Mario's Super Picross Review
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
The in-game tutorial, the greatest puzzle
The early batch of Wii U Virtual Console games have followed a bit of a trend, in that they serve up familiar retro goodies with a few Wii U specific extras. For Europeans there's been the extra treat of getting these classics in their 60Hz variety, but in the case of Mario's Super Picross the treat is getting the game at all. Just as on Wii Virtual Console it arrives in the region in its Japanese guise, so be prepared to puzzle your way through the odd menu or, if you don't feel particularly daring, read all about important details in the manual. Aside from that it's classic Picross decorated in a 16-bit bow — no more and no less.
To anyone unfamiliar, Picross is a grid based game where you use numbered clues, for both rows and columns, to fill in boxes that eventually create an image. The numbers, either singular or in multiples, show how many boxes need to be filled in — or chiseled in this case — in a row, so on a small grid of five boxes a clue of that number means fill in the whole row or column; in the case of multiple numbers, you also need to allow for at least one space between chiseled blocks. Like all puzzle games it starts remarkably easy, but the grids get substantially bigger and the clues trickier to apply — being told to chisel one box in a row of 20 is impossible without working through other areas first.
Despite being presented in Japanese — which may be a surprise to anyone not paying attention to warning messages in the eShop — the simplicity of the concept shines through. There are two distinct variations on offer: the Mario levels have a time limit to adhere to but allow clues, whereas the Wario levels have no time limit but don't provide clues of any kind. Both modes have their own challenges, as mistakes in the Mario mode will cost you precious minutes, but these mistakes are recorded with a cross; as a result a loss of time can still provide a handy clue. You can also take a hint at the start, with a roulette selection of a row and column that the game fills in, while sacrificing five minutes gives you another set of hints. In the Wario mode you're left entirely to your own devices to figure it out the old-fashioned way — as if working on paper, the game gives no cues or ideas if you're right or wrong.
The controls are simple, too, with the D-Pad used to move the cursor, A to chisel a block — or mark a clue red for reference — and B to mark a square with an X. It's simple puzzling beyond that, with each level including a small group of challenges, with more unlocking as you progress to provide more than 200 puzzles across both modes — if you have the skill and patience to get that far.
If we're to compare this SNES effort against contemporaries such as those on the 3DS eShop, it's a mixed contest. On the one hand there's a greater sense of comfort playing larger grids on the TV or even the GamePad screen, whereas tougher levels in titles such as Picross e could be tricky to visualise and solve. On the flipside the presentation is aging in this 16-bit title, with the blocky resolution not standing up well to flashier modern titles; while it may seem harsh to compare different generations of this genre, the fact is that this title has a higher asking price than prominent 3DS eShop rivals.
Yet it does little wrong, overall. Wii U benefits such as the save state functionality are borderline irrelevant in this kind of experience — the standard suspend point is adequate — but Miiverse is always a welcome extra. You can also play with alternative controllers but, again, considering the gameplay, it's far easier to simply use the GamePad. On the flipside, a second player can join in, if a bit of co-op Picross on the sofa is appealing. Retro fans may also get a kick out of the primitive animations in some of the solutions, though a negative is that when playing for longer periods we were driven to switch the background music off — some will enjoy its SNES jingles more, however.
With a genre like Picross, it's easy to get it right. Mario's Super Picross offers plenty of puzzles in two distinct modes, while the option to play on the TV or GamePad means that larger, more complex grids will be comfortable to take on. It's simple fare, in that sense, but this does show its age against some modern equivalents, making the pricing a surprise. Despite that and its continuing lack of translation from Japanese — a much smaller problem than it sounds — it serves its purpose well for fans of the genre; it'd be hard to get it wrong, in truth.