Let’s Talk About Pixel Puzzles

And by pixel puzzles, I mean off-brand Picross, of course. Because I guess Ninendo has copyrighted the Picross name? I’d never really given it any consideration before now. I always kind of assumed the puzzle style was called picross, rather than it being the brand name for Nintendo’s “nonogram” games specifically. Now I’ve done the research and know better.

Right, so my point of focus today is, strangely enough, a mobile app. At some point in the distant past (last year?), Konami released a nonogram game for smartphones called Pixel Puzzle Collection. As you may assume from the title, it’s a collection of nonogram puzzles that, when solved, form images of sprites and whatnot from classic Konami games. You’ve got elements from huge franchises like Gradius, Castlevania, Bomberman, and Tokimeki Memorial, as well as many others. It’s a real nostalgia trip, and I appreciate the theme. I always like it when these games have a binding theme, or at least themed sets of puzzles.

Something very important to note here, is that this is one of the least greasy mobile games I’ve ever played. It’s completely free-to-play and never once will ask you for money. That’s great! The catch is that after every puzzle, they show you an ad. But it’s just an image, and you can dismiss it right away, none of this unskippable 15-second video crap that other apps love to use. The ads in Pixel Puzzle Collection are all for other Konami apps anyway, so they even sort of make sense in the context of the game. It’s the least intrusive in-app advertising I’ve ever experienced.

There are two classifications of puzzles in Pixel Puzzle Collection. The regular puzzles range from 5×5 to 15×15 grids, and are generally pretty easy to complete. They mostly reveal sprites ripped directly from Konami’s classic games, and some are parts of bigger images made of 4 panels. The other kind of puzzle is the “boss” puzzle. These are always 15×15 grids, and are typically require a little more thought. The other thing about these ones is that they’re where the free-to-play timer comes in: there’s a three-hour cooldown timer to sit through after each one you complete. It’s kind of a blessing in disguise here, as it kept me from just burning through the entire game in a week. It really made it -and excuse my crudeness- the perfect pooping game.

You’d be hard-pressed to actually finish this game in a week though, as there are a whopping 500 puzzles to solve. I don’t know what percentage of that is stuck behind the Boss Timer, but it’s probably at least 25%. It took me months to finally work my way to 100% completion. And then… it turns out that was just normal mode. WHAAAA?

Yeah, once you finish all the puzzles, you get to play in Expert mode, where you aren’t allowed to use Xs to cross off squares that definitely aren’t supposed to be filled in. (Aside: I’m just going to keep assuming you know how picross is played.) It’s not the worst problem, as there’s a feature that auto-Xs all empty squares in a row or column when you meet the number requirements on the side. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you filled them in correctly, but it’s still super helpful to have, as completing a 15×15 puzzle with no Xs would be a pain. I initially toyed around with the idea of not bothering with Expert mode, but it turns out that there are a handful of new puzzles exclusive to Expert, so off I went on my quest to 200%! It’s not like I could just cherry-pick the new ones either, because puzzles are handed out in a completely random order.

Oh and also the Boss puzzles are all free in Expert mode. No waiting three hours between them any more!

To touch on the one thing I strongly dislike about Pixel Puzzle Collection, which applies to literally every smartphone-based nonogram game: I hate playing picross on a touchscreen. The 5×5 and 10×10 puzzles aren’t so bad because they have nice, big squares to accommodate my sausage fingers. when you get to those 15x15s though, the squares are tiny and I would have gotten intensely frustrated if there hadn’t been a life-saving undo button.

At the end of the day, I really liked everything about Pixel Puzzle Collection besides its choice of platform. Finger-style touch controls just don’t work well for me, and honestly I don’t even like playing Nintendo’s Picross games with stylus touch controls. My point being that I would happily pay money to play this again if Konami released it on Switch or whatever. Touch control aside, it’s an excellent nonogram game, easily one of the best I’ve played. The fact that it’s 100% free and is also a mobile app that isn’t engineered to soak as much money as possible out of players is just the cherry on top. This one definitely put my respect for Konami up a few notches.

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