly as possible, with your times inevitably recorded on a graph which monitors your hopefully gradual improvement. Extra levels can also be downloaded using your Wi-Fi connection. And finally, there's what appears to be a single cartridge multiplayer mode which predictably allows you to compete against friends for the fastest time to complete a puzzle.

For anyone considering importing Picross, the menus are pretty much incomprehensible but the game remains completely playable due to its simple nature. Here's hoping for an imminent European release.
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