Picross games are something of a staple on Nintendo's DS and 3DS lines, but haven't seen much action on home consoles. Indie developer Pixlbit Studios seeks to change all that with PixlCross for the Wii U, and the results are good despite some wonkiness.
If you haven't yet played a Picross game the rules are quite simple: each level is a puzzle in which you must fill in squares on a grid to form a picture. Along the left-hand side of each row and the top of each column a set of numbers appears; those numbers dictate how many consecutive blocks appear together, but you must bear in mind that each set of blocks must be separated by at least one empty space.
PixlCross boasts over 150 puzzles and three difficulty modes; the amount of time required to complete each of these will depend on your ability to problem solve. In our tests we found that each puzzle took a couple of minutes at most, meaning there's still at least five hours of content - potentially a lot more - if you intend to clear each puzzle.
In each puzzle the developer has included three achievements - one for making no errors, another for not using any hints, and finally one for completing the puzzle in a set time frame. Unfortunately, achievements don't carry over to user-created content.
Speaking of which, Pixlcross includes both the ability to create and download new puzzles. Community-created content is light as of this writing, though it will likely pick up as the game is available longer. Accessing and creating content can be done right from the title screen, along with the game's main offerings.
PixlCross was clearly designed to make use of the Wii U GamePad's unique features. In fact, there's no compelling reason to play PixlCross on your TV set. There's nothing added to the game by not looking at the GamePad's screen, and all the controls are handled by way of the GamePad's touchscreen. Selecting blocks to fill in is handled by drawing on the screen while holding either the L or R button, while you can use the ZL or ZR button to mark blocks with an X.
Creating a puzzle is a similarly straightforward affair. The same controls that apply to solving puzzles apply to creating them as well. When starting a new puzzle, the screen is fully zoomed out. It works well for smaller puzzles, like 10x10 or 15x15 grids, but when you get up into the larger puzzles even the GamePad's large screen can feel a bit cramped. What this means for players is that you'll be zooming in and out frequently to get to the sections of the puzzle you need. On the left-hand side of the game there are some added controls that allow you to pick the size of your puzzle grid, enter a name and select a difficulty.
At any time while creating your puzzle you can opt to play through it in its current state, to check if you're happy with it. You can also choose to invert the board, leaving every square filled in, if you would rather create a picture made of up empty blocks. Once you're happy with the puzzle you've crafted you can choose to save it.
Unfortunately, PixlCross requires a difficulty to be set by the creator, and does no sort of check to make sure the user is being honest in their assessment of their own creation, but that is a minor issue. Once your puzzle is saved you can upload and share it on Miiverse, but only from a list of your creations that will appear after backing out of the level creator; sharing on the bespoke network will post a unique code players can use to search for your puzzle. We would have preferred to see these functions as part of the puzzle creator, but the functionality works well, even if its location isn't as intuitive as one might want it to be.
Downloading content, however, is as easy as one could ask for. As mentioned before, the option to search for new user-generated puzzles is located on the title screen. The search screen will display a list of popular user-generated content, and will allow you to apply some basic search filters to refine your results based on size and difficulty. From this screen, tapping a single button will add the puzzle you have selected to your repository. Once you're done you'll find a dedicated option for downloaded content displayed alongside those the game's core content.
PixlCross is a simple but entertaining game. If you like Picross you'll instantly know if this one is for you. It doesn't add any innovations to the genre, but the simplicity with which users can create and download new puzzles is great.
Solid use of the Wii U's GamePad, a simple, unobtrusive interface and the fact that the game will save your progress after each and every move make this a great title to pick up and play when you have brief moments of downtime. It's the spirit of a mobile game living inside a home console.
User-generated content aside, 150 isn't a small number. PixlCross offers a lot of content for a relatively small game; if you're intrigued by puzzlers you should check this one out.