If there’s one thing the developer Jupiter is known for, it’s Picross games. Pokemon Picross, the Nintendo 3DS free-to-play title is only the most recent release. It all started with Mario’s Picross for the Game Boy. There have been 14 nonogram collections from them since, and all the company has even made for the Nintendo 3DS are Picross games. Which means with Pokemon Picross, you can clearly see where the company has been and might be going.
In terms of gameplay, all the basics are there. Puzzles take place on a grid, with numbers along the left and top telling which boxes should be checked. As in the Picross e series, it’s possible to get immediate hints for each challenge. Instead of having numbers of rows where boxes can be filled or checked constantly remain blue, the Pokemon Picross Blue Force limits the hints to make people think. The immediate reveal of two rows works in a similar fashion, with most of Pokemon Picross’s abilities offering different sorts of reveals than the Picross e intersecting parallel and vertical lines. The top screen clearly shows the level in progress, while the bottom has the grid.
It’s the other features that really show what Jupiter has learned over the years. For example, that fanservice goes a long way in helping make a Picross game appealing. The original Mario’s Picross started this trend by having some Nintendo-themed nonograms in-game, and Picross NP, the Nintendo Power service game, and the Club Nintendo Picross games furthered it. Picross NP, Club Nintendo Picross, and Club Nintendo Picross+ were Jupiter’s previous entries that drew solely from Nintendo’s library of consoles and characters for puzzles to the benefit of anyone who played. It provides a more cohesive theme to the puzzles, rather than going from making fruit, to furniture, to cars in Picross e. It also aided in the deciphering of puzzles, as people could get a general idea of what they might have to do next, even if stumped, if they started to recognize the character taking shape. Most importantly, iconic characters’ appearances make nonograms more appealing. People would be more likely to play a game like Pokemon Picross, where they’d know they’d see some of their favorite characters.
Pokemon Picross also reintroduces people to two of Jupiter’s more recent gameplay innovations. Picross e2 introduced Micross, a variation where each micro puzzle in a grid is a smaller part of a larger puzzle. This comes up in the Murals section of the Nintendo 3DS game. Sometimes, a mission objective will reward you with a Mural piece, which is another Micross puzzle that adds to a larger image. The improvement here comes from the added challenge. In previous games, you could play through all of the micro puzzles in a Micross image at once and still rely on the “Blue Force” tips. That isn’t possible here. You must resort to your own ingenuity as you etch out the images. It really makes the Murals feel like a bonus reward and test for people who might be soaring through the other situations.
The only area where Pokemon Picross and Jupiter fail to do the appropriate honor to a gameplay mechanic is the Alternate World. This is where the Mega Picross mode introduced in Picross e3 appears. In these challenges, larger numbers spanning two rows can appear on the top and left. This means that, between those two rows, a cluster of that many boxes are filled. It’s meant to provide an additional challenge and get people thinking in a different manner, but it isn’t well implemented here. Once a player heads into the Alt World, they’ll be going through the same, already completed puzzles in different orders, receiving no Picrite rewards for them as they do. It’s unfulfilling, unless you’re a nonogram nut, and doesn’t add much to the game as a whole.
As for what Pokemon Picross says about the future of Jupiter Picross games, some of the new features really shine. The inclusion of missions for each puzzle adds additional motivation to replay each one. Typically, I’m done with a Picross e game once I’ve ticked every box. The only ones I’ve ever returned to for replays are Club Nintendo Picross and Club Nintendo Picross+, because of the characters. The idea of missions add more motivation, and it would be interesting to see if Jupiter could somehow include that in the more generic Picross e series.
The skills system works to Pokemon Picross’s benefit as well. Hints and reveals have always been an option, but the auto fix, time bending, and hyper scan abilities are a huge help. Sometimes, you want a little assistance, but don’t want the game doing the puzzle for you. Some of these skills feel like more gentle nudges in the right direction. It’s a mechanic that works well, especially at lower levels where usage is more limited. Again, it’s something that could transition well to other Jupiter Picross games, if given the chance.
Pokemon Picross is really a fascinating little title. It features retrospectives and innovations all at once, managing to honor games all the way back to Jupiter’s original Mario’s Picross and show what kind of potential nonograms could have in the years to come. It’s the sort of Nintendo 3DS game that gets you excited about filling in puzzles again and wondering what could happen next.