One of the constant presences on the 3DS eShop was that of the Picross e IP, the latest in a long running puzzle series. With close to ten releases on the 3DS eShop (including a few fun spin-offs) there were certainly plenty of entries for one console, though some releases were really more like DLC packs than fully-fledged sequels, often offering up a few hundred new puzzles and few other changes. The dream of the Picross e series has now been continued with Picross S on the Switch and, well, it’s exactly what you would expect it to be.
For those of you that are unaware, Picross has been around since the days of the Game Boy and plays something like a cross of Minesweeper and Sudoku. Puzzles are divided into grids, and each row and column has a series of numbers by it. These numbers dictate how many squares you need to fill in that row or column, and through cross-referencing multiple different sets of numbers you can figure out exactly which squares you need to fill. Squares that shouldn’t be filled can be marked with an x and squares that might or might not need to be filled can be marked with a little square to make a note of it. When all squares are filled it makes a pixel art image.
Though it might sound a bit complicated, the game includes tutorials that adequately explain how the logic of these puzzles works out. The difficulty curve is almost perfectly judged; you’ll start out doing simple 5x5 puzzles that are as basic as possible and eventually be handling 20x15 puzzles. And for those of you that still struggle, the game has included several hand-holding mechanics to ensure that literally anybody can play this. Here’s what it can do to help you out: a hint roulette at the beginning of puzzles can randomly reveal all the squares in one row and one column, the cursor can be set to glow red or blue depending on whether the row has any mistakes or not, the numbers besides rows and columns can glow blue to indicate that squares can be marked or filled in, the cursor can be set to autocorrect any wrongly filled in squares, and there’s a one-off “check mistakes” feature in the pause menu that will scan the whole puzzle and tell you if you marked anything wrong.
In case you haven’t gathered from all that, the game barely stops short of just outright doing the puzzle for you while you watch, but the nice part is that you can choose to turn off some or all of those features if you wish, allowing for a gameplay experience that adequately caters to players of all skill levels. This modular difficulty approach is especially a welcome feature when you consider the newly included multiplayer mode. By splitting the Joy-Con, a second player can hop on with a differently coloured cursor and help out with solving the puzzle. Although it is cooperative in nature, there’s also an air of competition to it as the game keeps track of how many squares each player has filled. Though it’s fairly basic in its implementation, the multiplayer does help add some longevity to the experience; it’s not hard to teach a new player the basic of Picross, and the scaling difficulty settings allow you to provide as much cushion as is needed.
In terms of content, 300 puzzles are included; half of them are normal Picross, and half are “Mega Picross”. These latter puzzles are harder, but only in the sense that it introduces some number sets that can span two rows or columns instead of just one. Those three hundred puzzles will certainly keep you busy for a while, but bear in mind that all the Mega Picross puzzles are merely re-purposed normal Picross puzzles. Sure, the numbers are different this time around, but the end result is still the same, and that comes as a bit of a disappointment if you’re expecting something new.
The doubling up of puzzles in this way is indicative of a much broader sense of a slight emptiness that permeates the experience; it’s not that this is a boring or empty game, but it feels a little half-baked. Micross — which spans several different, smaller puzzles — is nowhere to be found here, and after seeing the introduction of a mission system and progression elements in Pokémon Picross, the straightforward, no-frills approach to Picross S leaves something to be desired. It’s the removal of elements which have been previously featured that’s irksome; though they aren’t essential elements and the game is just fine without them, it seems bizarre and a bit disappointing that the newest entry in this series is taking steps back rather than forward.
From a presentation perspective, the minimalist approach is maintained. Chilled, jazzy music plays in the background and the designs of menus are defined by a colourful, frosty aesthetic. It’s pleasing to the eyes and ears, and it’s quite relaxing, which is befitting of a game of this pace. And though the concept works well on either the TV or small screen, it feels most natural to be playing the game in portable mode; Picross S is the kind of game that you play every now and then for a little bit, not something you sit down on the couch to binge for hours. Still, it’s nice to have the option to play it on the TV, and this certainly is the way to go if you wish to get more use out of the multiplayer mode.
Picross S is the epitome of a one-trick pony, it knows exactly the kind of experience it’s going to deliver and it does just that. Those of you that loved the Picross e games will find plenty to love here, as this is essentially just another 300 (well, 150) puzzles, now with local multiplayer support. Still, it all comes off as being a bit bland, while the absence of Micross and mission systems seen elsewhere makes Picross S feel like a lazy sequel. We give this a recommendation to fans of puzzle games, or anybody looking for a slower paced game for their Switch. Just don’t go into this one expecting a comprehensive, ultimate entry in the series.