Pictopix just doubled in size, and remains the best picross game on PC

The best picross/nonogram puzzle game on PC, Pictopix, just got a free update on its first anniversary. It’s added in another 45 large-size puzzles, pretty much doubling the play-time of the whole game. So I’ve gone back in, and argue once more why this is the sort of PC game our industry is sadly failing to celebrate.

I think one of the greatest frustrations I’ve encountered over twenty years of this ridiculous job is the sense of failure when it comes to successfully communicating the positives of pure puzzle games. Too often I’ll encounter something utterly extraordinary, something like Hexcells, or Slitherlink, and just getting people to even click on the article feels like a challenge. I’ll write a review bursting with enthusiasm, hyperbole after hyperbole, just to try to make people realise that this is something special, and it’ll get three comments, one of them complaining about the site’s login system. And worse, even when I do get some traction, like with Hexcells, the rest of the industry just ignores it.

Of course, most of the problem is the ludicrous contradiction that the most popular puzzle types on Earth are a tiny niche when it comes to PC games. While the real average gamer, the 30-something woman in America, isn’t loading up Plunkbat but playing puzzle games on her phone, she’s also one of the less likely people to be clicking on RPS to read about them.

But there is a crossover audience! I know, because I’m in it. And if more critics would start writing like such people exist, those people would start reading in greater numbers. And when it comes to picross (some say ‘nonograms’), there’s no better way to play than on PC.

Which makes the fact that there are about three decent Picross games available on the machine even more ridiculous. And the best of them is Pictopix. And it just got better.

Made by one guy, Thomas Leroy, it does the decades-old puzzle in the cleanest, neatest way I’ve found. Unlike the DS, where picross previously found its ideal home, the PC has space for much larger puzzles without the fiddle of needing to zoom in to be able to click in the grids. (Jupiter Corp’s Picross E series on 3DS is superb, especially its excellent variant Mega Picross, but it’s woefully limited when it comes to grid size.) Oh, and of course there’s paper. The puzzle continues to live in magazines in Japan, and you’ll find it in some UK newspapers. But as soon as those grids get big, bloody hell, it’s a grim fuss to shade with a pencil, especially if you discover you’ve made a mistake. But on PC, 30×30 is no problem at all. Starting over is a click, fixing a mistake doesn’t require erasers, and there’s the added pleasure of more colourful presentation.

Paint It Black is perhaps the cross-platform picrosser most people have heard of, and it’s a fun game, but try going back to it after the clean simplicity of Pictopix and it feels like swimming in clay. Leroy absolutely nailed it a year ago, and he’s just added a huge pile of new, large-sized grids that continue the lovely pixel art solutions, and the cheeky sense of humour that riffs on iconic PC games.

I mentioned last April that I hadn’t stopped playing Pictopix since I reviewed it last January. I didn’t stop then. I think I played that game on and off in my spare time for well over six months – completely unheard of in a job like mine. The longevity came from playing the player-designed puzzles, regularly added in via the Steam Workshop. My goal, I told myself, was to play every single one, no matter how dreadful (and many were), but eventually I couldn’t keep up with the volume. At the time of writing there are 1280 of them. A volume thankfully sortable by quality, as on completion you can rate them. There are only so many times you need to realise you were creating a Pokeball, trust me.

It was playing the amateur puzzles that really highlighted the quality of the original challenges. A good picross isn’t just about making a nice picture by the end – it’s about a solution requiring you to scour and scour for that one remaining available move, that will unlock the next three, and those constant moments of satisfaction of deducing your way though a puzzle. There’s a fine art to creating a good puzzle, and after wading through hundreds of mediocre ones from the community, it’s quite the relief to have a new pack designed by the creator.

And there aren’t many picross packs where you’ll realise you just pixel-created a Penrose triangle.

The 45 new puzzles start at 30×30, and go up to the new size of 40×40, meaning each puzzle is a fair old challenge. You might find yourself putting a good half hour into some of them, meaning there’s a whole ton of new game here. The developer claims the new 45 will take longer to finish than the original 155, and I suspect (from the speed with which anyone familiar with the puzzles will breeze through the 5×5 and 10x10s) that’s true. Oh, and this is all for free for owners of the £5 game.

This is completely marvellous. My only issues are so minor as to barely register – I really would like it if the cursor hovering over a cell faintly highlighted the row/column in these larger puzzles, and I still don’t agree that having the numbers auto-fade out when their cells have been unambiguously filled in is deserving of penalty. (Not least because you can do it by hand for no penalty.) But this is picrossing at its best, equal to the best in the business – Jupiter Corporation – when it comes to puzzle construction, art, and wit. I do rather wish we lived in a world where that was the sort of accolade that would make people gasp, rather than say, “Who?”, but for those who already know, it’s like saying, “As good as Valve at FPS”.

I’ll keep hammering away at this. Games journalism will, perhaps, maybe, one day recognise that there’s more to puzzle gaming than 3D first-person mazes. Maybe, perhaps, one day the industry will give them the respect they deserve, such that the best of the best like Pictopix can rise to the top. In the meantime, if you already love these puzzles, this is a must buy, and if you want to get into a smart, engrossing, and perfectly delivered pure puzzle game, this is an amazing place to start.

Pictopix is out now for Windows, Mac and Linux, for £5/$7/7€, via Steam, Humble

25 Comments

  1. Culby says:

    Picross is amazing, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

  2. Doogie2K says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve bought every one of these on your recommendation (except Slitherlink, which I need to have a peek at). I did find myself getting kind of bored with Pictopix, but I may have also just burned myself out on Picrossalikes for a spell there last year: I never got past the 15x15s, which I realize is where the real crazy shit starts, having played some Nonograms Katana. I may need to pick this back up. (Even though I also just bought Picross S on the Switch, because I don’t learn.)

  3. Premium User Badge

    ComicSansMS says:

    I bought this last year after reading about it here. Had been playing the Picrosses on GameBoy and DS before and this one is indeed a worthy successor. Super streamlined UI, great puzzles and the ability to design your own puzzles is a nice bonus.

    Very excited to see that new puzzles are being added, as I was almost finished with the original one. I find it very relaxing to do those every now and then while riding the train or waiting at the airport. And I fully agree with John here: These kinds of games don’t get the recognition they deserve. Glad that you won’t give up promoting them!

  4. kidkaracho says:

    Complaint about the site’s login system.

  5. GlasWolf says:

    Maybe part of the problem is that you can go to Griddlers.net and get a bajillion of them for nothing. Depends what the curation is worth to you I suppose.

  6. Faldrath says:

    Yeah, I also bought Pictopix and Paint It Back based on your recommendations (and also the Hexcells trilogy), and I enjoyed them quite a lot – although PIB more than Pictopix, I guess I liked the more figurative stuff in PIB better.

    That being said, there is a subgenre of pure puzzlers that gets its fair share of attention these days – the Zachlikes. I myself can’t really play them – I tried Spacechem and gave up in the 2nd or 3rd puzzle, programming logic simply isn’t for me. But I do admit Opus Magnum is very tempting.

    • WombatDeath says:

      It’s odd – programming logic is totally for me, and yet I’m appallingly bad at SpaceChem and Opus Magnum. I suspect that good spacial reasoning, which my brain refuses to do, is as (or more?) important in those games as programming logic.

      Oh well, being rubbish at something is good for the soul.

      • SenorRoboto says:

        I’d suggest TIS-100 or Shenzhen I/O instead if spatial stuff isn’t your thing, Spacechem/Infinifactory/Opus are much more spatial.

        • Tiax says:

          I would argue that TIS-100 does rely on spatial logic quite a bit, as you have to consider which CPU of the grid will run a given set of instructions. Especially since some on them are disabled in a lot of puzzles.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    There are things I cannot thank you enough, and Hexcells is one of them.

    • WombatDeath says:

      Oh yes, seconded, I probably spent more time in Hexcells than anything else in 2017 and I’d never have heard about it if not for John. Even the procedurally generated levels in Infinite are relaxing and enjoyable, though understandably not in the same league as the hand-crafted puzzles.

      So thank you John – I’m sure it’s frustrating having to keep banging the same drum, but I appreciate it.

  8. Oneiromancer says:

    John! Did you ever try Everett Kaser’s Picross game, called Descartes Enigma? (link to kaser.com) You said you would check it out the last time you posted about Pictopix. The puzzles can go up to 75×45, and there is even one example of this size in the free demo.

  9. QSpec says:

    What is everyone’s favorite mobile picross? I find most don’t get the controls right, but I adore Nemo. I’ve played it out though. Anyone have a good recommendation?

  10. Beefsurgeon says:

    Okay, I’m convinced! I’ll give it a try.

    PS The login system is still horrible.

  11. hijuisuis says:

    Thank you for pushing these, I’m definitely part of the crossover audience, pretty much since I found English Country Tune via RPS.

    I also love that there are minimalist puzzlers each week in unknown pleasures, I’ve picked up many of those as well.

    I just bought Slitherlink Full on android, happily of to try it now.

    Don’t stop John!

  12. SimonOrbit says:

    I loved the Picross games on the DS. I will definitely pick this up. Thanks for the recommendation John — you are not alone.

  13. ziffel says:

    “plunkbat”

    lol. only on RPS.

  14. Vinraith says:

    This had been on my wishlist for some time but this kind of post-release support absolutely deserves my money – sold!

  15. Duke Flipside says:

    Please do keep it up! I, for one, love RPS’ coverage of these puzzle games, and have bought (and greatly enjoyed) Hexcells/Hexcells Plus/Hexcells Infinite, Squarecells, Cosmic Express, Strata, and most recently Pictopix on your recommendation – games I’d never have been aware of without their being featured on the site!

  16. Josh Grams says:

    I’ve never really cared about the “picture” aspect of Picross, so I just play the one from Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection. The picross puzzle in this collection is called “Pattern” for no particular reason. It doesn’t have the mouseover row/column highlighting, the ability to temporarily mark squares with an outline for counting, nor the clue fading when a row is finished. But you can left-drag to mark a sequence of one color and right-drag to mark a sequence of the other, which is the basic functionality that you need.

    And like all of the puzzles in the collection, it randomly generates only solvable puzzles (though some puzzle types allow you to explicitly ask for ones where you have to guess). They’re perhaps somewhat less interesting than human-designed puzzles, but then again, you have an endless supply of them in any size that you care to generate.

    The Slitherlink puzzle in this collection (called “Loopy”) is also great: it’s the only place that I’ve seen Slitherlink puzzles on grids that aren’t just squares (barring krazydad.com, which is derived from the sgt-puzzles code AFAIK). So you can do Slitherlink puzzles on hex grids or triangular ones, Penrose grids, Laves grids, and several tilings with multiple different kinds of cells (e.g. great hexagonal grids have hexagons, triangles, and squares). I don’t know why nobody else seems to have picked up this idea, but it forces you to learn to solve them based on the underlying topology rules rather than just memorizing the patterns for a square grid. Tons of fun.

    • rmsgrey says:

      The paper puzzle magazine Beyond Sudoku (published by Puzzler and distributed by WHSmith in the UK) has hex-grid slitherlink puzzles in their rotation (in addition to the regular square grids and some other variants)

  17. Tiax says:

    What about 3D picross games? Anything available on PC?

  18. foilman says:

    For anyone who enjoys solving Slitherlink puzzles, I run a website with a daily puzzle here: kwontomloop.com

    They get harder during the week, so Monday’s is (relatively) easy, and Friday’s is always a challenge, while the weekend gives you slightly larger puzzles than normal.

    I’m rarely there myself these days, but there’s a dedicated community of solvers dropping by daily, and forums to ask for tips.

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