After 2017’s Picross S and 2018’s Picross S2, it should come as no surprise that 2019 brings Picross S3, the newest title in Jupiter Corporation’s unparalleled series of nonogram puzzlers. And just as S2 improved upon S with minor tweaks and new modes alike, S3 introduces a brilliant Color Picross mode to the series while also fine-tuning the core Picross experience ever-so-slightly through a better hint system and more puzzles than ever before.
For the uninitiated, basic Picross gameplay consists of filling in the cells of a grid based on numbers at the end of each row and column. Much like other Japanese logic puzzles such as Sudoku and Kakuro, the rules are simple but their permutations are near-infinite and their constituent puzzle-solving is deliberate and intricate. And much like buying a new Sudoku book, buying a new Picross game is really just an excuse to continue engaging in a new set of puzzles based on a tried-and-true formula that is as slow and steady as it is addicting.
Aesthetically, then, it doesn’t much matter that Picross S3 looks largely like the past two games in the series, emphasizing Apple-like crisp and clear presentation over any kind of artistic embellishment (though I personally find the vivid green backdrop of S3 more charismatic than the backdrops of the last couple games). Additionally, the game repeats the same inoffensive Muzak of past entries that allows the player to focus on the puzzles and catalyzes the trance-like experience of filling in square after square.
What truly matters in Picross is the quality of the puzzles at hand, and nobody makes high-quality Picross puzzles like Jupiter Corporation. Once again, they have struck a fine balance between challenge and fairness, offering a slew of puzzles that test the player’s wit without ever teetering over the brink into cheap territory. While numerous Picross-style games are available online or on mobile devices for less money than Picross S3, I have yet to play a free Picross game that feels designed with the intention and precision of those made by Jupiter Corporation. Ten dollars may feel like a steep price to pay at first blush because similar games are available for free, but you get what you pay for with dozens of hours worth of near-perfect puzzling.
Outside of the core Picross experience, Picross S3 offers a wider variety of modes than any other game in the S series so far, including Mega Picross, Clip Picross, and Color Picross. Mega Picross is nearly identical to standard Picross except some clues pertain to multiple rows rather than just one, which makes the Mega Picross puzzles a little tougher on average. Meanwhile, Clip Picross has the player solve a wide variety of grid shapes and sizes that ultimately combine to form a large tapestry. These modes remain essentially identical to those of past entries, with the same pros and cons players have come to expect.
Finally, Color Picross is new to the S series, and it entails the player fill in cells with specific colors, ultimately crafting a colorful image instead of the standard black-and-white. While its rules are similar to standard Picross, Color Picross puzzles generally take longer to solve and are slightly more difficult, providing a vivid respite from traditional Picross play. Though there are only 30 of these puzzles in the game, they are a welcome addition benefited by the subtleties of their unique play style and their especially lively images, which are not only intricately colored but also animated, lending a sense of high-spirited reward to solving these specific puzzles. Outside of the limited number of puzzles on display, the only notable downside with Color Picross is that some puzzles use colors so similar to each other that it can occasionally be difficult to tell which color the player has selected.
As a whole, Picross S3 is the best Picross collection on Switch yet. It features all past modes from Picross S and S2, while adding in the wonderful new color mode and containing a whopping 480 unique puzzles. Though minor issues from past games, such as a half-hearted cooperative mode and occasionally unimaginative puzzle illustrations, have not been completely addressed, Picross S3 is the strongest entry yet on Nintendo’s hybrid console, and a great game for nonogram devotees and newcomers alike.