By now, most of us are probably familiar with the concept of Picross, mostly thanks to Jupiter’s title Mario’s Picross back in 1995 for the Game Boy. Since the release of the Nintendo 3DS, there have been eight Picross titles released, two of them exclusive to Club Nintendo Japan. It is no surprise that they are also behind Pokémon Picross, the most recent free-to-start title for Nintendo’s handheld.
For those new to the genre, Picross puzzles are logic puzzles where you use numbers as clues in order to draw a picture in a grid. These numbers are placed along the top and left edges of the grid and you need to determine which squares must be filled or not. Once you fill all the correct squares the puzzle is complete, making you a winner of the stage. During your adventure you will find grids of different size depending of the difficulty, but most of them oscillate between 10×10 and 15×15.
As you may guessed already, in Pokémon Picross the pictures you are going to draw in the stages are Pokémon and by winning the stage, you capture the Pokémon for your collection. Each Pokémon has a skill that can be used during the level that will make the puzzles easier, like revealing a group of squares, fixing a mistake, slowing down the timer, or giving you a hint. There are some limitations you should consider: each time you draw a square it will reduce the energy gauge while using a skill will tire your Pokémon. The only way to recover the gauge is by waiting or using the game’s currency.
Each stage also has different challenges that will give you Picrites (the game’s currency) or murals. The latter will allow you to play one of the Primal stages, which are two huge puzzles divided in 64 stages each. Unlike the rest of the game, the Primal stages won’t let you use Pokémon nor have special rules being reminiscent of normal Picross titles. Lastly, there is a mode called Alternative World, which is locked from start. This mode offers more challenging levels with a twist in the Picross formula: they are mega numbers that span two rows alongside another new few rules.
As a free-to-start game, it is not a surprise to find a game currency that can be bought with real money. With that said, there are only two ways to win Picrites for free: by completing the stage’s challenges or by playing a daily training session. If you want more, you must open your wallet, and you can see the game’s pricing here.
The pricing for the energy gauge or recovering Pokémon after using a skill is not bad at all, mostly considering you can just wait in order to continue. The same goes for the additional modes, and while the cost for playing Mega Evolution levels is quite high, the Alternative World mode has a considerable price considering the extra content. However, there is a pay wall in Pokémon Picross that forces you to pay Picrites in order to access the next area. Since they usually cost more than the amount you can get in the area you are, you will eventually get short on Picrites, blocking you of making further progress. Since waiting isn’t an option to access the next area, you will have to wait a couple of days (even a week) before continuing your adventure, breaking the flow of the game unless you decide to pay. If you decide to pay to continue they is at least some good news: after buying 5000 Picrites, which is around $32, you will have an unlimited amount of Picrites allowing you to have access to most of the game. The rest of the game’s content that you don’t have access right away are special stages that will appear for limited time or are locked with a password.
Despite the fact that I dislike how Nintendo tries to force you to pay in order to continue later in the game, or by just unlocking new elements, my bigger gripe is the lack of an online save. While I liked that I wasn’t forced to play online, I started to suspect the worst when I noticed it was possible to do save backups (which isn’t possible in the previous Pokémon free-to-start games). When I downloaded the game in another SD card just to verify, I didn’t just lose the progress I had but also the purchases I made. I was actually shocked to see this flaw in this type of game, mostly because if I tried to delete and re-download the game from my SD card, I would have lost over $10 because of this.
In terms of presentation, Pokémon Picross goes for a simple design and accessible interface. There is nothing to praise about the graphics nor the audio department, however a little more of variation in the music would be nice. It is worth mentioning that you can save a screenshot of the puzzle you finished including the timer, and that there is no 3D effect.
Pokémon Picross is just a nice offering for the 3DS, and with the questionable tactics to make people buy Picrites, this is just a retail game hidden in micro-transactions. You will have fun playing it, but the constant needing to use Picrites to unlock new areas and features will often stop the gameplay flow, even if you are still able to play older levels.
If you love Picross but don’t want to spend over $32 for the full experience, check the Picross e series which are from the same developer. Each of the six titles cost $5.99, and you will have a bigger and better experience for around the same price.