I’m a casual fan of puzzle games. I don’t usually deep dive into any specific title, but I do enjoy taking time out of my day to chill and “get in the zone” with various games in the genre. About ten years ago I came across a Mario’s Picross cartridge for the original Game Boy and wondered what in the world it was. The store was selling it for like 2 bucks so I figured I’d give it a go. It immediately sucked me in and I spent many nights solving each and every puzzle the game had to offer. I was hooked, and as every new iteration released on the DS and 3DS I’d immediately download them. They became sort of like comfort food – something to play right before heading off to bed at night. That’s why I was ecstatic when I found out Picross S was available for the Nintendo Switch, and it turns out it’s a pretty good version to jump into the series if you’re willing to give it a try.
At its heart, Picross is a game where you fill in squares on a grid. Once you’ve correctly filled in the right ones a picture forms and you’re on your way to solving the next puzzle. It can be difficult to describe in words how the game directs you to fill in specific areas while leaving others blank, but I’ll try.
Each puzzle takes place in a square with smaller squares inside it (think graph paper). Each row and each column will have a number or numbers alongside it. These represent how many squares in that row or column must be filled in. Sometimes there is more than one number present on a row or column, which means that there are multiple groups of squares that must be filled in. For example, let’s say you have a row of 10 squares and there is a number 4 and then a number 5 for that row. What the game is telling you is that you must fill in 4 squares and then 5 squares. The 4 squares must be connected (no spaces) and the second number says there are another 5 squares that must be connected. There must be at least one space between numbers, so if the row only has 10 spots, this is quite easy to solve – fill in the first four squares, leave an empty square, and then fill in the remaining 5 squares. You’ve solved that row! You can put in an X in the blank spot to mark that it can’t be filled in. This is helpful as you begin solving other rows and columns that have less numbers to go on. Some only have 1 for square that needs to be filled in. You’ll need to solve the rows and columns around it first to figure out which one needs to be filled.
Like I said, it’s difficult to explain in writing, but trust me, as you begin filling in squares and marking other squares that can’t be filled in, it all begins to make sense. The game begins rather easy with 5×5 grids and eventually you’ll graduate to bigger puzzles. Marking the squares that can’t be filled is just as important as finding the ones that must be filled to correctly solve the puzzle. At the end you’ll have created a pixelated portrait of some sort. Some are very abstract, while others are easy to figure out. I feel that as the series has progressed the designs have become more difficult to figure out. With the early games if I really got stumped I could sometimes guess a square or two to fill in just by looking at the picture that was forming. Now it’s often just a blob of pixels that I have no clue what it is until it tells me after I’ve completed the puzzle.
Picross S contains 150 regular puzzles to solve and another 150 Mega Picross puzzles to solve. Mega Picross takes the standard formula and turns it on its head by allowing some numbers to cross over into an adjacent column or row. I freely admit this almost hurt my brain the first few times playing and I was much more apprehensive about filling in squares, but it really does make sense once you begin to figure out how everything works. There’s a full tutorial to help you out, and I can’t help but wonder if it might not be easier for newcomers to hop right into this mode than veterans, since we’re so used to playing it with a different set of rules.
One new feature is that the game supports two-player simultaneous puzzle solving. That’s right, you can each grab a Joy-Con and work together to complete the boards. This is a novel idea, but one that I’m not sure will gain traction for most gamers out there. It can be more distracting than helpful to have someone else filling in and marking off squares as you do the same thing. This is especially true when one of you makes a mistake, which can completely throw off the puzzle. So I guess maybe consider this hard mode?
One of the exciting things about Picross S is that it can be played on the TV. This marks the first time in America that a Picross game has made it to the big screen. Japan had a Super NES version of Picross that never made it over here. Sure, you could play the old Game Boy version in a Super Game Boy, but this is designed for TV play and it looks really nice with some high resolution assets. The game is no looker in the graphics department, nor does it need to be, but the option to chill out on the couch and play is great. Although, I’m so used to playing this series on handhelds that I still spent the majority of my time playing in portable mode. This is one of the few instances where I suggest using the “d-pad” on the Joy-Con controller because of the split buttons. It works fantastic for this game with no room for error in moving the cursor. The Pro Controller sometimes registers a press wrong and the cursor doesn’t go where you want it to and it can be quite annoying.
The game is pretty sparse in the audiovisual department as a whole. You can select between three different background music options or turn it off completely. I rather like the default BGM because it’s relaxing. The sound effects of filling in squares and marking blank ones off is satisfying, reminding me a little bit of the Switch operating system with its quirky sounds. Let’s just say the game looks and sounds fine, but there’s nothing exceptional here.
As a fan of the series, Picross S is a no-brainer, especially at its low price of $7.99. It’s a fantastic way to burn away a few minutes on a puzzle or to whittle way an hour or two as you blast through the various boards. I do wish Jupiter would partner up with Nintendo and create another Nintendo-themed Picross game. I always found creating familiar pieces of art much more enjoyable than the generic pixels found in the regular games. The only quibble some veterans may have with it is that there doesn’t seem to be any touchscreen control options. I know that was quite popular for some on the DS and 3DS systems, but for me I always preferred the tried-and-true D-pad control scheme. If you’ve never played a Picross before, this should be your starting point. It starts off extremely easy and the versatility of the Switch makes it a great game to play at home or on the go. Check this one out!