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June 3, 2016

Picross 3D

Ah, something easy for a change. A quick review! Alright, I’m gonna enjoy doing this. Wait, it’s a puzzle game? Alright fine, I’ll find a way to make this interesting.

Have you ever played Picross, or Nonograms? Or Pic-A-Pix? It’s all the same, really. Some Japanese logic games have a whole bunch of different names, like Sudoku, which can also be called…. Um… Number Place, and… Um… That Stupid Puzzle We’re Getting Flooded By? Okay, never mind. Picross is one of dozens of logic puzzles that involve grids, clues and numbers, with more being invented as we speak. Maybe you’ve seen the rise of the logic game Binero recently.

Picross puzzles are a fairly simple concept, but getting the hang of them is harder than it seems. And, of course, the bigger the puzzle, the harder it might get. You begin with an empty grid, preferably with a height and length divisible by 5 (but that’s not a necessity), and clues on top (for the vertical lines) and on the left (for the horizontal lines). The clues are numbers, and on a line, each number represents a block of squares to be blackened in the grid. If the clue is 1, you blacken only one square. However, there’s at least one white square separating each block of black squares (but it could be more than one white square). One or more, and the tricky part is to figure out where the black blocks are and how many white squares separate them. And of course, just like Sudoku, there are many ways to solve puzzles like this. Here’s an example of a grid being solved.

Row 1: 10 squares for a "10" clue; all squares are black.
Row 2: A block of 6 plus a block of 3, with a block of 1 between; again, simple.
Row 3: A block of 7: Count seven blocks from the left and mark the last one, then count seven
blocks from the right and mark the last one; all squares between those two - including
those two - will be blackened no matter.
Rows 4 and 5: If a square could be black or white, leave it white for now.
Go left to right with the clues, with one blank square between clues...
Then do the same backwards, with the clues from last to first, to find which
squares will be black for each clue no matter the final result.
The line at the bottom has question marks because you can't deduce any black squares
at the moment. The vertical clues would help. in this case.

The line at the bottom has question marks because you can’t deduce any black squares at the moment. However, if we had the clues for the columns, maybe it would be possible to spot one or more of them. Oh, and of course, this doesn’t cover the variations: Color Picross, Triangular Picross, that horrible secondary mode in Pokémon Picross that has clues covering two lines or columns… Oh, I’ll get to that one someday. Today’s game contains a variation on the Picross formula… and in case you forgot the title of this article already, it’s Picross 3D, so instead of facing grids with just height and length, we’ll also have width to take into consideration. It’s a block-smashing adventure for everyone who likes puzzles!

And who will explain these new mechanics to you? Cube Thing, of course! Alright fine, this game’s mascot doesn’t have a name… as far as I know. It’s just some kind of yellow cube with two tiny cube hands, two eyes, and a… mouth? An orange mouth? I don’t know, but if the goal was to create a minimalistic character that is still appealing, it’s a failure, the thing can be actually kinda creepy. Especially since it can move around and stretch itself; thankfully, it only appears on menu screens and on some unlockable animations. With its two different eyes, this thing looks like it was thought up by Pablo Picasso, drawn by Andy Warhol in the middle of his soup cans era (or perhaps his Taylor Mead’s Ass era), and then given depth by the pioneers of 3D animation. I realize that’s more of a compliment than an insult… whoops.

Run, run, run! After this exercise you'll be stuck
working in a tiny cubicle!
Cube Thing goes on to explain the concept of 3D Picross puzzles: At the start of a level, you’re shown a rectangular prism made of smaller cubes (up to 10 cubes in height, width and length, for up to 1000 squares to paint or break). Some of the cubes have clues on one or more of their sides. The clue at the top of a column of blocks indicates the number of blocks that will be kept; same goes for the clues on either side of a cube, except for the lines. Not all the cubes have clues, though; it would be too easy. What, do you want to be taken by the hand, step by step? Isn’t Cube Thing doing that already? The next tutorial levels only have normal numbers, but then we are introduced to circled numbers and squared numbers.

Well... at least the 0s are easy.
You see, the advantage of 3D Picross puzzles is that you can create things with depth, the disadvantage is that you can only have one clue per line or column. The team behind this game circumvents this problem by adding circles and squares around certain clue numbers. Circles basically mean that there are two blocks of colored squares, totaling the number in the circle (with the minimum obviously two, and the minimum size of a line like this is three – black-white-black). A 4 in a circle may be a block of 1 and a block of 3, like it can be two blocks of 2. Squares are even more complex; it’s a minimum of three colored blocks, still separated by white cubes, thus lines with a minimum of five blocks (black-white-black-white-black). But that’s a tricky one because you must always remember that there can be more than one empty block between two colored blocks, AND there can be from three to five blocks of painted cubes! So imagine when there’s a number bigger than 3 in a square, or worse even, a 4 or a 5 in a square on a row or column of 8 to 10 blocks!

Confused yet? Don’t worry, the confusion ends here. Well, I think it does. If your head implodes further down the line from information overload while reading this article, go see a doctor immediately.

The Tutorial section teaches a few more important details: You move the blocky construction around with the stylus. When the time comes to paint a block, you hold Right on the D-pad and then tap the block; do that only when you’re certain that a block will stay in the final sculpture. And if you want to break a block, you press Up and tap the block you want to break. If you break an incorrect block, you’ll get a NO!, lose a life (you have 5 lives), and the block will reappear, repaired and colored, and you can keep going. Have fun making these basic Minecraftian sculptures out of cubes!

From this point on, levels are split between difficulties (Tutorial, Easy, Normal, Hard). The last “Random” option lets you pick a level at random among difficulties, with a set number of “lives”, and with how much time you get to solve it. And things stay pretty much the same all the way through. The Easy, Normal and Hard sections are split in 10 “levels” which are themselves split into 10 “puzzles”, 8 of which you must solve and 2 that you unlock when you get a certain number of Stars on that level-wait, Stars?

Each puzzle here can give you 3 stars,
except the Silver and Gold ones.
Eeyup! Because some things in video games are so cliché’d they transcend genres, types and even companies, here for the umpteenth time we are rewarded with stars when we perform well. You are awarded a star for merely completing a puzzle. Then you can get another star if you complete the puzzle in a set number of minutes, smaller than the entire amount of time you’re given (some puzzles give you up to 60 minutes to complete, but timed challenges rarely give you more than 20 minutes). Then, you get a final star if you completed the puzzle without losing a single life. And if you thought a puzzle was tough, well, I’ll hate to see you try to get that damned third star! There are some puzzles I still can’t get the third star on. That should be saying something. The Silver and Gold puzzles require more stars to unlock as you progress through the difficulty levels of the game.

Oh, but that’s not all. The “worlds” split in 10 “levels” also include a number of bonus levels with additional challenges:
-One Chance: You have only one life to complete this puzzle. Gee, almost sounds like that third star, except obligatory.
-Timer: You’re given a very short amount of time to complete a puzzle, but as you smash blocks that time increases, giving you more time to complete the puzzle. You snooze, you lose, but who would snooze in the middle of a puzzle game anyway? …Probably all the FPS fans out there…
-Builder: You’re given multiple puzzles to solve, each of which is a piece of a larger creation. As an example, the first one is split in 5 pieces and forms an antique car when completed. The last (and in my opinion, hardest), is a giant dinosaur skeleton.

This means there’s over 300 puzzles to complete. This should satisfy all your Picross 3D needs for a while, needs you probably didn’t even knew you had. Hell, when I started playing that game, I didn’t know I had those needs. I had played many, many grids of normal, 2D Picross, but when I bought the game, I was intrigued, then uncertain, then hooked. There’s something oddly addictive about saving blocks, breaking blocks, and making sculptures out of blocks. Then again, any Minecraft fan could have told me that.

Run, puppy, run! Chase the ball! ...I mean, the cube!
All the sculptures resulting from the levels you complete are stored in a Gallery of Dioramas, where they’re ranked by theme over pretty backgrounds. There’s over 72 themes, each with anywhere from 3 to 7 completed puzzles. Thankfully, you don’t need to get 3 stars on a puzzle for its solution to appear here, you just need to beat it once. In every themed gallery, you can also tap any of the completed puzzles in order to see the little animation that played when you beat that puzzle. Every single sculpture in this game has a little animation with its blocks, and it can be mundane, basic, or really funny. Talking about funny, the Gallery section also has a section with unlockable animations, where multiple sculptures will interact together, often with Cube Thing; and Cube Thing always suffers something comical, like getting chased by a shark, being attacked by a sumo wrestler, or erasing himself from existence. That last one is pretty funny. ….But he comes back. It’s also where you can watch the end credits.

But wait, there’s more! The main menu also has the “My Picross” Option, which lets you create your own puzzles: you just build the sculpture with blocks and the game then assigns clues to some of the lines and columns. After which you can trade those puzzles with other owners of Picross 3D (Good luck finding them, though!). Back when the Nintendo W-Fi Connection was active for DS games, you could also send those puzzles out to contests held by the developers at HAL Laboratory, each with a theme. Even better, you could download packs of new puzzles made by the developers, and by other Nintendo staff. You could download over 200 more puzzles that way (since I was lucky enough to get this game before the Wi-Fi Connection was terminated, I have 240 puzzles in that bank – and even then, I deleted the smaller puzzles that were so simple to solve, so I should have more).

Guess we need something to push
all the unnecessary blocks away.
And this covers everything in the game. How is it? Well, no surprise there, I enjoy it. I’ve been a fan of picross puzzles for a while now, and this unique spin on the concept turned out to be a revelation. I really liked the experience. The game increases in difficulty as you progress, which is normal; the early puzzles are often laughably easy, the last puzzles can be really difficult, almost impossible even. The blocky creations are a treat to watch, and despite the very abstract style you can always tell what each thing is – though sometimes, even with the puzzle almost completed, you need the colors to appear on the blocks before you can tell what a puzzle turns out to be. There’s a very wide selection of themes, and if you don’t find what you want in the 300+ puzzles of the normal game, you can just make it yourself in the Creation Mode.

However, the bigger the puzzle the longer it will be to solve, so on the final difficulty you can spend anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes solving puzzles – and that’s if you can quickly make the logical connections between the clues. Some puzzles are still so difficult that you can need 40, 50 minutes… This is not the game to pick up if you want something that is done fast. Also of note, as much as I enjoy the concept, the button configuration can be a little troublesome, as you need to keep a thumb on Up or Right on the directional pad as you tap on the screen, and sometimes that finger has to stay there for a while. It’s nitpicking, but now that I’m playing on a Nintendo 3DS (and I largely prefer the D-pad to the Circle Pad), it’s a bit of a problem. Also, the game says you can use the L and R buttons, but for some reason this wasn’t working for me.

The removal of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection really took out a lot of fun features. Thankfully, a sequel was made for the Nintendo 3DS, titled Rittai Picross 2 in Japan, came out in October 2015. I suggest that you look for it.

Another issue I have with the game, a more important one, is about the harder puzzles in this collection. One of the key elements of Picross is that nothing is supposed to be left to chance. The clues are precise, and the combination of black squares and empty squares (marked to make sure you don’t paint them black later accidentally) makes it so that you never have to “guess”. The puzzle can be as hard as can be, but in the end there is always a way to find the answer despite the difficulty. Some puzzles in Picross 3D, however, can be very tricky. They don’t exactly leave things to chance, but sometimes it feels as though the harder puzzles lack a few clues that would allow you to complete them without having to guess. As an example, imagine a row of 5 blocks, which indicates a 2 in a circle (thus two blocks of 1, separated by at least 1 white [broken] block), and neither the clues in the perpendicular rows or in the columns above help in any way, even when you’re close to completing the puzzle. It’s like there’s that little thing missing. Some other Picross games, such as Pokémon Picross, give “special abilities” in order to help the player when in a tight spot like this, but Picross 3D offers no such thing.

Last but not least, the “Minimum time” required for some of the later puzzles is almost ridiculous in how short it is. Solving a large puzzle in 10 minutes? It’s possible, but sometimes you practically need to know the final cube construct right down to the detail in order to make that work. And even with that, it’s not always simple. And so you even need to be ridiculously quick in order to get those last lousy stars required to beat the game.

Oh, also I don’t really like Cube Thing, but you could probably have guessed that.

Okay, that’s all I had to say about this one! What’s awaiting next week? Ah yes, a review of a Wii game, once again! I hope I’m gonna find something fun to review.