I get quite a few picross/nonogram puzzle games sent my way of late, which is really quite a splendid state of affairs. One of the best puzzle types in existence, there have been few truly great versions, starting with Mario Picross on GameBoy, then Picross E on 3DS, and most recently Pictopix on PC. There are also an awful lot of duds, and out of kindness I quietly pass on most of them I see. Picrastination is a good, solid picross game that falls in the space between.
It’s important to maintain a separation of church and state when it comes to games reviewing, which is something I’ve rather messed up with for Picrastination. Entirely not on purpose, I’ve accidentally caused Picrastination to be a better game than it might have been, by asking a few casual questions of the developer when he sent me an unfinished version. So, er, sorry? And you’re welcome?
If you’re not entirely sure what picross is, my review of Pictopix began with a fairly decent primer, so I recommend you head over there. That done, and for those familiar, you’ll know there are certain core concepts that are vital for making this traditionally print-based puzzle work neatly on a computer. Key among them is superb pixel art designs for the solutions, neat and clear presentation, and easy and unthinking control of the mouse. One-man developer Mark behind Bearcat Games has the first two nicely covered, but, er, it might be thanks to me that the latter is superbly implemented in the release version.
It was by mistake, as I said. He sent over an incomplete version, I took a look as I will any picross game, and I wrote back asking if the final build would contain the mouse cursor to a single row or column when drag-filling cells. It wasn’t going to. It does now. It’s much better for it.
I also asked if there was going to be a button to go directly to the next level, without having to go back to the level select menu, as it seemed an odd oversight and something I was assuming was yet to be popped in. I jokingly suggested to him that if there were, the game would “receive 405 more points.” There wasn’t going to be. There is now. It’s much better for it. 405 better.
Fortunately, my minor play-testing doesn’t change the fundamentals here, which are a solid, well-constructed picross game, that tries to differentiate itself with a meme-y sense of humour. Each solution is accompanied by a revealed title that references something or other, maybe a famous movie quote, popular gaming meme, or well-trodden notion like the Star Wars text scroll. These are hit and miss, but entirely harmless. The joy of picross is in the solving, not the solution, so a bonus joke at the end is welcome no matter the hit rate. Plus it’s hard to object to finding a just-vague-enough image of someone who might look like Phoenix Wright, accompanied by the title, “OBJECTION!”
Pictopix actually does this too, although not as ubiquitously, so it’s not that enormously distinguishing. And while I really love the way Picrastination’s cells rotate a cube to reveal either a filled in or crossed out cell, there’s something not quite as clean about the way it overly brightly highlights cells as you’re filling them. Changing the colour of the puzzles to a darker blue helped here, and its very splendid that the game’s options let you do so, with new colour options unlocking as you play.
The other feature that I’d love to have seen – and I realise now might have seen if I’d sent one more enquiring email – is the “maybe” option when filling cells. That’s non-vital, certainly, but Pictopix’s middle-click for putting in potential filled cells is enormously useful when completing larger puzzles, where looking for overlaps is trickier. It does feel missing once you don’t have it.
Beyond this, Picrastination is a huge collection of great puzzles, with imaginative solutions, and some really nice extra game modes. First is an Endurance mode that sets you 7×7 procedurally generated grids, with time awarded onto a countdown clock for correct solutions. It’s frantic, and really hones skills for small scale puzzles. I’d love to see the same extended to larger puzzles (with more generous time, obviously). Then there are the Mosaic puzzles, larger images constructed from smaller grids. Pieces for these larger puzzles are unlocked by completing the Daily Challenges under a time limit, which is a neat idea to encourage lots of regular playing, but annoying if you just fancied sitting down and doing a few larger puzzles that day. I’m not sure which way I fall on that one.
There we are. A solid, decent picross game, that unquestionably stands in the shadow of Pictopix, the one picross game to rule them all. If you’ve exhausted all Pictopix has, as I have, the Picrastination is a very welcome inclusion, and at less than a fiver, an easy decision to make.
Picrastination is out now on Windows, for around £4, via Steam.