Gaming to Go: Picross DS (p2)

A description of how a typical Picross puzzle plays out won't be the most exciting thing you'll read today, but bear with me for a moment as I run through the rules. You'll start with an empty grid of varying size -- starting at 5x5 and ultimately running up to 25x20 -- and a series of clues for each column and row. A typical clue will read something like "2 1 2," which means there is a group of two squares, a group of one square, and another group of two squares in that row or column -- in that order, and with at least one blank square between them -- that must be filled out. Filling out the right squares in each column and row will ultimately create a picture and yield a successful completion of the puzzle.

If you have any familiarity with nonograms, you'll do well with Picross DS from the start, though the learning curve might be a bit steep for anyone going in blind. Following the clues and filling out the correct squares on the grid may not seem so simple at first, but the game employs an excellent progression to the hardest puzzles, starting you out with small, simple grids and letting you develop your logical thinking before you can unlock and tackle the most difficult challenges.

You're given a sixty-minute time limit in Normal mode to complete the puzzle, though every time you fill in an incorrect square you'll be docked a certain amount of minutes. It isn't a real threat early on in the game, when you can take a puzzle with you on the road and spend maybe five or ten minutes to work through it, though the sizable final puzzles will require a longer investment. Picross provides the option to save your progress in a puzzle and return to it later, however, allowing you to turn the DS completely off and not have to constantly resort to sleep mode whenever you fiddle with a large puzzle over the course of the day.

Picross DS also comes with a wealth of gameplay modes that change up the rules just enough to be keep things interesting. Free mode ups the difficulty a bit by not informing you of any mistakes and generally making the puzzles more challenging, though you're given a Try It Out option where you can study the puzzle and create an overlay to try and solve the puzzle without fear of horribly screwing up the puzzle itself. If you like what you do with the overlay, you can directly apply it to the puzzle itself, making overlays an essential tool for solving Free mode's numerous difficult puzzles. My Picross mode allows you to create your own picross puzzles, which is a surprisingly nifty addition, though the impatient can instead dive in and download some additional puzzle packs over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

Daily Picross mode is where things really get interesting. The initial challenge provides a series of five 7x7 puzzles, tasking you with completing each as quickly as possible to earn the highest ranking. Each mistake will cost you five seconds, however, which makes things decidedly more difficult when you're trying to get an A ranking and complete each puzzle under thirty seconds. Playing the Daily Picross mode multiple times is the only way to unlock the additional four challenges, all of which mix things up in surprisingly mean ways. Memory mode, for example, requires that you sit and study the clues for twenty seconds before you can start solving the puzzle. Once those twenty seconds pass, the clues will disappear, forcing you to rely on both your memory and the occasional clue that'll pop back up over the course of the attempt.

Achieving an A ranking in all five of the daily modes is far easier said than done, though developing your skills over repeated attempts is a great way to spend a few minutes each day. And there's always a plethora of Normal or Free mode puzzles to work through, most of which -- depending on your brain power, admittedly -- shouldn't take too long to complete. Picross DS may not have the speediness of other titles this column has covered so far, but it's still pretty well-suited for gaming to go, as you can take a puzzle with you on your day and work through it as quickly or slowly as you want whenever you have time for a break.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.