As many of us have seen in recent years, Nintendo is a company that deals a good line in fan service. Nintendo has produced everything from the recent abundance of anniversary titles, collector's books, cards, and pretty much anything else in the hope that fans can supplement their game collections and help celebrate their favorite characters.
One new addition to the Japanese Club Nintendo original goods, called Club Nintendo Picross, is essentially nothing but pure fan service. For a mere 80 Club Nintendo points, members can purchase a code that they can use on the 3DS eShop, which will then download to their 3DS consoles just like a normal download title.
After playing the game for a few hours, I can confidently say that it is just that: a fully realized game that serves the dual purpose of being both a fun puzzle game and a nice bit of nostalgia for Nintendo fans. Nintendo really could have just produced a shoddy title without much care or attention but in this case, they do deliver.
Since there are already many Picross titles, many of you will be familiar with how these titles work. For those not initiated, the general idea is quite simple. Picross has players solving a puzzle across a grid, with most of those in Club Nintendo Picross are set across 10x10 or 15x15. Numbers shown on the outside of the grid serve as hints telling players how many of the blocks to fill in specific rows and columns, with the end goal being to uncover a picture.
Being a fan-service game, all of the pictures in this title are characters or items from Nintendo games past and present, and surprisingly, many of the solutions to the pictures won't be evident to the player until the very end of the puzzle. The designers clearly worked hard to make the solutions as tricky as possible, though once the puzzle is solved it will be quite hard to unsee the image on replaying the same puzzle later on.
Once a puzzle is complete, the image fills in to reveal full color, rather than the monochrome style that appears during puzzle play. If you make too many mistakes or fail to solve a puzzle within the time limit, the revealed image will be shown in dull monochrome until it is solved again in a more convincing fashion.
To aid players in puzzle solving, several tools are made available, including an auto-check tool which lets players know if they have an entire row correct or not, a navigation tool with lets them know if a mistake has been made, and a Hint Roulette, which fills in a random column/row combination at the start of the puzzle. There are, of course, puzzles in each section which don't allow the use of these tools, forcing players to rely solely on their puzzle-solving abilities.
There are several types of puzzles to solve in the Easy and Normal modes. The entire Easy Mode can be cleared in just 15-20 minutes, and mainly serves as a tutorial to the game, while most players will be occupied with Normal mode for a while. With an entire page of puzzles for both the Mario series and Zelda series, most fans would be perfectly happy with just this section of the game. The 'Free Picross' selection of puzzles offers another mode where players get to solve puzzles without mistakes being pointed out at them, and in effect adding to their time counter. The pictures in this section come from a variety of games, from Devil World, Excitebike, Game & Watch and so on.
A final mode, called Micross (a combination of the words Micro and Picross) has players solve two very large puzzles, each on an 80x80 grid. These grids can be broken down into as many as 64 smaller 10x10 puzzles, and the final end result picture for these two gigantic puzzles won't be available until all of the smaller sections have been completed. This is likely where many players will spend most of their time after finishing the Normal mode. This mode does not make use of the Hint Roulette, only adding to its difficulty.
When players start the game, the first thing they are likely to notice is the 3D effect, which it used very nicely in both the menus and in actual gameplay. During puzzle play, the top screen displays the current progress of the picture, without the grid being in the way. In menus and looking over solved puzzles, the layers to the 3D effect are quite effective, showing that the designers have taken their time in considering how best to make use of the 3DS console's auto-stereoscopic display.
Of course, no game is perfect, and one thing that does feel not up the the quality of the rest of the package is the music. It would have been nice to have some tunes from past Nintendo games playing while solving Nintendo-themed puzzles, but only a few simple original tunes are present in the game. Sadly, these are not all that interesting, and it's impossible to shake the impression that this part of Club Nintendo Picross is decidedly lacking. Having said that, this is a minor issue when the rest of the game is quite good.
Nintendo have gone out of their way to produce a nice piece of fan-service, one that will provide enjoyment for a long time. With 88 puzzles of varying types to solve, this new interpretation of Picross will keep fans of the series contented, and serves as a neat reminder of Nintendo's vibrant history. It's Japan-only at present, but hopefully Nintendo will see fit to make it available in other regions, too.