Version tested: DS
Let me tell you a romantic story. There was once a man who loved puzzle games. He bought a DS, and then played puzzle games on it for about 90 per cent of his waking life. The end.
While short, I think it's safe to say that's one of the most beautiful and moving tales of love and happiness that the world has ever known. The DS, for all its tinny sound and horribly region-locked future, is the greatest thing for puzzling chaps and chapesses since the invention of the pencil. Pick it up, run into the street, hold it above your head, and shout, "I love my DS and your laws and your twisted moralities can never keep us apart!"
Good. Now welcome to Pic Pic. You may already be very familiar with this, as it's already a year old. But like Slitherlink before it, this isn't about being fresh out the factory - it's about being a truly great puzzle game that you likely haven't heard about.
Pic Pic is, of course, originally a Japanese puzzle game (as no other country appears capable of creating a good one), but unusually has been translated and relocated for English-speaking types. (Something we still dearly wish would happen for Slitherlink). Originally called the slightly less catchy PikuPiku: Toku to E Ninaru 3-tsu no Puzzle, it's three puzzle games on one cart. And they're all great.
One stands out - Drawing. But before we get to that, bear with me for the onerous task of describing a visual puzzle in words - it's never a simple matter.
All three are built around a shared theme: completing a puzzle to reveal a picture on the top screen. Maze Paint is the simplest of the three - it's solving mazes. Something you've likely not done since you were a kid. The difference here is the path taken to find the solution paints blocky lines on the corresponding top screen, which results in a cute image. These start off pretty simply, but quickly become astonishingly enormous. There's a remarkable 400 maze puzzles here, and skipping ahead to look at number 354, say, is terrifying. The bottom screen, on the most zoomed out setting, still only shows about a twelfth of the total pattern shown in full above. It's the stuff of crazed fluey nightmares, trapped in a labyrinth larger than your mind can comprehend. HELP! And yet, ooh, what a nice picture.
I'm saving Drawing for last, so next is Magipic. Here you have a grey grid, with numbers in about half the squares. The idea is to paint the corresponding number of tiles black to which each number is adjacent. Um, bear with me. So, if there's a 9 on the grid, then the square itself and all those immediately surrounding go black. A 6 touching the edge of the screen is going to receive the same. A 6 in the middle of the screen is obviously not immediately solvable. A 0, meanwhile, is filled in with surrounding whites. So you start by filling in all the 9s and 0s, and then the rest becomes more obvious. A 6 alongside the surrounding whites of 0 can now have its remaining squares filled in black, etc.
For the first few hundred (it's odd to write that) these are quite elementary, only more challenging by their sheer size. Finding that one next move is the aim, which then satisfyingly reveals a stream of new moves. Toward the end, it does slightly disappointingly seem to leave small areas where you're forced to make informed guesses, which seems against the spirit of the thing. But frankly, there's so bloody many - 400 again - you won't mind.
Last, and least least, is Drawing, the deceptively plain name for a completely joyful puzzle - the puzzle that, were Pic Pic to include it alone, would earn the game a 10. It's important to understand this - as many criticisms of Maze Paint or Magipic as I may find to put below, Drawing seals the deal. Everything else is icing.
To communicate how much I love Drawing, let me explain this: there are once more 400 puzzles. I've completed them all twice. Later ones take around 20 minutes to finish. Which if I type into this calculator tells me... I've played this game a lot.
Here you once more have a grid of tiles, again with numbers scattered liberally about them. There's two types, black and white, and colour. We'll start with the former, as they do. Each number has a partner. You have to connect those numbers up, with the number of connecting blocks corresponding to that number. So things begin relatively simply. A 1 is obviously just painted black on its own. 2s are mostly very clear. They're next to each other, and while complicated if grouped together, are obvious enough. 3s get a bit more tricky, as they might be a straight line, or make a right angle. And from then on, it becomes much more tricky. The sight of a 20 on either side of the grid can be daunting. But the pleasure here is, there's never a moment of ludicrous guessing. Like Slitherlink, there's always a correct next move, and it's always enormously rewarding to find it.
But what elevates Drawing above the shoulders of so many entertainingly complex puzzles is the way it so quickly becomes intuitive. You develop instincts so strong that they shift to the right brain, meaning filling in the puzzle can often feel (I'm going to lose so many people here) poetic.
The controls are completely perfect, requiring nothing other than a tap or glide, with no switching back and forth between options (this is one of Magipic's few frustrations - the constant switching between black and white, which can't be assigned to a left-handed button). So faced with a giant screen of numbered tiles, you immediately flick and swoosh your way through the obvious 1s, 2s and 3s, which reveal possible pathways for the higher figures. But here's the most important thing - you can never, ever have an alternative solution. So if you see you're left with two possible routes for a connection to take, and nothing else that's going to change that, you've made a mistake. It's a peculiarly backward thinking - more possibility means an error. And as such, you can apply this rule ahead of time, realising which path you must pick for one string, such that it won't leave variables for those nearby.
Again, as with the other two, you end up creating a picture on the top screen. The further you get, the larger the grids, and the more complex this picture can be. By puzzles 200 to 400, you're often creating some really rather fantastic images, incomparable with the blocky blobs of the first few. Epic sunset scenes, waterfalls, sporting events. Puzzle 259 is a stream running through a forest. 314 is the MI6 Building in London. My absolute favourite is 371 - a gorgeously lit (no, seriously) pixel picture of a rabbit in the early evening, by some reeds.
Every so often the game switches from black and white to colour puzzles, with - I think - about two thirds ending up colour. Colour is only slightly different - with these you need to match the number and the colour. So a brown 4 connects to another brown 4, perhaps inside a red 12. This has the effect of simplifying the puzzles slightly - there's far fewer uncertainties when so many are clearly not ever going to connect - but increases the fun. The picture you build is that bit more entertaining to watch build up above, and by the time the grids are utterly vast, the black and whites can be unnerving.
It is just such a perfectly formulated, perfectly executed puzzle. It's distinct from anything in the wonderful Hudson Soft Puzzle collection, but as smartly and intuitively designed. In fact, it's in many ways better than the Hudson games, and not just because it's all in English. (It's so great to be able to turn the music off without having to attend evening classes). The control set-ups for each puzzle are astonishing, letting you reassign every button on the machine to some obscure flourish. (Except for letting you change between black and white in Magipic, madly!).
The only way in which it falls short of a Hudson title is the lack of a reward system for timely completion. While the omission doesn't hurt the game at all, it would have added another layer. Beating your previous time, and thus earning extra stars, is an excellent incentive for repeat play. However, in a puzzle game with 1200 superb puzzles, demanding that is perhaps a little excessive. And speaking as someone who's played 800 Drawing puzzles, it certainly didn't cause me to want to carry on any less.
So what you have here is a puzzle as inspired and delightful as Slitherlink, and in a game as neatly executed as Hudson's classic. Then either side of it are two other puzzle games, the slightly less interesting Maze Paint, and the slightly more fiddly Magipic, like lovely bridesmaids either side of the gorgeous bride. I told you this was romantic.
I have other things to celebrate about it, but I should probably stop. But let me mention the mad naming of some of the puzzles. They're not named until you've completed them, to ensure it's not spoilt. My favourite. A fox, with a golf club by a flaghole, with two foxes watching on in the background. The title? "Golf". Wonderful.
Confuse your local game store by making them order it in. Confuse 505 Games by having their eight-month-old game suddenly chart. (It's not in stock everywhere, but most places have "used and new" copies). Hell, if it's hard to find, we'll all force them to reissue it. It was released for Italy only this month, so we know they're still taking notice of it.
10 / 10