When Nintendo of America announced they had localized and released Picross 3D: Round 2 a year after its Japanese debut, I was over the moon. The Picross series has been a stable time sink for me ever since I first played Picross DS. However, I was a little dismayed that it wasn’t destined to receive a physical release in the west. No, it was only available digitally and I’m one of those weirdos who’s reticent to purchase nonphysical copies of games, convenience be damned. Seeing as I didn’t have a reasonable option for a physical purchase, I willingly plunked in my credit card information and made the purchase. I’m glad I did.
I’m disappointed with Pokémon Picross. Or rather, I’m disappointed in my expectations for the game. When it was announced in a recent Nintendo Direct, it was fully detailed as a “free-to-start” title: a game I’d be able to download and play for free. Presumably, there’d be some reason to coerce me to input money, but I didn’t ruminate on that or the potential pitfalls associated with the game’s payment model further. My lust for a new Picross game caused blinders to go up, especially considering this was a new one thematically designed around Pokémon. A peanut butter and jelly combination if I’d ever heard one! Having spent some time with the game, I’ve come back down and am firmly grounded in reality.
Nintendo’s Picrossgames are logic-based puzzlers that task players with filling in a gridded square using numerical hints on each row and column, ultimately revealing a picture. The numbers bordering each row and column indicate how many squares are to be filled in and if they’re connected or contain an unknown space of unmarked squares between them. Using deductive reasoning, one can determine that if a row of 10 squares has a hint of 8, a certain number of squares must be filled in, regardless of where the filled in section begins and ends. Extrapolating this thinking across the entire grid and utilizing squares that have already been filled in is an addictive process with a satisfying sense of completion when complete, especially on the larger puzzles.
Pokémon Picross takes that standard concept and applies some of the mechanics from the Pokémonseries. The puzzles themselves are representative of individual Pokémon that when complete, result in catching said creature. They each have an ability that aids in the completion of puzzles by filling in squares, slowing time, etc. This mechanic ties into another new addition, rewards for completing specific objectives for each puzzle. Each puzzle has a set of unique objectives, such as set Pokémon X or use ability Y. Rewards for completing these were generally Picrites, the in-game currency.
Mega Puzzles make a return after their debut in the digital only Picross e titles, although they’re completely foreign to me. I skipped out on those digital titles not thinking they contained much content (I was wrong, rectifying that mistake… now) but they make total sense in a Pokémonthemed game, considering Mega Evolutions are the new “thing” for that series. Basically, they screw with the hints given and instead combine two rows/columns. Even after going through the tutorial a time or two, I had to wrack my brain to comprehend them. They add a nice change of pace, but are nowhere near as progressive as Picross 3D.
Progression is also portrayed differently, although is structurally similar to previous Picross games. Players navigate the game from puzzle to puzzle as if navigating the varying routes in a Pokémongame, complete with branching paths and different creatures. The difficulty pacing is all over the place, which for a veteran like me is appreciated. While it could be a hindrance for someone unfamiliar with the series (and I could see many newcomers coming for the Pokémonside of the equation), it also further replicates the progression of a standard Pokémongame, e.g. having to return to some cave with stronger Pokémon. Reaching new areas is no small feat and the barriers are twofold: energy and Picrites.
I originally wanted to start this section off discussing one of these mechanics as the lesser of two evils, but they’re both pretty mischievous, but ultimately boil down to one annoyance. Like many free-to-play games, this one utilizes an energy meter. As squares of puzzles are filled in, that meter depletes until it’s empty, halting progress until it’s refilled. The easiest way is to wait for it to refill; this can take a couple of hours and for the player in need of a fix, the quickest way is to refill it (or extend it altogether) with Picrites. As mentioned, Picrites are the in-game currency and are awarded for the completion of puzzles and the completion of objectives. They are doled out in laughable quantities in relation to the amount needed to unlock additional areas and upgrades, heck even an alternate set of puzzles are gated behind a hefty sum of Picrites. The only logical solution is to pony up real money.
This is a free-to-play game (and the core game is damn fine!) but convincing myself to plug in more than a couple of bucks is a tough sell. Admittedly, I’m still one of those luddites who prefer physical media and getting something I can hold in my hands in return. And I understand that many individuals worked on this game and there are plenty of stakeholders who deserve a cut. But, the portrayal of this game as free-to-play is somewhat devious. The amount of Picrites awarded in relation to the tally needed to unlock additional stages is prohibitively high and at some point, progression is gated behind a measly few puzzles that can be farmed each day.
Labels and payment models shouldn’t conjure this much ill will, and I’m perhaps going overboard here, but I would’ve rather seen Nintendo strip away the free-to-play elements and just market a full-price digital title. Obviously they didn’t go that route and I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they’d reach more players, and ultimately yield more revenue by adopting the model they went with. And with that “realization” this article has devolved into a codgerly rant about the evolving sales pitch of video games. The kicker is that if you pump in about thirty bucks, all of these elements I’ve whined about go away. I don’t think I’m going to though because I’ve still got a chip on my shoulder on how they marketed this game! The more I write, the more I’m coming off as an entitled asshole, even to myself. So while I’d fit in great in an internet comments section, I’m going to wrap things up here! This is a great game, just go into it with better expectations than me.
Released on the 3DS eShop courtesy of Level-5, Liberation Maiden is a part of the Guild01 series of games. Each of the four games in the Guild01 series was developed by Level-5, but designed by recognizable Japanese developers. The impact of Goichi “Suda51” Suda and his team at Grasshopper Manufacture is unmistakable on this game. Few others would concept out and help bring to fruition such a nutty game.
The teenage protagonist, Shoko Ōzora, has assumed the presidency of New Japan after her father’s passing. She’s inherited a hell of a mess too. So much so that she takes to the skies of New Japan in a giant mech to combat the troves of enemies siphoning the country’s energy. She gets much assistance from Kira, her second-in-command, who chirps in constantly to feed her status updates and mission objectives.
Controlling Shoko with the circle pad, I could freely move her anywhere in the 3D stages. Pressing the left shoulder button enabled a strafing mode, locking her movement to the sides. She had two types of weaponry; one locked onto enemies as I dragged my stylus across the screen and released when I did. The other was a simple laser that attacked where I touched. I didn’t prefer one to the other and found both equally usable. Finally, there was an added strategic element due to her ammunition also acting as a barrier from damage.
There are five stages in the game, playable via the story and score attack modes, and they’re completed briskly. It took me about an hour and a half to beat and another hour to unlock 90% of the backstory and character bios. I’m partial to Suda51’s work and enjoyed the nutty narrative in Liberation Maiden. More than that though, I enjoyed the gameplay. The bosses that capped off each stage were repetitive and Kira constantly chiming in created a stop-and-go effect, but I enjoyed my hours spent.
Nintendo’s two Picross games for the Nintendo DS (Picross DS and Picross 3D) easily top the list of great timewasters. In them, players use logic and a hint of math to fill in empty grids that then yield an image. They can take anywhere from a few seconds to a half hour depending on the size of the grid, and each game contains hundreds of puzzles. The ease of playing them and the sense of accomplishment fuels their drive to consume any of my free time.
Mario’s Picross was the original Picross game from Nintendo and it was released on the Game Boy in 1995. It’s also available as a downloadable on the Nintendo 3DS via its Virtual Console storefront. I recently picked it up, and as is always the case when I play one, it consumed my time and had me staying up late saying to myself “just one more” over and over.
Picross puzzles are grids of blank squares that need to be filled in. Beside each row and column are numbers designating how many squares are to be filled, and in what order. For example, imagine a 15 x 15 puzzle with a row that has the numbers 7 and 7 beside it. Because the row is 15 squares long, I know that the first 7 squares are going to get filled in, there’ll be a space, and the last 7 squares will be filled in. That’s an easy example because the numbers indicating how many squares to fill in total 15; 7+1 (blank space)+7=15. It gets trickier when a row or column has only a few filled in squares. In situations like that, players really have to examine other rows and columns and view puzzles in their entirety.
In the Nintendo DS games, when I’d fill in squares, their corresponding numbers beside the row or column would become grayed out, making it easier for me to keep track of what I hadn’t done yet. This feature isn’t present in Mario’s Picross and it made solving puzzles not necessarily tougher, just a little more annoying. Another facet that hinders my play sessions is the size of the screen. If you don’t remember, the screen on the original Game Boy was tiny; it’s probably the reason I wear glasses today. I tended not to play Mario’s Picross for extended sessions to avoid eye strain. The screen is enlarged on the 3DS, I just wish you could distort the perspective to make it fit the handheld’s screen entirely. Still, Mario’s Picross is a great timewaster and a great game for just a couple of bucks.
Nintendo has made news with its downloadable services recently. Their approach to the digital space rarely is news worthy and when it is, it’s usually not for a good reason. When they began offering demos on the Wii, they decided to limit when they were accessible instead of having them permanently available, until about a week ago when they released all previously available demos for no apparent reason. In other news, the Nintendo eShop (the 3DS downloadable service) has been garnering praise recently for hosting quality games; an uncommon reaction considering the lay of the land of original games on Nintendo’s downloadable services.
This brings me to the point of this article. Newsworthy only because I’m writing about it, the eShop received its first demo recently. Resident Evil: Revelations is the title and it’s one of my few experiences with the venerable series.
I was wowed by the game’s graphics. It seems Capcom likes to flex their technical prowess with the series as of late and Revelations looks great. Of course, it looks great in the pantheon of handheld games, but even thrown alongside the output of current home consoles, it’s still eye-catching. The environment I played in had many rooms and they contained nice detail. Dressers had items scattered about them and bookshelves were brimming with books. I wasn’t impressed with the 3D though. I tried playing with it for a bit and it didn’t look much different; text did pop well though.
Because I lack knowledge on the series, the plot would be above my head, if the demo had contained much info on it. I played as Jill Valentine, a familiar heroine for the series, and she woke up confused as to where she was and how she got there. She had contact from another person who she spent the rest of the demo trying to reach.
The game’s environment and Jill’s impression of it being a mansion led me to believe she was in a mansion. But it turns out this was just a clever nod to the original. Until she reached her cohort, I was fooled; it turns out she was on a ship. The rooms I explored looked as if they belonged in a mansion; well decorated rooms, long hallways, gala rooms, this ship was nice. Except for the zombies.
Zombies, or whatever Capcom wants to call them nowadays. Revelations takes place in between Resident Evil 4 and 5, so the creatures didn’t look like stock zombies. They staggered towards me like zombies, but they looked like ghastly deformed humans. The demo culminated with Jill fighting a “super” creature, one who had spikes extending from its arms.
Instead of tank controls as was custom in the series’ early years, Revelations inherits the control scheme from Resident Evil 4. The newer control setup gives gunplay an enhanced role in the game, and prevents me from “fighting” the awkward movement found in the earlier games. I controlled Jill with the analog stick and although I lacked a second one (good for camera control) the way the camera moved with Jill was fine. To shoot zombies creatures, I pulled up Jill’s gun and I then saw from her eyes. I couldn’t move when in first-person and this stillness has received much flak from critics. It’s frustrating when a creature is right in front of my character and I have to exit this view and quickly run away to get some distance again, but I’m okay with it as it’s a design choice and not an oversight on Capcom’s part and I’m not here to critique it.
Perhaps my favorite part of the demo was scanning for hidden items. Because there’s a scarcity of ammunition and healing items, it can be tough to survive. This item management can amplify the tension when a creature suddenly appears and I need to decide whether to take it out quickly with a shotgun and sacrifice hard to find shotgun shells or risk loss of life and get in close with a knife. This scanner gave me the confidence that I could succeed as I was better equipped after finding hidden items.
Even though Resident Evil: Revelations features a more action-oriented control scheme, the pace of the game was quite slow. Jill didn’t really run, but the level I played wasn’t full of creatures so I could take my time. There was a simple “fetch this to progress” obstacle in Jill’s way which makes me wonder what puzzles, if any, will be in the game. One thing I’m not in the dark about is Nintendo’s continued off-kilter policies regarding the downloadable space – the demo for Resident Evil: Revelations has a limited number of plays, albeit thirty is plenty.