I love Picross. But I also kind of hate Picross. Picross is Nintendo’s version of nonograms, a type of pencil-and-paper puzzle similar to crosswords or sudoku. That might sound boring at first, but there’s something about nonograms that make them more interesting in video game form than crosswords or sudoku. Perhaps it’s the Nintendo touch, but it might also be that the relative complexity of this type of puzzle makes it work better in an electronic format.
Picross starts with a square grid of unfilled tiles with each row and column bordered by a series of numbers. The idea behind picross is that you fill in uninterrupted blocks of tiles in each row or column based on the numbers that line the grid. So if a row has a 3 5 next to it, that means you need to fill in a string of 3 tiles followed by a string of 5 tiles with at least one unfilled tile in between these strings. The trick is that the tiles you fill in for that row or column must be consistent with the requirements of the columns or rows that run through it. The game is called Picross because each puzzle should make a crude pixelated image when the tiles are filled in correctly.
I think like most people in the U.S., I was introduced to Picross through Picross DS. I have to confess something now. I have a secret dark history with the Picross series, specifically, Picross DS. There were a few weeks of my life that I was maybe a little too hooked on that game. I would sit down after coming home in the afternoon and open up my DS and tell myself that I would only play for fifteen or twenty minutes, but before I knew it, hours would go by and the entire evening would have evaporated. I would complete one puzzle and would tell myself, just one more!, and keep going and going. I guess the dopamine rush I would get from solving each grid just made me not want to stop.
Eventually, I sort of triggered on the fact that spending so much time with the game was probably unhealthy. I considered just throwing the game in the trash to deprive myself of the addiction, but I ultimately decided this would be wasteful. I distinctly remember pulling the game out of the DS and sticking it back in its case and then burying it deep within my closet so that it would be hard to get to. And with that, my obsession with the game just sort of dissipated.
Since then I’ve been more successful at playing new Picross games, although I haven’t played them all. I’ve been able to avoid falling down the rabbit hole that I did with Picross DS. But each time one comes out, I still get a little suspicious that it might make me fall into the old habit. I especially liked Picross 3D and a few of the Picross e games that were released on 3DS. Pokémon Picross I thought was interesting, but I’m not a big Pokémon guy and didn’t really feel the need to pay to unlock the full game.
The latest Picross game that I’ve hopped on board with is Picross S, recently released on the Switch. Unlike games like Picross 3D and Pokémon Picross that attempted to inject new ideas into the series, Picross S is a fairly standard expression of Picross. There are two modes, standard picross and mega-picross, each which I think have 150 puzzles a piece. The standard mode is Picross according to its most basic ruleset, while the mega-picross mode changes up the formula by having hints that span adjacent columns or rows. Mega-picross has been featured as a side mode in previous editions, but I think this game has the largest collection of mega-picross puzzles in the series yet.
To be honest, even though I’ve been a picross addict in the past, something about this version just wasn’t doing it for me. The standard version of Picross just felt rote and boring. I got fairly deep into this mode before realizing that I just wasn’t really enjoying it all that much. My guess is that my lackluster feelings are more a result of me burning out on Picross and less a result of the quality of work they’ve done on this game.
As the monotony of the standard mode set in, I turned my attention to Mega-Picross mode and……wow, I got more than I expected out of it. Mega-Picross has been featured in some of the past editions, but I don’t think it has ever been given equal focus to the standard mode like it has in Picross S. It’s always really been a side mode. Personally, I’ve never really messed around with this variant of the game much. I guess I’ve really just been too lazy to learn it. The new rules can be quite intimidating at first. But after really taking some time to understand how it works, I could immediately feel myself getting hooked again like old times. The new dimensions of logical reasoning this mode adds were a real shot in the arm for the Picross formula.
Picross S is a good package. With just standard picross and mega-picross, it’s far from the most innovative or ambitious title in the series. While other releases (with the exception of Picross 3D) were also heavily focused on vanilla picross, they did try to introduce new side modes and mechanics to experiment with the formula. But Picross S fortunately makes up for its lack of adventurousness with just a lot of content. I don’t think any of the picross games on 3DS delivered this many puzzles for $8.
Honestly though, I don’t think I’ll be going back to anything that is simply vanilla picross. It’s just gotten old to me. While mega-picross has been satisfying, I think it’s time they come up with another major reinvention of the game like they did with Picross 3D. Hopefully, picross will see as bright of a future on Switch as it did on DS and 3DS, and we will see something revolutionary materialize.
In the wake of the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I’ve heard a lot of people contend that Mario Kart 8 was the best of the series, and I think they probably have a reasonable point. I personally feel that it’s kind of hard to name one Mario Kart the “best” out of all of them. They each have their own unique strengths, but also their individual quirks and idiosyncrasies. MK8 was and is a really amazing game, though, and quite possibly my favorite of the entire series. It’s great that it’s come to the Switch., but I vacillated quite a bit on whether I would purchase this new deluxe version. Ultimately, I bit the bullet as it’s always hard to resist this series.
While there have been several tweaks to the racing side of Mario Kart 8, a revamped battle mode is the most prominent addition, which replaces the Wii U original’s relatively hated and water-downed offering. This time they’ve actually created 8 new arenas specifically for battle mode, as opposed to what they did on the Wii U which was to reuse the racing tracks from the grand prix. This alone makes the new battle mode a huge improvement. In addition, they’ve added several new game types that offer a lot of variety to the player. To be honest, I haven’t really put a lot of time into battle mode since Double Dash. They’ve really neglected this part of the series over the years, as it was also less than stellar in Mario Kart Wii. I’m a huge fan of car combat games, and MK8D’s improvements in this feature have been a great addition, but, to be honest, I still find myself leaning more to the racing side of the game. There’s just something about the raw adrenaline and speed of the racing mode that gets me hooked.
While the revamped battle mode may be the big new addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, they’ve also made some tweaks to the racing mode, as well. Unfortunately, it’s nothing major, only two changes really stand out. The first major tweak is that drifting now rewards a third tier of sparks, pink sparks, that give an even greater boost than the blue sparks. The more noticeable change, however, is that racers are allowed to hold two items at a time, similar to Double Dash on the Gamecube. Unlike DD, though, they can’t switch between the items they’re holding. Whichever item comes up first must be used first before the second item can be fired off.
It’s a bit annoying, as sometimes I find myself wasting the “top” item just so I can use the “bottom” item. I imagine this was a feature that was actually meant to improve battle mode by reducing the amount of time the players have to spend seeking out item boxes, but even so, Double Dash’s implementation offers much more strategic depth. I’m actually wondering if the reason they don’t let players switch between items is because it would require an extra button, and the game already uses all the buttons available on a single Joycon controller.
There are a few new characters added to the game, such as King Boo and the Inkling characters from Splatoon, but regrettably there are no new racing tracks added. The 16 DLC tracks for MK8 on the Wii U are included out of the box, however. The lack of new racing content is probably the biggest bummer to me. Historically, there has only been one Mario Kart game per Nintendo console (not including VC), and I guess a big part of my disappointment stems from uncertainty as to whether or not this will be the only MK released for Switch. I really really hope we don’t have to wait for the Switch’s successor to get new MK content.
Ultimately, I went back and forth on whether I should spend money on MK8D. I was a huge fan of the game on the Wii U, but I questioned whether MK8D offered enough new content to be a worthwhile reinvestment. In the end, it came down to my interest in battle mode as a car combat fan, but mainly was due to my desire to retire my Wii U. When I travel to see family and friends, I often lug the Wii U with me so we can play Smash and MK, as I did with the Wii before it. Nintendo systems have always been the “party systems” to me, at least since the N64. Unlike Sony, Microsoft, and all the third parties, Nintendo still puts a lot of emphasis on local multiplayer. It’s hard to even think of great local multiplayer games from recent times that weren’t made by Nintendo.
The Wii U was just super annoying to travel with, however. Between the gamepad and its charger and the console and its power box and the sensor bar and the extra controllers, it’s all just a lot to have to pack up and carry around. Worse yet, I got a big scratch on the corner of my gamepad while traveling with it that just drives me crazy. The Switch, on the other hand, also has a number of pieces to keep track of, but it’s all much more compact and manageable. I was able to buy a nice carrying case on Amazon that I really like that can fit both the Switch tablet and the dock, as well as extra controllers and cables, and it makes taking the system on the go with me much less frustrating.
Honestly, it’s just been great to play MK8 again, and I’m really enjoying both racing and battle modes. If you haven’t played MK8 before and own a Switch, I highly recommend it. For those of us who’ve played MK8 on the Wii U, it’s a harder value proposition, since I don’t think the new additions will necessarily justify a full price purchase for everyone who has already played the game to death. Regardless, I don’t think it’s a game that will leave any Mario Kart fans unsatisfied.