A Puzzling Year
While I was watching people around me gather their thoughts to begin making their year-end reviews, I considered doing the same. However, I didn’t want to just list off everything that I played with my thoughts. I wanted to figure out what most defined my gaming experience this year. As I thought about it, I realized something. There was one type of game that I spent most of the year playing after I found myself stumbling into it. It came into my life right as pandemic lockdowns were beginning, and was how I kept myself occupied for hours upon hours – more than I probably should have been. There’s no point in beating around the bush since you’ve already read the title of this.
You might also know this genre of puzzle games as nonograms, griddlers, or picture puzzles, but picross is what I’ve always known it as. I first encountered one years ago as a progression-stopping puzzle in one of the HerInteractive Nancy Drew games, and it’s been a curiosity for me ever since. I picked up one picross game in the early spring and that kicked off a picross frenzy which carried me through the entire year, with rounds of it squeezed between other games where I could. Since then, I’ve run myself through six picross games and picked up another one just recently. So, let’s go over them so I can point you in the direction of the best picross puzzles.
Murder by Numbers
I started the year off with Murder by Numbers on a recommendation, and what a recommendation it was. This is a game that actually weaves a narrative around the puzzles. You play as actress Honor and her robot companion Scout, stumbling into several murder mysteries and solving them with puzzles! This is perhaps my favorite one that I played this year. The characters are lovable, the art is amazing, and the puzzles reached an extremely satisfying level of difficulty that kept me going all the way through the end. It’s not the best in the world for replayability, since to replay the puzzles you have to play the whole mystery again instead of just selecting a puzzle in particular, but I still love it nonetheless. In the process of looking back at these games this year, I’ve been starting to work my way through this one again and I am loving it just as much as the first time I played back when lockdowns started.
Kemono Friends Picross
Kemono Friends Picross is a game that I picked up and downloaded when I was finishing up Murder by Numbers because I had been bit by the picross bug, and my need for more was mighty. It’s based on the Kemono Friends franchise, something that I had a passing knowledge of but didn’t know a ton about. That didn’t matter though, since this one is a game where you just pick the puzzle you want to play and go, no story involved. The hook here is that this game uses the Kemono Friends characters, a series of animals turned into cute anime girls. I will say that while I found this one to be perfectly serviceable and I did like how solving puzzles was rewarded with cute images as well, this wasn’t my favourite. Part of the problem comes down to the narrow focus of the game as a result of the franchising. There’s a lot of just making zoomed-in faces, which could get repetitive at times. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not one of my favourites.
When I needed a little more variety, I hopped on to Picross S4. This is really the definition of a standard picross game when you’re looking around in the e-shop. It’s the fourth in a series of five games at the time of writing, each with similar features but serving as new packs of puzzles to play. This is one of those ones where you’re just selecting a puzzle and going for it. If you need something else to motivate you to solve the puzzles (such as murder), this might not be the one for you, but as something to just pick up and solve a few puzzles at a time, it works perfectly. It also has a lot of extra modes added in beside the typical picross, which does add a lot more for the pro puzzler who might want to kick things up a notch. Any game from the series would be great to play, but this is the one I chose.
Piczle Cross Adventure
Piczle Cross Adventure was the first picross game that I got to review, and I’m sure that if you’ve read the review you’ll know how much I adored it. There was a lot of fun to be had in this one and I scoured every inch of it for any puzzle that I could find. Add in some fun humour to the story, and the satisfaction of items being added to the world when you manage to solve puzzles, and it’s just a grand old time. This isn’t one that I am going to be going back to just yet, but it is one that I did have a lot of fun with while I was playing it.
Pictoquest: The Cursed Grids
Pictoquest is one that I didn’t review and while I disagree with the final score that it was given on here, I will agree that it has a lot of flaws. It looks inviting enough for a first-timer with the cute artwork and all, but it’s really not. A running timer and damage being taken for mistakes made it a sometimes punishing experience. As someone who has played a lot of picross, I was able to handle it, but it was likely one of my least favourites of those that I played this year. It’s the one that I don’t think I’ll be going back to, even if it did scratch my puzzle itch at the time.
This is an older title since it’s on the 3DS, but it is one that I went back to for a little while this year. I’m one of those people who actually paid into it since I could not be sustained by the small amount of puzzling that was allowed at a time with the free-to-play constraints. This was one that I really loved and it’s super beginner-friendly. Since there are helpful powers that can be used to reveal part of the board and help you out, it’s great for giving you that head-start that you might need as a newer player. I can’t recommend it enough if you have your 3DS still lying around.
Pixel Puzzle Makeout League
The last picross title that I played this year is one that I picked up on Christmas Day and am still working on, slipping it in just under the wire. So far, I’m having a good time, but I do have some concerns. The story of Pixel Puzzle Makeout League is silly for sure, with tongue firmly in cheek, but it’s a lot of fun. Come on, how can you not love a game that has “D A T E A G I A N T P U Z Z L E P I E C E” as a selling point? The only issue I have is the way that some puzzles are in dialogue sequences, sometimes multiple at a time, and if you have to close the game in the middle of them, all the ones prior to the one you close on must be redone. Other than that, though, this one is giving me a lot of laughs and I’m looking forward to seeing what more I can get out of it.