The system/publisher/developer bit: Nintendo DS, published by Nintendo, developed by HAL Laboratory
The ten-word synopsis: Chisel blocks to make an object using logic and numbers.
For a game that hinges itself around logic, Picross 3D doesn’t make a lot of sense. By rights, a slow-paced, ugly-looking puzzle game that just makes you count blocks for hundreds of hours worth of levels shouldn’t be fun. The appeal of Picross 3D, like it’s flat predecessor, is a mystery. Yet it remains just as endearing to play as the 2008 title, the bane of so many of its’ purchasers social lives.
The DS is a unique system in that it is absolutely overflowing with quality puzzle games, with only really the iPhone/Android app stores able to compete against it for the sheer volume of brain-scratchy goodness on offer. However, there’s nothing on iPhone that’ll last you as long as Picross 3D, which for the very reasonable price of £11 (Second hand in GAME, if you know where to look) provides you with a good 500 puzzles, each one guaranteed to take you a good 3 minutes at least once you pass the tutorial, with puzzles getting more and more difficult as you go on. Perfectionists will find themselves using the ‘Restart’ option from the pause menu all too regularly as but one misfire prevents you from achieving the three-star ranking that we all desire.
For what it is, Picross 3D is almost flawless. Perhaps HAL Labs didn’t have the weightiest of expectations for it when they set about making an always-fated-to-be-obscure puzzle game, but the vast number of puzzles, regularly available downloadable extra levels and genius level creator fleshing it out into a complete package of puzzley goodness. The tightly-tied red bow around the awe-inspiring wrapping paper is the addition of the trademark Nintendo love and attention, pouring out of every seam. Be careful not to shake the cartridge, just in case you drown in charm-juice. The way your completed puzzles, which all eventually resemble a notable person, place or thing, animate themselves and have individual sound effects just makes any frustrations felt whilst trying to solve it worthwhile, as does the way they pop up on the menu screens to dark, fly or whatever it is that they do best.
Just as it was in Picross DS, seeing your unambiguous grid turned into a ‘thing’ that you recognise and know is really the games’ key and defining moment, albeit a moment that is repeated over 500 times. The leaps of faith it takes to reach those moments are also worth noting: Closing your eyes and tapping a block you’re not sure about deleting is far more nerve-racking than it should be, but when it comes off and your obscure logic was correct, it’s a satisfaction like no other.
In fact, simply holding ‘Right’ on the d-pad and tapping the block you want to erase is an immensely satisfying thing in itself. The way they break up as you hit it makes the game so much more fun than simply sticking a cross in a square, a la Picross DS. In the opening synopsis, I used the word ‘Chisel’, and that’s exactly what it feels like you’re doing. You’re crafting a fine wooden toy from virtual blocks. You’re chipping away at the superfluous bits and bobs around the shape you’re after, like an elf in a toy factory. You’re looking for gold, narrowing your search. For a game with absolutely zero plot, there’s a lot of different interpretations available to the human mind as to why you should be enjoying this.
Personally, I find seeing boxes ticket and percentages raised pleasurable. As such, slowly working my way through the varying levels and the puzzles within them in Picross 3D is an incredibly motivating task, especially when the job at hand is so bizarrely enjoyable. I could never describe it or sell it to somebody who hasn’t given it a go, so thankfully, that’s not what I’m trying to do here, as Picross 3D is a ‘thing’ that you only get when, appropriately, you’ve chiselled away at it for a few hours and found yourself hooked. Just make sure you give it a chance to do that to you.
7 One-Chance Challenges out of 10