Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mario's Picross

I'm not sure how I haven't yet talked about my love of the Picross series of games from Nintendo.  The concept is surprisingly simple, yet amazingly difficult to master.  There's a simple grid, anywhere from 5x5 to 15x15, and there are numbers indicating how many squares in each row or column need to be filled in.  A "15" would indicate the whole row is filled in, while a "0" means nothing gets filled in.  However, a "3 4" indicates there's a group of three and a group of four that need filling, but when you have fifteen squares to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out which ones are right and which ones aren't.

The later games in the series increased the size of the puzzles and even took them into the third dimension (because adding a z-axis to everything makes it harder), but having just wrapped up a recent play through of the original game, I figured I'd talk about it.

Unlike many Game Boy games (looking at you, Star Trek: The Next Generation), Mario's Picross actually takes the time to teach each new player how to play it.  Crafting simple letters out of 5x5 grids might not be the most exciting thing in the world, but when you're suddenly realizing the correlation between the vertical and horizontal axis to determine mark placement it- wow, yeah, that does sound absolutely boring without any images to go with it.

So let's bring in an image.

First off, I have no idea why Mario's an archaeologist in this.  It's just one of his many jobs he couldn't keep for very long, but in case my talking about the x-axis and y-axis made you want to close this blog post and start watching cat videos, here's a better breakdown.  Look at the first line going across on that 15x15 grid.  See the "7 7" there on the left?  That means you fill in seven squares, then there's a break, then you fill in seven more squares.  Now, in a 15 x 15 grid that's pretty easy, because there's only room for one space between two groups of seven.  The same goes for the vertical "5 9" groupings.  It's when you start getting into groups that don't add up to 15 you start looking at where lines cross each other to figure out if you should put a group in one area or another.

Look, it's not a huge action adventure game, but it's mentally stimulating and a fun challenge to play through.  There are a couple hundred puzzles in this classic Game Boy game to play through, and they increase in difficulty as the game progresses.  When you manage to solve them all, the game decides to go into a "time trial" mode, where it won't tell you (on the plus side, it doesn't penalize you either) when you've screwed up, so you have to try to complete the picture as fast as you can while constantly second guessing yourself as to whether you're filling the squares in correctly.

If you're really stuck during the basic puzzles, the game will even offer hints with no penalty, filling in one row and one column for you at random.

If you can find a copy of it or any of the later games, give them a shot.  I'll review the others later on in this blog, but I promise that each one is worth the time to sit down with and play.

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