Puzzle games are right at home on Nintendo’s Dual Screen portable; it already offers Polarium, Puzzle Quest, and two versions of Meteos. But that didn’t stop me from firing up my GameCube with attached Game Boy Player and playing a few rounds of Mario’s Picross, one of the best puzzlers out there. Now you can essentially play it anywhere with the release of Picross DS. The basics are still there, there are plenty of puzzles, and if ever a game begged to use the touch screen it’s this one.
For those of you that don’t know, here’s a quick rundown of how Picross works. You’re presented with a grid of boxes, from 5×5 to 20×25. Each row and column has a string of numbers attached to it detailing how the squares can be filled in to create a picture. Each number represents a chain of filled boxes, separated by at least one space. You must use logic to determine where the boxes go in the grid. The concept is amazingly simple, but that doesn’t mean that the puzzles don’t get difficult. It’s not uncommon to spend 30 minutes or more on a complicated puzzle. Thankfully, you can save at any point and come back to your puzzle at a later time from exactly where you left off.
Picross DS is a simple game with a clean design. It features simple themed levels, from letters of the alphabet to safari animals to flowers to bugs. But the lack of brilliant graphics doesn’t harm the game. Once the concept has clicked it could have been in black-and-white and still be amazingly entertaining, as originally proved by Mario’s Picross. The music, however, is repetitive and generally forgettable. I honestly find that the game is more enjoyable with it off.
Picross DS has two control schemes, stylus and d-pad. The stylus controls are well-suited to the DS’s touchscreen. Hold down the B button and you’ll cross squares out – denoting that they do not need to be filled in, and hold down the X button and you’ll fill squares in. The A and Y buttons zoom in and out — essential for large puzzles. The stylus controls are elegant in their simplicity and they get the job done wonderfully. If you’d rather use the directional pad, though, you have the option. Instead of holding a button and tapping the screen, you’ll move the cursor and press the same buttons to solve the puzzles. The d-pad scheme works as advertised, but the zooming ability of the touch controls is very nice and worth using.
My favorite feature of Picross DS is the WiFi, and Nintendo has also gone the extra mile and is providing us with more Picross puzzles available for download. There is no better way to give a puzzle game longevity than to toss me new levels for free (something other puzzle games should be doing, but often don’t). Picross DS also includes a tracked mode called Daily Picross that is full of training-type games. If your Picross skills aren’t quite up to par and you’re having trouble with Free Play Mode then Daily Picross will help you hone your box-coloring logic skills. And anybody that has played Picross has – at some point- broken out the graph paper and tried to make their own. Now you don’t need graph paper, a copy machine, and stamps to share your personal Picross creations with your friends. Picross DS’s puzzle creation mode is adequate (and the automatic generation of number on the columns and rows is wonderful), and what really pushes it into “great mode” territory is the fact that puzzles can be shared via the Nintendo WiFi connection.
Picross DS is a joy to play and a perfect fit for Nintendo’s touch-centric handheld. If you’ve found yourself addicted to crossword puzzles, Kakuro, or Sudoku, then you owe it to yourself to try Picross DS – especially since it’s a budget title. I don’t remember the last time I’ve played a $20 DS game for this long.