One of the things we've consistently heard from Nintendo about their incoming mobile games is that they're designed to put their beloved IP in front of a wide audience that may not have interacted with those brands before. Typically, people have imagined that we'll see adaptations of Nintendo's big character games for mobile devices. However, recently Nintendo's also been experimenting with free-to-start games on their dedicated gaming platforms. One of those games is Pokémon Picross.
Pokémon Picross is a perfect example of how Nintendo could present their IP to a new audience using an experience that's not only excellently suited for mobile devices, but also able to represent their IP in a way that's uniquely Nintendo (and it's actually a pretty fun game, to boot).
As Simple as a Picture
Pokémon Picross has an insanely simple premise: given a gridded panel and a series of number clues indicating which squares are to be filled and which are to be left alone, use logic to fill in a complete picture. If you're a fan of puzzle games, it's kind of like a cross between Sudoku and Minesweeper—except considerably more accessible than either, both in terms of the logic involved and in terms of what you're building up to as the final puzzle solution.
Each row and column in Pokémon Picross is assigned a hint—a number or series of numbers that tells you how many squares will be filled. If you see just one number 4, for example, that means four consecutive squares in the corresponding row must be filled. If you see more than one number, that means there's a space between each bloc of squares—for a 3 and a 2, you'll need to add at least one blank square between a group of 3 and a group of 2 filled ones. The goal of the game is to logically deduce which squares you can begin to fill, based on a number of potential patterns:
- Rows/columns you can determine the solution for immediately—for example, if all the squares in that row/column will be covered by the hint (e.g., a row that's 10 squares long with a 5-4 hint can be instantly filled: a 5-square bloc followed by a space followed by a 4-square bloc)
- Rows/columns for which there are some squares that must be filled based on the hint—for example, if each possible solution for the row/column leaves specific squares covered (e.g., a 6 hint will always leave both middle squares filled in a row that's 10 squares long)
- Squares that can be filled by coordinating between intersecting rows/columns—for example, if you complete a row that places a filled square in the intersecting column, at least one of your hints will point to the filled square, letting you deduce the possible positions of other squares to be filled
As you fill in more squares, you can often start to see the final picture come together, which helps you quickly fill in the remaining squares (or discover where you messed up, if you make a mistake). The result? An adorable pixel-art image of one of the hundreds of Pokémon.
t's an incredibly simple game, which means it's easy to jump into a puzzle or five, take some time to finish them, and set the game down. The game isn't designed around extended play—the F2P elements limit the number of squares you'll have the ability to fill within a given session, with a cooldown in between sessions. To be honest, there are times when I could have kept playing even when the game restricted it, but I never felt as though I hadn't gotten enough yet. I think it's accommodating enough to let you squeeze in a few puzzles during downtime—which is exactly the way this game is meant to be played.
Picross isn't exactly a new series for Nintendo—Mario's Picross was first introduced for the original Game Boy in 1995—but because the Pokémon series has so many unique and colorful characters, Pokémon Picross is the first entry in the series that really flexes the franchise's ability to showcase Nintendo's beloved characters. There are more than 300 puzzles, each depicting one of hundreds of Pokémon, which means there's pretty broad representation. And the pictures themselves are quite nice, using vibrant colors to really bring the otherwise black-and-white puzzle panels to life.
And because the game's premise of filling in squares on a grid inherently means the final picture will be pixelated, the way these characters are represented just screams Nintendo. We've already seen almost all of Nintendo's major characters brought into the 8-bit universe through Super Mario Maker; now imagine them being put in front of people who have never played a Nintendo game before through a Nintendo-branded puzzle game on mobile.
Pokémon Picross doesn't just use the characters as window dressing, however. Each Pokémon you "catch" by completing its puzzle adds to a team that you can customize for each puzzle, applying the unique abilities of each Pokémon to add bonuses and extra hints as you play through the puzzles. If you're struggling, you can summon a Fire-type to burn in the solution to a segment of the puzzle, which could give you enough information to finish the rest. Or you can use a Water-type to reveal which rows/columns have squares that can currently be solved, telling you where to focus your mental energy.
If you think that's cheating, the game's found another way to entice you to use the support Pokémon: extra challenges. Each puzzle comes with a series of extra mission objectives, such as completing the puzzle within a certain time limit, using a particular ability, or stocking your party with only a certain type of Pokémon. Some of these time limits can get pretty brutal in the later stages, so unless you're prodigy-tier, you may need to use a quick-reveal ability to finish some of the puzzles within the paltry one-minute limit. These challenges reward you with Picrites, the in-game currency that you need to unlock each new set of puzzles, so it's important that you focus on gathering Picrites in addition to solving puzzles (you can also purchase Picrites through microtransactions).
Definitely save your Picrites for the puzzle-related stuff, though. I made the mistake of buying up six slots for my team, which meant I had to do a lot of extra legwork to unlock some of the later rounds of puzzles that I wouldn't have had to do had I just saved them. As a good rule of thumb, don't start buying extra team slots until puzzle challenges specifically demand them. You can check challenges before you start a puzzle by pressing the X button. The fact that the game doesn't explicitly tell you how to wisely spend Picrites is definitely a ding on their implementation, but it shouldn't keep you from experiencing everything the game has to offer.
A Fantastic Template for Nintendo's Mobile Strategy
Pokémon Picross may be a 3DS game, but it has all the trappings of a potential mobile title: it's free to start, easy to pick up and play (but difficult to master, in line with Nintendo's forte), and monstrously addictive. If you're a fan of other puzzle games like Sudoku and Minesweeper, this title should be right up your alley. If you're not, but you love all things Pokémon and want a quick and fun time-killer, its premise is simple and approachable enough that it might hook you the way other puzzle games haven't.
Best of all, it shows that Nintendo doesn't have to compromise its core value of "gameplay first" to deliver titles that will work well on mobile. Picross is a newer version of an old Nintendo classic; it's not just a carbon copy of other mobile puzzle games, with an IP-flavored twist tacked on (I'm looking at you, Pokémon Shuffle). Seeing Picross rise to prominence again on the eve of Nintendo's first big step into the mobile world gives me hope that Nintendo's ready to make the leap, and give people lightweight mobile game experiences that are worthy of their beloved characters.
Disclosure: Nintendo provided eShop credit to purchase additional Picrites to support this review.