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January 27, 2017

Pokémon Picross

Second in this two-part article about the Nintendo 3DS Pokémon free-to-play games. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Will you ever get a better picture? Nope!
It's like she doesn't want you to see her in HD.
Meet Professor Tetra. While the Elms, Birchs, Junipers, Sycamores and Kukuis of the world were seriously studying to become Professors (under the no-less-famous Oaks and Rowans as teachers), Tetra was in her corner playing paper picture puzzles instead of learning. Quite the addicted to nonograms, that woman. I explained in my review of Picross 3D how the logic game Picross works, so I won’t explain it again. Check that review to find out. Now, apply that 2D concept to Pokémon, just by having grids anywhere from 5X5 to 20X15 to fill. Most grids in the game are 10X10, though. 5X5 is reserved to Tutorials, 15X15 is for particularly strong Pokémon (and some Mega Evolutions), while all Legendary Pokémon (and some very special Pokémon and some Mega Evolutions) are in 20X15 grids.

Professor Tetra will explain to you how to play Nonograms in the first couple levels, showing the kind of logical series of deductions that can be used to uncover a picture in an empty grid by using the clues on top and on the side. The first levels are very simple, then you’re thrown into the main game.

The first levels show items rather than Pokémon species,
to get you used to how Picross puzzles function.

But, you’ll ask me, this is not a Match 3 type of game! How did they make a free-to-play game out of this? To which I reply, simple! With an Energy system that depletes by 1 each time you fill in a black square. Most small (10X10) levels have 30 to 70 black squares in them (the grid’s value is helpfully indicated when you select it), so even with your starting bank of 100 Energy, you should be able to complete at least one puzzle each time. However, things are getting better, as Tetra will provide you with enough of the game’s currency, Picrites, so that you can extend your Energy bar by another 100. Later you can expand it to 300, 400, and a final, very expensive upgrade makes it infinite. Before that final upgrade, you retrieve one Energy per minute (taking effectively 6 hours 20 minutes to heal back all Energy if you empty the 400-Energy bar).

I see somebody paid dear money to make their energy bar infinite...
and to get maximum Picrites... Poor soul, you wasted cash.

Oh yeah, Picrites are the thing you’ll pay real, dear money for. They basically look like blue cubes. Hey, finally a currency you can build things out of! Wonder if that’s what money is like in the Minecraft world? Much like coins and gems in Pokémon Shuffle, they are used for a number of things, mostly to try and help you on your quest to paint ‘em all. Fill back your energy gauge? You gotta pay. Upgrade the gauge? You gotta pay. Open a new slot in your team? You gotta pay. Unlock a new zone? You gotta pay! Get the Mega Pencil? You gotta fucking pay! That’s the nastiest part about this game, you cannot progress without paying, as every next zone is blocked until you fork over the required amount of Picrites. To go from Zone 13 to Zone 15: 170 Picrites. To go from Zone 20 to Zone 22: 210 Picrites!

It is actually possible to earn Picrites in the game, by yourself, but as with any other free-to-play game, getting enough of that currency to be able to progress will be done at a snail’s pace. How to earn Picrites for free here?
When I think of daily training, I think of things that
do not really involve a Nintendo 3DS.
-By playing once, every day, through Tetra’s Daily Training. It’s in multiple 7X7 grids, so it’s pretty quick and all you need to do is fill the grids as fast as possible. They don’t contain pictures, they’re just meant to test your deduction speed. You get a set number of Picrites if you complete the Training, with a few more if you managed to complete them under a set amount of time. You can level up in that section to increase the number of Picrites earned. Even if you fare well, that’s still only gonna give you 15 Picrites at most. Which means you’ll be grinding for more than 10 days to get the 170 Picrites to unlock Zone 15. Or grind Picrites for a few more days to have enough for Zone 22. Oh, and to get 15 Picrites on one day, you must beat Daily Training at Level 10 AND beat all five stages under two minutes, which is very hard; you will usually gain only 10 Picrites…
The objectives - also, objectively, the slowest way
to gather Picrites.
-The other way to gain Picrites is to complete objectives in any level. Every grid in the game has three little quests as well as a fourth one, which always goes “get all other three quests done at the same time while you fill the grid”. You usually get one Picrite for any of the original missions, and 3 Picrites for the “complete all objectives at once” quest… meaning that even with some luck, you’ll at most get 6 Picrites out of any level beaten. You cannot re-earn those Picrites, by the way. You got them, they’re gone. No farming for them. That’s, of course, when the game isn’t giving you a different reward, like mural pieces…
-The last way to get free Picrites is to get every Achievement in the game, which nets a medal and three Picrites each – unfortunately, not nearly enough to get anywhere. Also, most achievements are kept secret… Plus, too many achievements cannot be done until you're way far ahead into the game.

Thanks for outright telling me your scam, game.
But of course, there’s the Picrites store, which will give you 200 or 800 Picrites for a decreased price the first time you buy anything there, then everything else will be at normal price. There is a silver lining, though; as soon as you’ve bought 5000 Picrites in the Store, you’ll never have to pay ever again to get Picrites there. And hey, lookit that, 5000 Picrites cost about 40 dollars USD… AKA, the price of a full game. See what they did there? You’ll never have to pay for anything in the game ever if you pay the game’s full price. Until then, get this relatively-free game with microtransactions required to get anywhere fast… That’s some sneaky stuff right there.

Alright, now that I have discussed the most annoying part of the game (the microtransactions), now I can discuss everything else. Much like Pokémon Shuffle, no Pokémon is dual-typed here, instead having a single type and the ability that goes with it. Instead of having a plethora of different abilities here, we only have 12, but they’re all related to grid-filling (obviously; do you really think any Pokémon in this game would help you gain more Picrites? If you want a Meowth with Pay Day, play the goddamn main series games). Each one of the 18 types has its ability, though some types share abilities. Here’s a breakdown of the different abilities in the game.
-Blue Force: The Water- and Ice-type Pokémon will reveal, for a certain time, which clues you’re currently able to fill in. This takes into account all filled squares.
-Filling abilities: This will fill some squares in the grid, marking all squares in the area as filled, or as empty. This helps a lot if you’re stuck. There are many ways to fill the grid, whether it’s vertical lines (Normal-types), horizontal lines (Rock- and Ground-types), a cross (Fire-types), a square (Dragon-types), a diamond (Fairy-types), or filling any number of squares at random (Dark- and Poison-types).
-Auto-correct: These two are able to detect when you make a mistake and correct it. There’s a certain number of mistakes that can be corrected this way before the ability runs out. Steel-type Pokémon can correct both, filling a square you put an X in, or putting an X in a square you filled. Grass-type Pokémon can only correct and fill squares you erroneously put an X in.
-Hyper Scanner: Used by Flying-, Fighting- and Bug-type Pokémon, this ability, when triggered, will check all the squares that have been filled so far and instantly correct as many mistakes it can find as possible.
-Chrono powers: Using these, you can slow down the timer (with Electric-types) for the whole duration of the level, or stop it completely for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes (with Ghost-types). Perfect when you are trying to beat a level under a certain amount of time to receive a Picrite.

A 20X15 grid - feel free to print it to play!
I should also mention that each Pokémon you catch, through completing their Picross level, has a Picross size setting. That Pokémon cannot act in a level larger than the one they came from. As an example, if you’re about to play a 15X15 grid, you’re not allowed to include any Pokémon that came from 10X10 grids. Same goes for 15X15 Pokémon that can’t be used in 20X15 grids. However, you can use Pokémon from larger grids on smaller grids; you can make a team of Legendary Pokémon (all 20X15) and use them for a 10X10 grid if you want.

Also of note, Mega Evolutions are in this game, although they’re their own level separate from the regular Pokémon. Mega Evolutions are usually in bigger grids than the Pokémon they’re from, they also have better abilities when used to help in other grids – and also, you can’t have both a Pokémon and its Mega form in a team. All in all, they’re very useful. There’s only one problem; to play a Mega Evolution’s stage, you need the Mega Pencil. That’ll be 500 Picrites, thank you very much. More spending, or more grinding, either way, this sucks. Hm, wonder what Tetra does with all the money you send to her for Picrites? Maybe she pays a team of researchers to do her work in her place since she spends more time playing paper logic puzzles than working as a Professor?

Mega evolutions in Pokémon Picross are a lot less annoying
than in Pokémon Shuffle, that's for damn sure.

Granted, those are pretty impressive.
I would hate to have to solve them if they weren't split
in 10X10 grids, though...
I believe I also mentioned mural pieces. Some levels will give mural pieces when their objectives are completed; these are added to two murals, available from the main menu. Each mural contains 64 pieces, for a total of 128. One depicts Primal Groudon, the other has Primal Kyogre. Much like how the two were the mascots of the then latest titles, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Hm, I wonder if Pokémon Picross will update to include levels based on the new Pokémon of Gen 7, including Alolan forms? I haven’t yet managed to complete either mural, but apparently they offer nothing but a little additional challenge (and a few Picrites from the Achievements section). Also they count the cumulative time you took to complete all 64 tiles on a mural, so… try to get a better time in the end? I dunno. Meh.

What else can you do in this game anyway? I mentioned the 100 Achievements. They can be accessed from the bottom menu. Some of them are the inevitable progression stuff (unlock X areas, catch X Pokémon, complete X objectives, use an ability X times), while some others are more complex. In particular, the last missions all require very precise teams, usually following a theme or gimmick. Good luck ever finding about them outside of using the handy Bulbapedia page… which I have, right here, how convenient.

Most of the medals that require very precise teams.
Entirely too many, but hey, what do I know.

There are 4 levels that must be unlocked with passcodes. The passcodes differ from region to region, and feature some special Pokémon (Ash-Greninja, Mew, and Zygarde, both 10% and Complete forms). There are some Mythical Pokémon that will only appear on some stages, at certain times, for a certain period of time. So if you miss them, you have to wait again. And as luck would have it, Tetra has a knack for finding out about those Pokémon… when they’re in the very NEXT area that you have yet to unlock! Y'know, the next area that requires a crazy number of Picrites before you can set foot there! I swear, this feels more and more like a scam to get you to pay for more Picrites. Hell, even if you did hurry to unlock the next area in the game, you still need to get to the damn Pokémon before it vanishes, and that means completing every level leading to it! Which may not be possible if you only have 400 Energy! Augh!

In other words, patience can save you some money.
On the team-building screen, you can pick your favorite Pokémon and Favorite them, with a Heart symbol, which is neat. You can also heal some Pokémon that have been used recently (because yes, every Pokémon has a timer that starts after it’s used in a level, and cannot be used until that timer ends… except if you have 3 Picrites to heal it quickly, of course… I swear, even the mafia isn’t that persistent in demanding money from you!). Last but not least, you can even make a randomized team.

The final feature of the game is the Alternate Mode, which uses different rules from the usual Picross stage (with some clues being merged together weirdly). Every single stage of the main game can be replayed here… all you need is 300 Picrites to unlock that mode, after you’ve completed the tutorial stages. Yep, more paying. I don’t recommend it, because I believe that this Alternate way to do Picross puzzles is utter crap, so I won’t pay more attention to it. But yeah… that’s everything in the game.

This is not my pretty paper puzzle, this is not my beautiful
Pîcross game!

Zygarde 10%
I’d like to like it. But this thing wants my goddamn money, and it shows. Oh, sure, it’ll want at most 40 bucks, but if I had that kind of money on me, I would probably spend it on more important things. The music and graphics are fine - on this, I should mention that most Picross stages represent really well the Pokémon they’re supposed to be, and you can sometimes tell before the stage is finished which Pokémon it is. The colored Picross stages, used as avatars on the team-building screen, also look pretty good.

I like the general concept and the gameplay is great, but then again, I am a Picross fan, so I shouldn’t be surprised. (Alright, I don’t like the Alternate mode, but that’s alright, I can’t even pay for it.) Hell, I like this one more than Pokémon Shuffle. But once again, we have a barrier, and it’s all around the money. I think this review has highlighted just how often you need to fork over some money – and to the game’s credit, unlike Pokémon Shuffle, it basically stops costing anything after you’ve spent approximately 40 bucks. Unfortunately, it constantly pesters you to buy Picrites if you want to get anywhere, especially when it comes to unlocking zones halfway into the game. And grinding those Picrites by yourself? Good luck, you’ll unlock about what, one zone every week? Or one every two or three weeks? And that’s if you don’t stop being interested in the game because of how long it takes to get anything done without paying!

The game ends up feeling like a debt collector. “"Alright, you've had your fun, but if you wanna go any further, either you work your butt off, or you give me my money.” "Come on, gimme my money." "C'm'on. I know you got some. Don't worry, once you give me the 40 bucks you owe me, I'mma cut you some slack. Alright, fork it over."

I mean, it’s definitely not a bad game, I would gladly play it – but this really sinks it down. Either way, this is all I had to say about Pokémon Picross. I am finally done with both free-to-play Pokémon games. Both ones available on the Nintendo 3DS, of course. If there are any Pokémon free-to-play games on mobile that I’m forgetting, I don’t care.