Like its legion predecessors, Picross S is a puzzle game where the player must fill cells in a grid based on numbers around the grid’s perimeter to eventually reveal a picture. Nintendo’s translation of a Sudoku- or Kakuro-like Japanese logic puzzle, Picross is about using deduction to figure out the step next, which when taken will give you a clue about the next step. And if Picross is like digital Sudoku, then Picross S is a book full of Sudoku puzzles, a compendium of 10-second to 30-minute cranial ticklers that escalate in difficulty but all follow the same set of simple rules.
The original Mario’s Picross came out for the Game Boy in 1995. It was followed by a Japan-only sequel and roughly a dozen similar games released across several platforms including the Super Famicom, DS, and 3DS. Most Picross games feature the same gameplay as in Picross S, with minor skin-deep variations such as the Zelda-themed My Nintendo Picross: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the Pokemon-themed Pokemon Picross. The biggest change to the formula came with the introduction of a z-axis in Picross 3D on the DS and its sequel Picross 3D: Round 2 on the 3DS, using the same basic gameplay in three dimensions to sculpt figurines. Picross S ditches the 3D gameplay and goes back to basics with 150 classic 2D puzzles which can each be solved under the normal Picross or the slightly more difficult Mega Picross rule set. The spiritual successor to the annualized Picross e series on the 3DS, Picross S marks the series first foray on the Switch.
As the first entry on Nintendo’s newest platform, Picross S offers one minor Switch-centric change to the formula: co-op. Picross S’s cooperative mode is a series first, and a seeming nod to the Switch’s focus on local multiplayer. Despite a rosy concept, multiplayer feels lazily implemented, nothing more than merely letting two players simultaneously solve the same puzzle. And with each player leaving different color markings, multiplayer feels unintentionally competitive and visually garbled — a disingenuous halfstep in a promising direction. More lackadaisical still is the lack of touch screen control. A staple on the DS and 3DS that was a totally viable and intuitive way to play, the lack of touch control on the Switch is a peculiar step backward.
Half-baked multiplayer aside, Picross S is more Picross, which is exactly what most Picross fans are looking for. Its puzzles are all as fair and balanced as fans of the series have come to expect, and they run the gamut from beginner-friendly puzzles that will take seasoned players fewer than ten seconds, to tricky 15 X 20 mammoths that could easily eat up half an hour. The basic gameplay is as addicting as ever, but the pictures the player sketches are generally sterile and uninventive, especially following the themed and 3D series entries. Instead of the Master Sword or a 3D carving, Picross S’s pictures feel uninspired — a hat, a staircase, a kettle, etc.
The game also features a helpful and nuanced hint system, allowing the player to adjust the difficulty to what best suits their play. The only exception is that the fifteenth of every set of fifteen puzzles must be completed without any assistance, making for a compelling difficulty spike from time to time. Although the hint system is generally great, the “Check Mistakes” option shows the mistakes the player has made until the player hits a button. It feels teetered halfway between cure-all and memory test, and could have benefited from time limit and the ability to make changes without all the hints disappearing.
As essentially a digital puzzle collection, Picross S does not feature any sort of narrative and puts minimal effort into aesthetics. It’s a simple game focused on clear communication and the visual style and soundtrack are similarly inoffensive and aseptic. The elevator muzak and blanched color palette suit the clean, placid, minimalist nature of the gameplay. As mentioned above, however, more intriguing puzzle solutions could have been a nice touch, a reason to draw players across each puzzle’s finish line. Furthermore, reusing illustrations twice (once in Picross mode, once in Mega Picross mode) feels further uninspired, lessening incentive to play one mode after finishing the other.
On the whole, Picross S is exactly what it claims to be — more Picross with a halfhearted jab at Switch-specific content. Although its new multiplayer mode is lackluster and its touch controls are missing, this is a sensible purchase for those who already know and love Picross or Sudoku aficionados craving their number puzzle fix. With 300 puzzles for $8, Picross S is an enjoyable, if uninspired, way for puzzle-lovers to brain train on the go at a reasonable price.