Longstanding nonogram puzzle fans will know that Picross games have been a part of Nintendo gaming for the best part of fifteen years. The excellent Mario's Picross appeared for the Game Boy way back in 1995, but this quintessentially Japanese pastime – where a matrix of squares is carefully shaded in to reveal simple, blocky pictures – failed to take off outside its native country. This meant that subsequent Picross games, including Mario's Super Picross and the adorable O-Chan's Oekaki Logic, both for the SNES, remained Japanese-only.
But with the appearance of Picross DS in 2007 this unique style of puzzle game finally found its niche in the West; where traditional joypad controls often felt slow and cumbersome in previous incarnations, Picross found the perfect home on the DS, and filling in the grids of squares felt both intimate and natural with the handheld's stylus.
Three years on, and Nintendo has taken the Picross concept from its flat, paper-based origins and dragged it into the third dimension, and for the most part it's a highly successful translation. For veterans of earlier Picross games, the concept will be instantly familiar: remove the extraneous squares to uncover the hidden objects, which include animals, letters of the alphabet, plants and an entire garage full of household objects and bric-a-brac. Numbers marked on the cubes provide valuable clues as to which blocks should be eliminated and which left behind, and the act of slowly whittling a shapeless mass into, say, a giraffe is as absorbing and compulsive as it ever was in two dimensions – initially, at least.
For the first hour or so, it genuinely feels as though Nintendo has pulled off the feat of making a potentially fiddly control system work; the stack of cubes is rotated with light sweeps of the stylus, while holding either Left or Up on the directional pad while tapping a cube will destroy it or colour it in. It's only when the puzzles become more difficult – and the stacks of cubes increase in size – that the cracks in the control system begin to show. Precious seconds are often spent trying to get the camera in the right position, or fiddling around with a pair of coloured handles designed to expose the stack's hidden layers, with occasionally disorienting results.
It's also disappointing that every puzzle in a given level has to be completed before you can try a puzzle on the next – so if you've completed all bar one of the conundrums in normal or hard mode, for example, you won't be allowed to tackle a puzzle in easy mode.
If you were feeling particularly uncharitable, you could also pick fault with Picross 3D's soundtrack. A tinny mixture of generic elevator jazz and pier-end organ music, the game's hatefully catchy melodies will have you either humming along or reaching for the volume control.
These are niggles rather than game-breaking issues, however, and in terms of challenge and sheer longevity, Picross 3D is hard to fault: there are 350 or so puzzles to solve across three difficulty levels, with yet more to download via Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection. And if these aren't enough, you can create puzzles of your own, which is surprisingly simple thanks to a stripped down toolbox of blocks, primary colours and labels: you construct your object, click create, and the game constructs the rest of the puzzle for you.
Graphically, Picross 3D doesn't push the DS to its limits, but its pastel-coloured puzzles, which perform little victory animations once completed, are full of charm, and there's a certain pleasure to be derived from gradually filling up your gallery with the eclectic range of objects acquired after beating each puzzle.
There's no denying that Picross 3D is a diverting and addictive game, but at the same time it fails to surpass its two-dimensional predecessor. The leap to 3D has certainly added an extra challenge, but it has also made the rules more complicated, and at the same time diluted the purity of Picross DS's comparatively direct logical problems. Nevertheless, the game offers hours of content for those willing to persevere, and for anyone who has already played Picross DS to death, Picross 3D will provide an engaging new challenge.