Do you like puzzle games? Do you like classic NES graphics and sound? Nintendo and Skip bring together these two elements in a fun puzzle game as part of the ongoing Art Style series. Pictobits doesn't necessarily bring any radical changes to the standard 'match the colored blocks' puzzle genre, but the Nintendo fan service is definitely a good reason to pick up this DSiWare classic.
Note: This game is known as PicoPict outside the U.S.
Pictobits is a basic puzzle game consisting of 'clear the blocks by matching the same color.' Individual blocks, referred to as 'bits,' are clumped together in an assortment of colors and fall down the screen (all the action takes place only on the bottom screen). When the block formations touch ground or contact an insufficient number of same-colored stationary bits, they also become stationary bits. Stationary bits are the blocks you can actually tap on with the stylus to pick up and collect, which you can then place anywhere on the screen so that incoming falling formations make contact such that a horizontal/ vertical line of 4 or more of the same color can clear away. As you clear away these colored bits, they fly toward the top screen, revealing a character or scene from a classic NES game by Nintendo. The NES games include big titles like Super Mario Bros., Ice Climber, as well as less obvious picks like Baseball (some key titles are missing though... where's Metroid? Pictobits sequel perhaps?). If the bits stack too high, you're in danger of losing, but there's a handy POW block that can shift all stray bits back to the ground to give you some breathing room, though using the POW block comes at a price.
This short video video gives you the idea
Like any good puzzle game, the basic concept is very solid, though a bit difficult to grasp the first time you play. But after several runs (and doing the tutorial a couple of times), the concepts of chains, permabits (bits that you can't pick up), and use of the POW block should become second nature. I found the core concept to be unique enough for the game to distinguish itself from the many other puzzle games I have tried out across Nintendo's platforms, including touch-based games like Meteos and Polarium, and the all-familiar color matching of Tetris Attack/ Panel de Pon/ Puzzle League.
This game truly tests your ability to quickly tap in precise locations on the touch screen using the stylus! What really makes the game difficult is that you have to be very accurate and judge the screen correctly when placing blocks using the stylus. I found myself being slightly off at times when tapping the screen, thus placing my block off to the side by one space. I also couldn't play the game for extended sessions, certainly not more than an hour, as my arm was very tense. The intense concentration of correctly placing the stylus quickly and precisely makes this game feel like... surgery or something! (Think Trauma Center...)
You can tap one block at a time, or you can also touch and drag multiple blocks (since you can store multiple blocks in your meter), but it's too easy to accidentally place more blocks than you intended unless you're very slow and meticulous about how you drag the stylus. A lot of times I simply wanted to drag out a couple of blocks side by side, but when I drag I'm not perfectly centered, and one or more blocks are placed unintentionally on a different row.
Something else that I found a bit unfair, though I'm sure this was intentionally designed for the added challenge, are the stages where you're recreating a pixel scene that has subtle shades of the same color. Granted, these appear on the higher difficulties, but it's very difficult to spot out the differences in colors, especially during a frantic game session.
The way you chain blocks together to add more bits to the pixel scene (and coins) is very rewarding. The game has a cool 'slight pause' feature where all the action stops for just a little while whenever some blocks are being cleared, thus giving you a precious second (or two) to place more blocks and get a chain going. In fact, this whole concept of setting up long chains and placing blocks in advance is all part of an overall strategy to completing the harder stages by knowing which blocks to tackle first (permabits usually have priority). And using the POW block is an interesting variation of the risk-reward mechanic that you find yourself balancing with.
Now, you can say that I'm just not good enough yet, but I truly find the game design and control scheme to be less than adequate whenever you enter the higher difficulty stages and complex block formations just start pouring down the screen. However, the fact that falling block formations have no limit in size or complexity truly makes each stage a unique challenge that you will not likely see in subsequent stages you tackle. This is the kind of variety that really makes me appreciate that aspect of the level design.
As a big fan of video game music, this game hits the sweet spot extremely well. Each classic NES game has an accompanying soundtrack pleasantly re-arranged. Instead of any enhanced sounds or instrumentation, all the old 8-bit tunes are simply re-arranged (with the game's sound effects mixed in) to create some very trippy beats that greatly matches with the intense action.
Baseball music re-arranged... I was pleasantly surprised by Stage 7!
Amount of content: There are 15 normal stages, and each of those 15 stages has a 'dark' (hard mode) version, so you really get 30 distinct stages. You have to purchase the 'dark' stages individually, so you'll find yourself grinding for coins, ie re-playing stages that yield high amounts of coins (I personally prefer using dark stage 3 and 4 for this task)... There are no other game modes, no multiplayer of any sort, but I can't complain considering the price of the game (500 points, ie 5 U.S. dollars). The game is totally replayable since you can always shoot for high scores, try to clear all the stages without using the POW block (which rewards you with a little Star icon on that stage), and collect coins to unlock all the music tracks, which are excellent. I love that you can go into the music player and just listen to all tracks in one huge playlist, which you can even randomize. Nice touch!
In conclusion: As my first DSiWare purchase on my 3DS, I am greatly satisfied. If this is the kind of fun I can expect from a Skip-developed game, then I'm definitely looking forward to playing more of their games. This is a fun puzzle game at a good price you should check out!
I agree with you on a lot of things, it's a fun game but the game seems to demand more precision than the controls are built for, so it gets pretty tough. Interesting that you posted Bowser, he is the guy I can't get past. I've only tried 5 times or so, but still, up to that stage I was sailing pretty smoothly and then pieces start dropping really, really quickly. I also don't like how one mistake can really screw you bigtime, even using the POW doesn't always clear things out nicely if you made a particularly bad mistake.
I'm going to keep at it a bit, but I have a feeling that I won't finish this one.
Nice review! I'm continually impressed by the innovation that Skip brings to the often-cliched 'puzzle' genre.
@Zero I thought the difficult curve was incredibly smooth. Each level would always frustrate me for 15-20 minutes, and going back to earlier, previously frustrating ones was a breeze.
The controls are a bit imprecise, but I enjoyed the game quite a bit. I liked that it was finite. And I especially enjoyed the 8-bit remixes. What a great carrot. Exceeded only by the actual NES games in Animal Crossing.
@Anand But Bowser man! He's like... super tough! And everyone leading up to him is easy! But I guess there are only 15 main stages? So actually I'm pretty close to the end? (Completely ignoring the dark stages...)
@Zero Dude, you're so close. After the Bowser stage is the final stage! (not counting the dark stages). And yeah Bowser's tough. Basically you want to set the blocks down below in advance and create some chains. Don't overlook those horizontal rows that can be cleared by placing a bit off to the side, and when those clear, have a block in place to complete 2x2 formations (I saw these a lot on my recent attempt of the Bowser stage).
Honestly I don't queue up many bits that often, whereas I rely a bit too much on tapping the one block I want to use immediately, setting it down, and grabbing another, one by one.
Yet I still want that large empty queue so I can pick up a bunch of blocks at the top and bring them down to clear some space, without using POW block. Of course, when permabits are at the top, you can't do this.
I think using the queue more effectively is an important strategy that I find tricky to master. You basically see the blocks falling down, consider which colors you want to place and in which order, then think backwards so that you can place them in that order (since the first block you picked up will be the last block placed out of your queue). I don't know if I explained that very well...
@roykoopa64 Yeah, the 'thinking backwards' part is the most difficult. Sometimes I get caught up for a second and next thing you know, I've missed my opportunity. I also tend to rely on quickly grabbing and placing bits more often than not.