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.
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.
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 25x25, 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.
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.
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 45x50 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.
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.