Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 10/04/16

A fine follow-up to one of the best puzzle games on the DS

After some speculation as to whether this one would even come out in the US, Nintendo just up and released this little gem the day it was announced. This sequel to the DS classic stacks up excellently with the original and offers hundreds of puzzles, and the changes to the presentation and gameplay are overwhelmingly positive.

The premise is still pretty much the same. As opposed to traditional picross puzzles, which take place in a 2D grid, these picture puzzles involve 3D rectangular solids with layers of rows and columns. Players must still chisel pieces out parts of a puzzle based on numerical clues written along the sides, so not a whole lot has changed in the transition to 3D. It’s kind of like doing multiple grids at once, because players can focus on specific layers of the puzzle at any time and “unfold” the puzzle, accordion-style, to see the entire puzzle at once at any time. When all of the correct parts are chiseled out and colored, the puzzle is complete.

The circled numbers and squared numbers on the rows and columns of the puzzles are back. These determine how the pieces that are kept in as part of the solution are spread out in a given row or column. Circled numbers mean that the remaining pieces are separated by at least one empty space, while a squared number means that it’s spread among three or more sections.

Picross 3D: Round 2 changes the formula. Now, players must paint the unchiseled parts with orange or blue paint. There’s no difference between the colors, but they help in solving the numerical clues. Since every single cube must be colored or removed, puzzles tend to be a bit more involving. It takes a while to get used to this painting function, but it’s a welcome addition.

There’s another change that’s worth discussing: players can mark cubes that they think will be orange or blue. If players see a blue 2 and then an orange 3, but the entire row is 5 blocks, that means that, as soon as one color’s figured out, players can mark the rest of the row to determine where the other color will be. Since the game marks players down for mistakes, this makes things much more fool-proof and gives players much more control.

Furthermore, there are no ambiguities in the puzzles. Players shouldn’t have to just guess by the “shape” of the puzzle’s solution, based on what they’ve determined, to vaguely fill in parts of the puzzle they’re on sure about. Since the solutions aren’t always symmetrical, marking cubes and cross-referencing the intersecting rows and columns become necessary to prevent any guesswork from blowing the experience.

The presentation bears a striking resemblance to Picross 3D. Puzzles aren’t arranged so much by difficulty, but by theme this time around. Instead of puzzle solutions being laid out in dioramas, where all of the diorama’s pieces could be spread out across the entire game, players see sets of puzzles as encylopedia-like volumes on a bookshelf in the “Picross Cafe”, where players can change their settings, go through tutorials and take a look at completed pictures. The new puzzle sets are unlocked by completing earlier albums, completing a certain amount of puzzles or by earning a minimum amount of points and gems.

Players earn points by solving the puzzles quickly and with precision. Based on the difficulty setting, players can earn different gems based on how many points they earn. This, in turn, unlocks more content. Puzzles on a higher difficulty setting have more obtuse number clues, too, so the difficulty is upped a little without changing the end-result. Keeping an eye out for in-game achievements can keep the player focused on short-term goals while challenging themselves to complete puzzles on harder win conditions. Earning the best kind of gem out of a possible five ranks for each puzzle can be a great challenge.

Each solution has a short description to go with it, too, and each completed model can be viewed in a special extras menu. Puzzles come in different types, too; there are time trials, no-miss challenges and diorama puzzles where the solution is made up of several smaller puzzles. One of my favorites was a fifteen-part puzzle where each smaller solution was a tiny person with large colored chunks along each side. When all the solutions came together, we see Gulliver being tied down by the tiny people of Lilliput. It kept me guessing and was a great surprise when everything came together.

Picross 3D Round 2 offers plenty of hours of content, for beginners up to seasoned players. Tutorials for advanced techniques can help players of any skill level tackle puzzles with a refined strategy. Completing all 300+ puzzles and going for the best rankings is going to take dozens of hours and plenty of dedication.

The graphics and presentation in the game are decent. I like the colorful and welcoming Picross Cafe aesthetic that frames the experience. Players are greeted at the “door” on the title screen, and the sets of levels are organized on a bookshelf in the cafe. It’s easy to look at every completed solution and rotate it around while reading the description, and the game is very malleable in terms of difficulty. The soundtrack is a mix of light jazz, upbeat tunes and ambient nature sounds - nothing too hard on the ears. The jazz music has some great, memorable melodies, but the overall experience - from the simplistic backgrounds while completing the puzzles to the light color palette of the Picross Cafe - are undaunting and are there to just let players focus on the puzzle-solving.

As a big fan of this gameplay, I have few complaints. The controls take some time to get used to, and the game is stingy with mistakes. Accidentally chiseling or painting the wrong cube can mar an otherwise perfect run, and that’s harsh considering how many small parts of the puzzle there are to interact with. Tutorials can be a bit wordy, and I would have liked some Nintendo-related puzzles without having to get Amiibo involved. It would have been nice to have something to break up the gameplay, as the dioramas did in the first game, or maybe a different kind of puzzle game as a combo pack. Even a good sudoku game would have been a welcome addition to make it more worthwhile to skeptical players, even if it’s been done to death.

This game has a very limited scope, I admit, but the game offers more than its thirty dollars’ worth. There are plenty of apps that offer picross puzzles, even some great 3D picross puzzles, but none offer the sleek presentation, the breadth of content or the excellent controls that Picross 3D Round 2 has on offer. If you enjoyed Picross 3D, this would we well worth the investment. I’d recommend playing the predecessor over this one if you’ve never played this one (if only because it’s so much less money and because the painting feature might be daunting to new players), but this is a very good sequel that builds on the original in significant ways and would be a great investment to anyone who enjoyed Picross 3D for the DS.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Picross 3D: Round 2 (US, 09/01/16)

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