I've always enjoyed logic puzzles made in Japan.
When I saw Pictopix on Steam, I leaped at the opportunity to review it. Growing up in a Japanese household, logic puzzles were very much part of my everyday life. I played them whenever I had free time, especially when traveling, though my versions consisted of pencil and paper, and sometimes highlighters if I felt extra brave.
Pictopix upgraded my childhood hobby and brought it to the 21st century by making it a video game.
My relatives abroad referred to them as "logic puzzles" (logic pronounced “lo-gee-que”); in the U.S., we give them multiple names, such as “nonograms,” “picross,” “griddlers,” and “hanjie." The game itself resembles Sudoku, but adds to the equation the use of paint and numbers.
You use these numbers to create illustrations. Numbers run across the sides of a 5x5, 10x10, 15x15, 20x20 or higher grid, and they indicate how many squares should be filled in to create the intended image. Once you complete a puzzle, you're left with a beautiful pixelated drawing.
In Japan, these logic puzzles are printed and compiled into magazines and, much like in the U.S., sold through newspaper outlets. Their publishers release them on a monthly basis and upon each release, competition among players to finish first begins. Some even have prizes to earn, and should you be one of the first few to complete them, you can mail your answer to the publisher and receive rewards in return. Now these prizes aren't items nerds like us would disregard… This is Japan after all. They range from awesome Pokémon lunch boxes to anime figurines and collectibles to digital cameras, Playstations, and video games...!
The above spotlight for cultural context.
Pictopix's developer, Tomlab Games very much took the Japanese experience and launched it on Steam for PC gamers to experience firsthand.
Divided into levels that differ in grid size and thus complexity, Pictopix requires you to finish a certain number before you can move on to the next level. Experience earned means access to higher levels, and much like the Japanese version of the game, you'll only get hints at the lower ranks. At the end of each challenge, you receive an assessment of how well you did, and in rating your performance between one and three stars, a simple mechanic either congratulates you or points out your embarrassing FAIL.
With respect for Japanese tradition, Tomlab Games also integrated rewards into the mix through Steam achievements.
These are granted each time you complete a certain amount of puzzles, and that feeling of achievement you'll extract out of receiving them works, to some extent. A little more diversification and originality would have better-served it, and hopefully, Tomlab Games adds additional Feats of Strength post-release, for what could be considered at the moment a bare-bones system.
Past Pictopix's overly simplistic achievements are that, at times, pictures can be hard to interpret. There were instances where I had little to no idea what the end image would be until the game wrote it out for me. Introducing themes for pictures might have helped alleviate the problem, in the likes of marine animals or holidays, for example, or with hints to suggest what the end image could be.
Regardless of these issues, Pictopix is a fun and relaxing game.
The design is welcomingly simple and easy to navigate, and the music is so soothing it adds to its relaxing feel. Controls are also easy to use, fluid and intuitive. Last but not least, and in making the most of the advantages brought to puzzle lovers by video games, you'll find it much cleaner to restart your picture than you would in real life, where messy eraser shavings all over the place often are, an embarrassing problem.
Pictopix even provides a how-to level for first-time players. This is a great introduction to those who might feel tempted but also intimidated at first glance, and the tutorial greatly speeds up the learning process.
Tomlab Games is off to a great start in introducing a classic from Japan to the Sudoku lovers past its borders. Pictopix is a fun and relaxing game that anyone can play. It lets you relax while working your brain in an entertaining way. If you're the creative type but can’t draw to save your life, if you have $6 to spare, then consider buying this game. Chances are, you won't regret it.