Jupiter’s Picross series has remained a reliable fixture in Nintendo’s digital release schedule for several years now, delivering a steady and ever-improving stream of addictive nonogram puzzles for fans to solve. Over those years, the series has dabbled in a few crossover releases as well—featuring franchises such as The Legend of Zelda and Pokémon—which occasionally introduced some new and interesting mechanics in this typically stagnant series. Now, after three standard releases on the Switch in the ‘S’ sub-series, we find ourselves faced with the left-field existence of Picross: Lord of the Nazarick, a crossover between Picross and the Overlord anime/manga series. To be frank, it’s an incredibly odd mixture, but the tried and true Picross gameplay is still just as strong as ever, and there’s even some new additions to the formula to keep things interesting.
Picross games have always been known for their stripped down, minimalist approach to puzzling, but Picross: Lord of the Nazarick flips this on its head by introducing a story component to the dozens of puzzles you solve. Told through a series of character portrait cutscenes in which Ainz Ooal Gown talks with various supporting characters from Overlord, the plot mostly centers around giving you a reason to trudge through archives or reminisce over old memories. It’s admittedly a flimsy premise through and through, and its issues are only magnified by the fact that it assumes you’re privy to the Overlord universe, its characters, and their various relationships. There is no notable effort towards bringing newcomers up to speed on this information, so if, say, you’re simply a Picross fan who’s never heard of Overlord, the story will be practically meaningless.
Even if you are an Overlord fan, what’s here scarcely amounts to more than a clumsily thrown together, non-canon scenario that proves to be a mildly entertaining distraction at best. Still, for all its faults, the story obviously wasn’t intended to be a major selling point for what is ultimately a simple puzzle game; it’s window dressing, something to make the dozens of puzzles feel like smaller parts of a larger whole.
Instead of the old way in which Picross puzzles were only separated by type, the new system of organization revolves around you selecting one of nine characters and delving into their memories, which are represented by puzzles. Each character has nine normal Picross puzzles, nine Mega Picross remixes of those first nine, three Colour Picross Puzzles, and one huge Clip Picross puzzle. Each of these is related to an object, moment, or character from the anime, and once you solve it, you’re then treated to a still image from the anime to show where the puzzle got its inspiration. Once you solve enough, you can then unlock special extra images from the anime that can be viewed in a gallery. Once again, your mileage will certainly vary based depending on your familiarity with Overlord, but we appreciated this new, somewhat linear approach to puzzle organization, as it instils a mild sense of purpose to the puzzle solving beyond the mere sake of it.
The other side of that coin, however, is a decreased overall puzzle count. Previous Picross games measured in the hundreds, whereas Picross: Lord of the Nazarick is merely measured in dozens. It’s understandable why this is the case—previous titles had no thematic constraints while this one has to stick to a specific source material—but nonetheless, the lower puzzle count is disappointing when one considers that ninety percent of their time with the game is spent solving them. Fewer puzzles means less overall bang for your buck. Granted, every new Picross game of the past several years has functionally existed as a glorified level pack, but this particular one—being sold for the same price as the others at the time of writing—won’t take you anywhere near as long to complete. Make of that what you will.
The bulk of your experience will, of course, be spent grinding away through what's on offer, and the gameplay in this department is exactly as you remember it. You still engage in that part Minesweeper, part Sudoku process of reading the numbers next to the columns and rows of a blank grid, deducing from them which sections of the grid can be filled in to reveal a pixelated picture. There’s nothing new to speak of for this latest release, but the gameplay does prove to be just as addictive as it’s been in all the past titles; it can be nigh impossible to solve ‘just’ one of these puzzles and put the Switch away. Part of the addictiveness, too, arises from the way in which the various types all build and iterate on the rules of each other to provide a slowly more challenging experience.
For example, the standard Picross mode simply asks you to go row by row and use the hint numbers to figure out which cells should be filled in. The Mega Picross mode then turns this up a bit by incorporating hint numbers that can apply to two rows or columns, and while it sounds like a minuscule change, this requires an entirely new approach. Things are complicated yet further by the Colour Picross mode, which introduces coloured hint numbers and three or four distinct colours that can be used to fill in any given cell. All of these different modes are built using the same basic logic, but it’s remarkable how each one still manages to require that you use a new approach to the way you solve puzzles. This kind of diversity helps to fend off monotony in some ways, as you can bounce around between the different puzzle types at will if you grow tired or bored of a particular ruleset.
Though not terribly complicated, Picross puzzles can still prove to be intimidating to first-time players, but Jupiter has made sure to include several features to help lower the barrier to entry. The (optional) tutorials are as plentiful as they are succinct, expertly teaching the basic tenets of solving a Picross in a manner that’s simple to understand and practice. Even once you’re out of the tutorials, a wealth of ‘assist’ options are included to help prod you on through any tough spots you may hit in a puzzle. For example, hint numbers can be set to highlight when a cell in their row or column can be filled in, thus drawing your attention there. Or, in a more heavy-handed manner, you can even set an auto-correct feature that will flat out replace any mistakes with the right marks. Veterans can of course ignore these features entirely and have a more ‘pure’ experience, but we feel Jupiter deserves praise for making such a flexible system; this truly is a game that can appeal just as much to a newcomer as it can to someone who’s played all the predecessors.
As far as presentation is concerned, the classic frosted look of the past several Picross releases has been dropped in favor of the dark-fantasy Overlord aesthetic. High-quality character renders from the anime are abundant and the menus are done up in glossy and ornate decorations that help to give this release its own distinct visual style, even when the main puzzling screens are largely indistinguishable from the past games. Perhaps a little more effort could’ve been put into working in the Overlord influences more, but it’s tough to complain about what’s on offer here, other than the music. Rather than the chill muzak that characterized the previous releases, the soundtrack here features menacing, creepy tracks that are rather forgettable and feel ill-fit for a puzzle game.
Picross: Lord of the Nazarick certainly proves to be an odd addition to the Picross canon, but it proves itself worthy through the consistently excellent puzzle design and rewarding gameplay, which is every bit as great as that which has come before. That being said, there are also some notable shortcomings in this release, such as a shoehorned and useless ‘story’ and a notably smaller number of overall puzzles. Despite the Overlord elements, this in some ways feels like a sloppier and lesser release than the remarkably focused entries that preceded it. Fans of Picross that are rabid for more puzzling action can’t go wrong here, but if you’re looking to dip your toes into this series for the first time, we’d recommend you take a look at Picross S3 first.