Picross Picross Picross. Play Some Picross. Picross

By John Walker on November 14th, 2013 at 7:00 pm.

Picross

Today is the day when finally, FINALLY, Picross e3 comes out for the Nintendo 3DS in Europe. Why am I telling you this? Because oh my goodness, the PC is a perfect platform for picrossing, and yet seems so woefully starved of the joy. I’ll be downloading the new Jupiter Games puzzler to my 3DSXL tonight, and then likely not re-emerging until I’ve eaten them all up. But I’m now determined to find the things on PC too, so everyone can experience their pixel perfect magic. Here are the results of my searching:

Picross, or “Nonograms” as rubbish people call them, are grid puzzles in which you’re faced with a square of blank tiles, and a few numbers atop every column and alongside every row. The numbers tell you how many squares must be filled in the respective line. Fill them all in correctly and you make a picture! The challenge is, figuring out which squares need filling with only minimal information. And like the best puzzles, it’s from these humble beginnings that all manner of intricate tricks and tactics are born, as you develop your skills and become just a really bloody brilliant person.

The very best Picross games all via Nintendo, without doubt. The Gameboy had the absolutely stunning Mario Picross, and it’s now available on the 3DS’s eStore – I can’t encourage buying that enough. It also happens to have been created by Jupiter Games, who are still leading the way today (if you ignore the crappy Picross DS that only large numbers of very wrong people think is any good). The best ever? I think that has to be the Japanese only Illust Logic + Colorful Logic, which I bestowed a mighty 9/10 back in 2008. And the best ever variant is the incredible Picross 3D, developed by Nintendo themselves, where the entire concept was given a new dimension, and the results one of the greatest puzzle games ever.

But none of these is for PC. Which is a tragedy, since it’s a machine that’s dealt with pointing and clicking for quite some time. So what does it have, then?

The big mistake any Picross game makes is having it be awkward to switch from clicking to fill in a square, and clicking to X out a square you know shouldn’t be filled. The DS handles this brilliantly by usually having it be on the d-pad. Hold up for fill, down for X, or whatever. Of course the PC can make this even easier – right click for X. Except the issue is, most of the Picross games you’ll find are Flash-based, and thus right-clicking just brings up a menu.

Picross

Handling this poorly is One More Level’s Picross Quest, which requires that you press various keyboard keys to change between the modes. It’s inelegant, but workable. More in its favour is a lovely idea that when you click and drag to fill in a line of squares, it counts how many you’ve selected – in a high resolution that’s a useful gimmick.

Picross

Armor Picross 2 handles the Flash issue a lot better, and has a lot more pizazz in its presentation. Here you hold Shift to X, release to carry on filling. It’s amazing how big of a difference that makes, and how much it speeds up filling in grids. The catch here is that once you get to the really big grids (we’re talking 25×25, which is bigger than you’ll usually find in such games), it doesn’t have any tech to keep the mouse within the straight line you’re filling. This means you can easily slip into the next of the tiny lines, and get penalised. That’s a real bummer, as it’s a massive hole in an otherwise lovely, free picross game. However, it does also meant that there are decent penalties here – something woefully missing from too many of the puzzles. Even the Picross e games suffer from this error, just meaninglessly adding a minute onto your finishing time, and then in no way rewarding or punishing your time at the end. Armor gives you five lives – five mistakes to make before it’s game over for that level. Sadly promises of a pay-for deluxe version lead to a site that’s now dead.

Picross

A few people recommended Color Cross from Wild Tangent Games. It turns out it’s a touch pushy. Download the demo, and you’re tricked into downloading the Wild Tangent launcher, which installs itself without asking for a location, and then downloads the game within it. That done it then offers a load button, which comes with one of those vile adverts attached that also has a load button on it. Click that and it’ll start trying to install other stuff to your machine – eek, no. Get the right one and you get to play for free, after you click past a broken advert, and a screeching fullscreen login of horror. Eventually tame the thing and cor, it’s actually rather good. As the name implies, it’s another colour version of the game. Although unlike Illust Color, rather than the numbers being different colours for each line, this time it’s a puzzle in a puzzle in a puzzle. Fill one colour’s squares and you’ll then repeat things, this time filling another colour in the remaining gaps. And so on until the thing’s solid. It’s a splendid idea, and running offline there’s a right click for Xing too. The stupid mistake here is a ludicrous explosion of little blobs (candy, magic, etc) when you correctly fill a line, which obscures what you’re looking at momentarily. A bit dumb. But otherwise, this is a surprisingly lovely Picross game. You can switch between colours at will, with one solution providing hints for another within the same grid. Impressive stuff, if ghastly to install.

Picross

Or for a near-infinite supply, you could check out Griddlers.net. “Griddler” is about the horriblest name for “picross” imaginable. They could have called them “Hitler’s Flaps” and it would have been nicer. However, what you’ve got there are user-created challenges, in their kerbillions. They also have, erughghggh, Triddlers, which are the same concept but with three axis for filling. Coo. They come in traditional black and white, but also colour versions like the Illust game, where you vary between colours as you fill the grid, according to the different colours of the indicating numbers. Rather neatly it lets you assign three different colours to your mouse – left, middle and right buttons – allowing for a complex, but faster solution for the giant puzzles. And I do mean large. There are 45×50 grids in there, should you feel the need. I just can’t – the greyness of the grid, and the size of it, sends my eyes into a frenzy. I can barely stare at this white screen to write these words any more after trying one of those. But lovely to have an online game that uses the whole mouse, and prevents going over the lines when filling. The obligatory issue? Unlike every other game mentioned, you can drag a line of Xs (or blanks in this case) over a row with filled squares, and have it intelligently skip them. Or vice versa.

Picross

It’s so odd that each game seems to have just one element wrong with it. As if getting everything right – keeping dragged lines to the row, preventing overlaps, a simple solution for switching modes, not obscuring the grid, or just being simple install and run – would cause some sort of calamity. A fate that the incredibly sadly deceased Hudson Soft (damn you Konami, you bastards) seemed to know how to avoid in their unsurpassed Puzzle Series of games for the DS. Perhaps none shall ever repeat their near-perfection (nor indeed their actual perfection when it came to Slitherlink). In the meantime, if you’ve a 3DS I encourage you to grab the Picross e games, which improve with each iteration. And if not, give one of the above a try. And if you know of a better one, for goodness sakes, link it below.

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58 Comments »

  1. SominiTheCommenter says:

    I played every single Picross DS puzzle, and are now about to finish Picross 3D, I have about 20 puzzles left. What an amazing game really.

  2. SominiTheCommenter says:

    Wikipedia says that “Solving nonogram puzzles is an NP-complete problem.”, so suck it, machines!

  3. Stuart Walton says:

    A long time ago I used to go here. I think it’s all done with javascript.

    http://www.playtsunami.com/

    • Rhythm says:

      Blimey, not seen that site for quite a while.

      I love Picross/Trunami/Nonogram puzzles but I actually find the Ninty and other console version pretty lacking as the “lose extra time for hitting wrong square” penalty is way too harsh, especially when all too often it happens as a result of just hitting the wrong key.

      Simon Tatham’s Puzzle Pack http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/puzzles/ has a reasonable implementation (Pattern) that’ll make random patterns. The fact that the images aren’t predictable makes for a harder. purer challenge too.

  4. Paradukes says:

    Gemsweeper 2 is a pretty good picross game for the PC. Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve ever heard that term. Up until now, I only ever knew it as nonograms. In any case, if you’re not too fussed about having an actual picture and only care about the logic aspect, there’s a fantastic site that generates massive versions randomly: http://www.puzzle-nonograms.com/

    Though I ended up moving onto Bridges, there.

  5. nullpunktur says:

    Picture Logic is one browser one featuring plenty of variation in difficulty: http://tonakai.aki.gs/picturelogic/index_e.html

  6. Shookster says:

    Didn’t John post a puzzle game a while back that was sort of Picross-esque?

    And by that, I mean I can’t find it, help, please?

  7. Hardtarget says:

    Literally insane that you didn’t mention the best picross game and that is Picross 3D (for the regular DS)

    so sad there has been no sequel to that on the 3ds yet :(

    • John Walker says:

      Um.

      “And the best ever variant is the incredible Picross 3D, developed by Nintendo themselves, where the entire concept was given a new dimension, and the results one of the greatest puzzle games ever.”

    • djbriandamage says:

      He, er, uh, did mention it. Doesn’t necessarily negate your claims of insanity but there it is.

    • RobinOttens says:

      Figuratively insane? He did mention Picross 3D by the way. I also would love to have Picross 3D on my 3DS.

      Edit: Double ninja’d : (

    • Premium User Badge golem09 says:

      I have to say, I never liked Picross 3D as much as Picross DS. The concept was awesome, but it was just missing the big endgame puzzle that cost me 2 hours of my life each. So playing 3D after DS was pretty dull, even with the extra dimension.

      I’m a bit sad though that there isn’t a proper picross on android. They all control like shit.
      So what am I doing atm? Emulating Picross DS on my Android tablet, since I’ve forgotten all the puzzles anyway.

    • Merus says:

      I’m finding the idea that it is the best ever version of Nonograms kind of insane. I got bored of it and gave up on it.

      I think my favourite Japanese puzzle is Ripple Effect, though. Love a good Ripple Effect.

  8. trjp says:

    I’d gotten some work done, chores done, dogs walked, Ingress Portals Recharged/Defended/Attacked and was looking forward to a quiet night of reading and some FUCKER posts about Picross

    Well thanks for that ;)

  9. GameSageZB says:

    One of the best interfaces and sites that I’ve found has been Web PBN. I found it had a clean interface and has large puzzles (if you’re into that). It also has multicolored puzzles.

  10. trjp says:

    p.s. worth saying that it’s scary how bad the controls/interface to most Picross games actually is – it’s not THAT hard to get right but so many get it wrong.

    Last time I looked there wasn’t a Picross game worth the effort on Android or iOS – for example – the ‘one button’ touchscreen thing does make things a bit harder but you’d think the developers had 4 hands or a long nose or something judging by the crap they’ve fed us on those platforms…

    • orbit_l says:

      I personally am quite fond of CrossMe on Android and iOS, although the Android on a Nexus 7 version had me frustrated with its inaccurate tapping. No such problems on my (smaller) iPhone 4, however. Loads and loads of puzzles for about €5.

  11. djbriandamage says:

    Picross is a great game and Picross 3D was the zenith. Thanks for these suggestions, John.

    There’s a few similar games on Android which you can play on PC or Mac with the free BlueStacks virtual machine. It will allow you to play many Picross variants including Oh! Cube which is a shameless ripoff of Picross 3D, and not quite as good, but the closest anyone has come to the excellence of the HAL Laboratories original.

    BlueStacks Android virtual machine: http://www.bluestacks.com

    Oh! Cube 3D nonagram game: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.auer.ohcube

  12. Scurra says:

    The Conceptis app is acceptable, but you only get one freebie puzzle a week. (On the other hand, you get one freebie puzzle of about ten other puzzle types as well.)
    If you want inappropriate names for this puzzle, the Conceptis incarnation in print used to be called Tsunami… Fortunately, they had the good taste to change it after, um, the tsunami.

  13. nimbulan says:

    What was wrong with Picross DS? It had a wide variety of puzzles and good controls, what else do you need? Now if I had a 3DS I’d definitely be picking up the new one, oh well.

  14. ulix says:

    What I want is a good multiplatform version of Panel de Pon/Puzzle League/Tetris Attack.

    And a game like Advance Wars. WIth all the simplicity in design that entails.

    Any tips?

    • Knurek says:

      Newly released Battle Worlds: Kronos might be up your alley – it’s penned as a spiritual sequel to Battle Isle games, and the devs mention Advance Wars as well.

  15. Knurek says:

    It’s really weird that you haven’t mentioned Conceptis Puzzle yet, Especially since they made your favourite DS puzzle game, Pic Pic.:
    http://www.conceptispuzzles.com/
    Loads of puzzle types, including Nonograms.

    • John Walker says:

      There’s that difference between not mentioning something, and not knowing about something.

      Cheers for the tip!

      • Knurek says:

        Please write more about puzzle games, I’m curious especially about your opinion on DROD.

  16. Over says:

    I’m amazed that you don’t know the “World Mosaics” series. The best picross games on your PC. Try it!
    http://www.bigfishgames.com/download-games/3741/world-mosaics/index.html

    It’s already on the 7th sequel. Some things have been improved on the first versions, so maybe try the later versions first.

    • John Walker says:

      They’re definitely worth £7.50 a go?

      • Over says:

        Considering the hours of entertainment, yes.
        But if you follow my link, you’ll see that all games are in promotion. Use the code NEW299 and you can’t get each game for $2.99

      • Jurple says:

        I tried one of them, and came away unimpressed. If memory serves, the auto-correct/penalty was quite a turnoff.

      • trjp says:

        No-one pays full price for Big Fish games – there’s the newbie code (above) and the “literally every 3rd day” sales!!

  17. BooleanBob says:

    What was wrong with Picross DS, exactly? I’m readily prepared to take almost anyone’s word for it that I’m very wrong people, but I wouldn’t mind having it explained why this is so.

  18. googoogjoob says:

    Pirate Griddles is a decent PC nonogram game, but it hasn’t got many puzzles and they never get very hard, which is sad. Push! is a bizarre implementation of some puzzles from Mario Picross in RPG Maker, wrapped in a plot about solving puzzles to help cats give birth.

    • Talesdreamer says:

      I’m glad someone else played Push! I remember the controls were pretty clunky, but was impressed netherless by the sheer madness required from programming such a thing in Rpg Maker. Also, general silliness and talking cats.

  19. jonny_eh says:

    It’s funny because I just made a picross game this past weekend for a hackathon: http://throw-42.2013.nodeknockout.com/

    It’s a bit rough since it was made in 48 hours. It’s main twist is also probably not too relevant to non-programmers, but is still playable.

  20. Treebard says:

    I don’t know what to say, John. I can’t figure out why zooming is an issue. Care to elaborate?

    For what it’s worth, that never bothered me, so I thought Picross DS was the bee’s knees.

    On the other hand, I eventually came to dislike Picross 3D. I think the core issue was that almost every puzzle came to the point where there was only ONE path to finish the puzzle. (In other words: remove this block, which leads to this block, which means you can remove this block, and so on and so forth.) By contrast, the best Picross puzzles never really feel like they lead you by the nose like that (though by being more open to multiple points to choose from or witchcraft, I don’t know), and therefore don’t feel like you’re just going through the motions. I don’t know, I’m finding it difficult to fully elaborate on the issue, but I know I’m not alone in feeling that way about 3D.

    Anywho, I’m currently playing Paint it Back on iOS, and it’s easily the best Picross on iOS. (Not that that’s saying much…this is the first I’ve tried that has been legitimately enjoyable.) It just came out a month or so ago, I think. It’s got interesting puzzles and a weird sense of humor (I’m pretty sure they recorded the fever dreams of children and used them for puzzle titles). It sometimes has non-standard sizes (15×20, etc.), which is a nice wrinkle for someone that has played an awful lot of Picross. However, you DO zoom in because the phone screen is small…but you can choose to not zoom if you set the controls to an on screen d-pad. Your choice. Highly recommended.

    • Caiman says:

      +1 for Paint it Back, excellent game from a former Popcap dev (it shows). I would imagine it works even better on an iPad though (the zoom is mandatory on the later levels if you want the Pro medals).

  21. Ben Elf says:

    John, I had no idea it was you who wrote all those fantastic puzzle game reviews on Eurogamer all those years ago. I just registered to thank you for your review of Slitherlink. One of the best games I’ve ever played and I never would’ve found it without your help. Cheers :-)

  22. nhorne says:

    I made this a few years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-yc8Yi2WP4

    It’s not as polished as it could be, but it has procedurally generated puzzles, right-clicking, proper drag controls, and doesn’t install very much malware.

  23. Radiant says:

    There’s a brilliant one for the *spit* ios called Hangame.
    It starts off as a regular picross game but then you can play people on line and because it’s a limited number of puzzles it becomes a game of who can recognise the pattern and fill it out the fastest.

    It’s like a wonderful parlour game but you’re playing japanese housewives as opposed to your regular houseful of wives.

  24. Eagle1901 says:

    Another great puzzle game is Slitherlink, John here actually wrote the review for it on Eurogamer.

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/puzzle-series-vol-5-slitherlink-review

    It’s by far the best puzzle game I’ve ever played cannot go back to playing Picross now, managed to get a copy imported in from Japan for about £15, worth every penny, do it if you can.

    • trjp says:

      Slitherlink was a proper mind-bender – it’s not QUITE as satisfying as a good Picross tho

  25. dglenny says:

    I loved the Kaser games, and his Picross game isn’t too shabby – http://www.kaser.com/descart.html

    It’s all a bit… frightfully old-fashioned, but still excellent.

    • Drogosh says:

      While they are definitely not that flashy or colourful as some of the entries in John’s article, both Descartes Enigma and Descartes Rainbow (adds colour) are really good. Like most of Everett Kaser’s puzzle games, come to think of it.

  26. Greggh says:

    Didn’t figure you’d rank among 3DS players, John – guess I shouldn’t have crossed that picture right off the bat.

    God I suck at puns.

  27. trjp says:

    Any takers for KenKen/Mathdoku puzzles – it’s just that I’m working on one :)

  28. Wedge says:

    Not sure why they came out with another 2d picross on the _3D_S of all things after the amazing Picross 3D on DS. I don’t care for the 2d ones at all, but the 3d one felt so much more engaging being able to rotate and poke at the puzzle.

  29. spectone says:

    I hate Picross and prefer Link-a-pix instead.

  30. Lurid says:

    Don’t know how many hundreds of hours I’ve sunk into picross games for the DS.
    I love the ability to download puzzles from old titles like MarioPicross and such.
    Also gone through ColourCross a few times, and Picross 3d, even if the latter didn’t have the same polish.

  31. scratchohey says:

    It’s probably been mentioned already, but Paint it Back on iOS is great. It has the best controls I’ve used in an iOS picross game, and it’s surprisingly funny too.

  32. mooken says:

    Fill & Cross Royal Puzzles has a pretty good interface.
    Left-click and drag to mark as “Checkmark”, right-click and drag to mark to empty/destroy. It’ll even count the number of squares dragged for you.