The Picross series has been around since the days of the original Game Boy, but has kept its appearances sparse. Picross 3D was one of the best puzzle games on the DS, and it still took its sequel more than six years to come out. Still, this is one of the most anticipated puzzle games of the year. Can it reach the lofty heights of its forebear?
While Picross 3D was rife with modes and features, Round 2 keeps it more straightforward. You have only the basic puzzle mode. In this mode, you’ll unlock puzzles in groups of five or more and attempt to solve them with a high score. The scores you get progress you toward unlocking even more puzzles. This process continues until you’ve done just about three hundred puzzles. Beyond that, there’s some basic control options. This is something of a disappointment considering the previous game had online features, a mode that would pick a random puzzle for you, and mode that let you create your own puzzles. As we’ll see though, Round 2 makes up for the seeming lack of content in other ways.
Presentation has never been the franchise’s strong suit. These puzzles started out as pen and paper after all. This game uses simple white cubes with colored numbers for its puzzles. Beyond that are various static backgrounds and the menus. There’s not much in the way of animations either. You get a nifty bit of blocks breaking as you remove unwanted cubes, but that’s about it. This game doesn’t even include the shapes moving around after you’ve completed each puzzle like the last game did. For sound, it’s some jazzy tunes that loop and the basic sound effect suite we’ve come to expect. The music is fairly catchy, but you’ll have heard more than enough before long. It should also be noted the game doesn’t make use of the 3D tech much at all. The puzzle is on the bottom screen after all.
The big change for this entry is in the core gameplay. In old Picross games, you would break away blocks to create a shape. In this game, you’re not only breaking blocks, but you’re also painting the remaining blocks one of two colors. The puzzle isn’t complete until each block is either destroyed or painted the right color.
When you start a basic puzzle, you’ll have a group of white cubes with various numbers on them. The numbers refer to each corresponding row or column. For example, a column of cubes with “2” on them means two of the cubes in said column are part of the picture. If there are only two cubes in the column, they both are part of the picture. Either way, the two cubes must be connected. You might see numbers with circles or squares around them. A circle means that the cubes are split into two groups. A circled three, for example, means there is a group of two connected cubes separated from one other unconnected cube. A circled four means you could have two groups of two or a group each of one and three. Squared numbers can be split into three or more groups. To the untrained, these numbers are difficult to decipher. The game comes equipped with a decent progressive tutorial system to get people acquainted.
Each block that makes up the shape you’re trying to uncover must now be painted blue or orange. Blue cubes will end up being just that. Orange cubes, however, will not stay that way. They will become the rounded or partial shapes that help create a better image. For example, if the overall shape is a bus, a group of orange blocks can make up the tires, and have them be circular instead of made up of squares. This allows the final shape to look much better at the end. It also makes the puzzles that much more difficult. You tell what colors are in what row/columns by simply looking at the numbers. A row with an orange number means you’ll only have orange blocks in that row. You might end up seeing both colors on one row. Painting a block the wrong color counts as a mistake just the same as breaking the wrong block. It becomes a careful consideration. You can choose to highlight blocks as you play. This allows you basically keep notes as to what color a block can be. So if you know a row contains only orange blocks, you can highlight them all orange until you figure out which specific ones you need to paint. This will also make cross referencing rows and columns easier. If a block is in a orange row and a blue column, for example, that means you can safely break it since it can’t legally be painted one or the other.
The game controls using the stylus, d-pad, and the left shoulder button. The stylus can rotate the puzzle, slice into the inner sections of the puzzle to let you focus on them, and either paint, highlight, or break blocks based on what button you press. The d-pad and left shoulder button represent the five different actions you can take. You can paint orange, paint blue, highlight with orange, highlight with blue, or break blocks. The configuration as to which button does what is pretty much up to you. However, the small d-pad on the system makes bumping the wrong button too easy. If you’re playing with any sort of speed, you’re bound to make mistakes.
The new mechanics make the puzzles much more complex and interesting to complete. Because of the rounded shapes, you’ll be able to make out the hidden shape more easily, and it might help you solve puzzles as a result. Because of overall higher difficulty, the scoring system is a bit more lax. You are not on a timer, nor can you fail a puzzle for getting too many mistakes. Instead, fast and accurate play is rewarded by a higher score, which allows you to unlock more puzzles more quickly.
There are three hundred puzzles in the game for you to complete, and they easily start to average over ten minutes before long. Depending on your skill, the game can last between forty to fifty hours before you’ve done it all. That’s more than enough content for a puzzle game. It definitely softens the blow for the lack of modes. There is some variety in puzzles however. There are some where you’ll have to break blocks to earn extra time, some where you aren’t allowed a single mistake, and some that form together to create one big image. A bit more of these would have been appreciated, but they do break things up as you play.
Short Attention Span Summary
Picross 3D : Round 2 ditches the extra modes of its predecessor for more complex puzzles. Depending on what kind of puzzle gamer you are, this will either sell you the game or keep you off it. The puzzles are definitely more difficult this time around, and it only gets more devious as you go. Even with only one mode, the game can last dozens of hours. The challenge level and the overall value make this one of the best puzzle games of the year, but it still feels like it could have been just a tad better.