Creating a killer puzzle game is a difficult task these days, mainly because pretty much all of the decent ideas have already been taken. However, Nintendo (along with developer Skip) have succeeded in cooking up an entirely fresh take on the 'falling block puzzle game' for DSi, and in doing so they've proven that there are still some good ideas floating around.
When you first hop into PiCTOBiTS you may feel a bit differently. The rules of the game can be hard to grasp at first, and there are six tutorial lessons that new players will likely have to sit through in order to understand what’s required. Not a good start, but oddly enough things all seem to fall in place once you sit down with the actual game.
The formula for PiCTOBiTS is not as simple as some other games of its kind, but it works well enough. The bottom screen of the DS is essentially like a grid, and when you begin there are several BiTS along the bottom corresponding with a square on said grid. By touching the BiTS you essentially absorb them into the stylus, and by touching a blank spot on the screen you send them back out. Soon variously shaped blocks will begin falling, and it’s your job to make them into a symmetric piece at least four blocks in size.
At first it will feel like an accomplishment to avoid letting the falling pieces touch the floor, but soon that in itself isn’t enough. To avoid filling your screen to the top and losing, you’ll have to add more BiTS to each falling shape in order to clear more. There are also permanent BiTS that can only be cleared as they fall, or in another very rare event. Considering all of this, you’ll find your screen filling quite quickly on harder levels, and if no more blocks can enter it’s game over. As a last resort, you can use the POW function, which clears a nice section of the field for you. However, doing so lowers the amount of BiTS your stylus can absorb.
As all of this is happening, the top screen will begin forming an image based on your results. For each BiT you clear, a similarly colored spot on a game sprite will fill in. In order to clear a level, you must clear the correct number of BiTS for each color of the sprite, and eventually fill it in. Doing so may seem long and grueling at first, but by setting up combos you are able to create the image quite quickly. PiCTOBiTS is easy to begin playing, but mastering it will require quite a lot of skill.
The presentation for the game is definitely its high point. Everything is arranged in a very retro fashion, similar to Tetris DS before it. Each stage will represent a different game from the NES era, from Super Mario Bros. to Ice Climbers. The game sprites you solve on the top screen are also ripped from the corresponding game. If that weren’t enough the music is also taken from the game each level represents. The remixed tunes are a blast to listen to, and you can even buy them for keeps and listen to them anytime you want using the points you earn in the main game.
The only real bummer in PiCTOBiTS is the lack of any multiplayer. No local, no online, no leader boards. It’s a shame too, because the concept lends itself well to all of these things. If topping your friend’s scores on one DSi is enough to keep you happy, then you’ll be fine. Otherwise, you’re left with a solely single player outing, so take that as you will.
The DSiWare service has been hard pressed for quality titles in its early days, but PiCTOBiTS could very well be the start of something different. The Art Style series is all about gameplay with minimal bells and whistles. PiCTOBiTS may reverse those roles to some degree, but ultimately the result is the same. It stands as a great game for a low price, and that’s something you really can’t complain about.