Get this game: the logical, subtractive beauty of Picross 3D

Picross 3D [Nintendo, DS, Amazon link] Writing about Picross 3D turns out to be more of a challenge than expected not because it's not a fantastically inspiring game, but because there's little to be added that Margaret Robertson didn't already lay out succinctly in her Offworld writeup of its import debut over a year ago. We were obsessed with it then as much as I have become re-obsessed now, not just because the lineage of logic puzzles that came before it have remained an underdog favorite genre, but because it truly is -- as Margaret said -- the world's best representation of an entirely under-realized game design verb: sculpting. Borne of Nintendo's original reimagining of the popular pen-and-paper logic puzzle pursuit known as nonograms (well before sudoku would, somewhat unfortunately, claim the ultimate logic crown [nonograms honestly being the more stimulating and rewarding game!]), Picross 3D is the Michelangelo equivalent to the original Picross series' semi-Seurat-ish pointillistic painting.
picrosspicross3d.jpgWhich may be one of the most convoluted and thin-stretched metaphors I've ever made, but here's the logic: where Picross is an additive game of matching numbered cross-referenced instructions to their dot-placed ends (as at left, where you're told, "this row needs three dots in a row, then skip some space, then two dots together, then skip more space, then four dots together"), Picross 3D is one of subtraction, where you start with your massive granite block equivalent and carefully whittle it down until, awesomely, a low-poly puppy pops out. picross3dnumbers.gifAt its best, Picross 3D is in constant dialogue with you, the player. Starting with your opening block, you knock out any row or column that's marked with a zero. Because of that, the game tells you, you can now begin to devise your next move. Does a row marked with a '3' have two adjacent blocks now standing alone? Surely, then, the three adjacent blocks the game is telling you are in that row can't be located there -- clear them away. And then repeat: what did knocking those two blocks out tell you about the rest of the columns and rows? It's a succession of spatial-logic "if... then" statements that's extremely hard to properly express in words, but when you've learned its language it's as magical a conversation as you've ever had with a game, and one that only occasionally falters when the game speaks too fast for you to keep up with. picross3dcollections.jpgBut so this doesn't ultimately come off as simply a pursuit of slide-rule/pocket-protector-ish number-play, Nintendo have quite wisely put an emphasis on the final result. Every finished work is an every-day object placed in a series of collections -- office accoutrement, travel accessories, traditional Japanese new years festival goods, and, of course, puppies, all with custom reward animations that snap the Lego-like constructions into focus. It's as equally hard to explain just what makes Picross 3D such a potent puzzler as it is to do so while avoiding repeating everything Margaret tried to tell you a year ago, so suffice it to say that it's a masterstroke of a thinking-game on Nintendo and developer HAL's part, and, as an unintentional simulation of the masterwork act of chipping away to produce something beautiful, entirely unmatched.


  1. I actually prefer Picross DS still over Picross 3D. After about a month of playing the game on and off, the 3D felt like a bit of a gimmick. The algorithm that makes the clues for puzzles always generates ONLY one clue that will lead to the destruction of a block.

    This fact means that many blocks have no numbers at all. What happens is that you’re often racing against the time limit, spinning the block in futility, trying to find that one clue you overlooked because of the camera. Games are often won or lost by bad eyesight rather than racking your brain.

    In the end, the only solution is to run through every 2D slice of the object, which turns the game into a tedious simple version of normal Picross. The fact that numbers are missing only adds to frustration. The final result is a game that ends up feeling more like a grind than a puzzle.

  2. Have had this game for about a month now and love it. I think I’ve solved about 310 of the puzzles so far. What I like, besides the things you mentioned, is the ability to just play for a few minutes, do a quick save, and pick it up again later. So if I’m studying, working around the house, or whatever, I can do 1 or 2 puzzles and get back to work.

  3. Nonograms are also called “Griddlers” at an excellent free site,

    You are able to complete online nonograms of all sizes and complexity. The puzzles are all created by participants, and you get to vote and on each one. Even better, you can figure out the best puzzle designers and search for their creations.

    But best of all, you can create your own griddlers and have people from all over the world tell you how they liked them. Go there and try it.

  4. I’m just now reaching the end of this game with the last stage of hard puzzles. It’s been a long road of before-bed puzzles. Always amusing to see your motor skill and spatial reasoning degrade as you slip towards sleep.

  5. This one and the original Picross DS are both brilliant. Easily my favorite DS games.

    Unless I am missing some bit of logic though, in the Hard levels there are all too often times where you simply have to guess, based on symmetry or intuition, what your next move should be. I’ve pretty much given up trying for Perfect on all the Hard puzzles, though I’m sure I’ll go back to them once I’ve finished everything I can.

  6. [TL;DR version: good game, great interface, buy it. If you liked the previous version, you might find this less challenging.]

    I have been playing this game since the North American release date, so just over a month, and I have been looking forward to reading your review since you mentioned receiving the game on twitter (a bit earlier than the rest of us, I might add!).

    I am nearly through the game, and my wife has completed all of the puzzles in her copy. This is no small feat, I suppose that was somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-120 hours of game time.

    The interface is spot-on, and the gameplay is intuitive, though I did need to swap some keys to make it play more like the interface from the previous version – nice that this capability was built in. The animations are cute and the collections really do make you feel like you are accomplishing something along the way.

    I really like the game, and I am enjoying playing it more than all my other DS games but one. Unfortunately, that one game I like better is the previous version of Picross. To elaborate, I agree with your statements, but I would add a few more comments.

    First, this game is radically different from Picross in the completeness of instructions. I rather enjoyed the ability to know all of the information in the previous, 2-D iteration of this game. As you can see in the green grass illustration of the 2-D game above, each row and column has instructions/data available. There are gaps in that information in this 3-D game, which is probably by necessity, but I will get to that in a bit. In other words, some lines in this game have no numbers/instructions.

    Second, there is no “free mode” as there was in Picross 2D (calling it 2D from here on, to reduce confusion). That means any mis-marking results in a penalty and an imperfect result. Unlike 2D normal mode, there is no time penalty, but rather there is a limit of 5 mis-marks before you must restart. In 2D, there was a “free mode” where the puzzle did not auto-correct your errors. It was considerably more challenging, knowing you were operating without a backstop. I do occasionally slip with the stylus and click on a cube that I don’t mean to. It is nice if I have the option to correct my error without heading back to a saved game and redoing my progress since my last save. The free mode puzzles in 2D allowed that flexibility.

    Third, the lack of complete instructions, as mentioned above, creates a real sense that you are proceeding down a prescribed path in solving the puzzles. Must remove A to find B, then C, then D. It is probably necessary to limit the available information, or many of the puzzles would be far too easy to solve (like having 3 equations with 1 unknown variable). Unfortunately, the path they have chosen on every puzzle requires no second- or third-order thinking where you must assume the possible solutions for one section and evaluate them against intersecting areas. In the 2D version, there were a number of puzzles that required deeper logic and were more challenging. This game does not require any multiple-path analysis. You just keep chipping away, one column/row/line at a time, rotating your way through until you are done. The gameplay and the breadth of puzzles are both to be commended, but the challenge is not as substantial, and feeling like I am on a specific path to the solution feels less like solving an interesting complex problem and more like pulling every lever until the task is complete. Ultimately, this feels more like a child’s game than the 2D version.

    Fourth, there are a couple of improvements over 2D. I was disappointed to have to buy a copy of the previous game for each player, this game allows up to 4 player profiles. Also, at a suggested retail of $20, this game is cheaper than the previous version, which still retails for around $35.

    [*Spoiler alert*]
    Fifth (and finally), there are no special unlocks, unlike in 2D. There were some neat, throw-back Nintendo character puzzles to solve, as well as a few other bonuses in 2D. Here, the only unlocks are animations and credits and the like. Maybe there was a music unlock; I don’t recall. Nothing like additional puzzles.
    [/*Spoiler alert*]

    In conclusion, this is an excellent game, with an intuitive interface and plenty of interesting puzzles. It is not as challenging as the previous 2D version, and the prescribed path to solving each puzzle was, in my opinion, an unfortunate solution to having to cut the amount of information presented with each puzzle. If you liked Picross 2D but thought it was too difficult as you went on, this game would be great for you. If you like this game but want a little more of a challenge, I recommend picking up a copy of the previous version.

  7. This game and the original Picross DS is complete crack in our household. All other gaming systems have been gathering dust since the U.S. release of Picross 3-D. It just does not seem justifiable to buy two copies of this game, just to avoid waiting turns, but we are very tempted.

  8. This game does rock. I do agree that at times the “3-D-ness” of it does tend to complicate some puzzles, but to me it’s worth it. I was a little surprised and disappointed to see such a graphically simple game run up against the graphics limitations of the DS screens; the sawtoothing reminds me of early VGA, and the difficulty of spotting a circled number versus a squared number at an angle often results in me restarting puzzles. The manual also should have been clearer about the fact that if you finish a puzzle with a fault, the game saves in such a way that you can never complete that level with the little gold scepter-thing that marks a perfect level, even if you later go back and finish that puzzle with no flaws. You get silver for that level, and that’s that.

    These are, however, minor quibbles about an addictive, challenging game.

    1. I have gotten the gold after restarting a level. You might need to also beat the previous time for it to work and replace the previous attempt – I have consistently beaten the time, so I am not certain about that.

  9. Fantastic game, I’d been waiting for over a year for this to release in America.

    I really love the 90s style, clipart-esque art used throughout the game, especially the bizarre modern art “mascot” that emotes as you play.

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