Dealspwn Rating: 8/10
Developer: HAL Lab
If the number of times you recharge your DS while playing is an indication of a game’s quality, then Picross 3D is a borderline classic.
For me, a single charge can generally last a working week, covering the occasional commute or, ahem, daily visits to the smallest room. Since Picross 3D arrived, I’m charging on a daily basis.
It’s not that it’s graphically superior to everything on the market. It’s not that it’s dazzling in its originality: indeed, it’s basically Minesweeper in three dimensions. It’s just that it’s as addictive as addictive can be, occasionally sweetly funny and fiendishly challenging.
The premise is brilliantly simple. There’s a quote sculpting an elephant being easy: you start with a block of material and remove the bits that don’t look like an elephant. That’s pretty much what you’re doing here. You start with a large block made up of smaller blocks. Some of these have numbers on them. The numbers represent how many bricks in that row or column need to remain in order to reveal the hidden object within. Your task is to work out, in a Minesweeper-y fashion, which bricks you can blow up and which you need to block off.
I recently reviewed a DS crossword / wordsearch / anagram for a national paper. I scored it 3/5 because it wasn’t great but it also wasn’t bad and did what it did to a decent and occasionally challenging level. In doing so, I incurred the wrath of one reader for apparently supporting this sort of conventional puzzler. Too many games like that, he argued, was the reason he got rid of his DS. Fair enough, he’s got a point: the range of games on the DS has been a little disappointing for anyone over the age of 11. However, a game like Picross makes you forget all the fashion designer / puppy grooming / cat tending titles. It could also only exist on the DS. So sorry, Mr Grumpy, but this is really your loss.
The stylus comes into its own with this title. After a (lengthy) tutorial level to explain the concept, how the numbers work, etc., you’ll find the controls natural and instinctive. You can flip the block around in three dimensions. Press up on the control pad, tap a brick and it blows up. Press right on the control pad and tap a brick, and you lock it in place. Larger puzzles will require you to dissect the large block layer by layer, and you can slice it into it at will with the simple onscreen controls.
Like Sudoku, you have to take things piece by piece, and revisit each layer as you remove or lock bricks. The only catch is that your powers of logic and deduction are under the pressure of the clock. Complete the challenge within the time scale and with no mistakes, and you’ll score up to three stars. Gain enough stars in a round – eight puzzles – and you’ll get a couple of extra challenges to complete, such as pure time challenges, or rounds where a single mistake will end the game.
Now here’ s the impressive thing. At the point of writing, I’m 99 puzzles into the game - there are some 350 in total (plus a function where you can create your own and swap them with friends and family). The current batch is getting the little grey cells well and truly flexed (albeit along a very well thought out learning curve) and I’m regularly blowing the time limit or making incorrect jumps in logic. And I’m still in the “Easy” level: Normal and Hard remain to be unlocked.
Now I’m no Stephen Hawking but, while I don’t like to get all braggy, I could have joined MENSA last time I had my IQ tested and I’ve been known to polish off The Times or Observer crosswords in 30 minutes or less. And I’m being beaten by a DS game?!
If that sounds little off-putting, don’t let it be. This is a really well put together, challenging title with a spot-on learning curve. It can take a few goes but when the penny drops, it really drops and, like the Brain Training titles, you can virtually feel your IQ growing by the hour.
- A classically challenging puzzler that rewards repeated play
- Great learning curve
- Easy to pick up, virtually impossible to put down
- If you’re not into puzzlers, this won’t be the Professor Layton-esque break-out title that convinces you otherwise.
- Occasionally cutesy animations
- Er, that’s about it.
The Short Version: If you like this sort of game, and have reached saturation point with Brain Training, expect to be scratching your head in a delightfully frustrating way during your morning commute / ablutions. Picross 3D is more proof that gameplay will trump graphics everytime. Simple, addictive and brilliantly challenging, like I said above, it’s a borderline classic.