What I'm Playing - No. 184
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
Piczle Cross Adventure (PC)
Piczle Cross Adventure is a 2020 indie nonogram puzzle game in the same vein as Nintendo’s Picross series, but unlike Picross, this game is also an RPG adventure! It was made by just one person, which is always impressive. It’s got a few rough corners, but they don’t detract from the experience too much and it’s a really solid game overall. There’s a lot of puzzles in it too, and it’s incredible that a solo developer created so many nonogram puzzles in addition to designing and programming the rest of the game. I played it on PC, but it’s available on Switch as well.
This game’s fusion of adventure game and nonogram puzzles reminds me of Murder By Numbers, but unlike that in that game, this is not a serious story at all. You play as Score-chan, who is developer Score Studios’ mascot. They’ve made a few other Piczle games featuring Score-chan actually, but you don’t need to know the story of those games to enjoy Piczle Cross Adventures. The story here is very simplistic: the evil robot under_SCORE has been zapping objects out of existence around Piczleshire, so it’s up to Score-chan and her sidekick Gig to go around town solving nonogram puzzles to put everything back to normal. It’s a very basic premise, but the writing can be pretty funny. There’s one time when the main character is asked to help restore someone’s shop, and she remarks how she doesn’t like helping people but she will this time because she was promised free stuff. It’s a light-hearted story for a casual nonogram puzzle game, and that’s all it needs to be.
The nonogram puzzles themselves are solid. There are puzzles in a variety of sizes and difficulty, although after a certain point in the game most of the puzzles are 15x15, with some 20x15 puzzles sprinkled in mostly in the last few areas. A lot of the small, early puzzles I was solving in under a minute, but things ramp up over time and a number of the 15x15 puzzles took me 5 minutes or longer to solve. There’s also a large range of options to tweak the experience the way you want it, including settings to have it auto-correct your mistakes (this is off by default) if you need extra help. There are a lot of options for the puzzle solving interface actually, and I think it’s really great that the developer went out of their way to make the puzzles as accesible as possible.
In addition to the individual puzzles, there are also combination puzzles. These are the same as the “Micross” puzzles in some of the later Picross games, where you’ll have to solve a bunch of puzzles to reveal squares of a larger object one by one. After you finish the last square, the entire object will finally be revealed. It was always fun to see the massive object restored at the end, like an entire car, tree, or building, and have it pop back into existence.
There’s also really good music that plays while solving puzzles, it really gets you in the zone. There’s several different tracks, so you’re not just listening to the same thing for every puzzle, and they’re all just catchy enough to bop along to while still promoting the focus needed to solve puzzles like a real piczle pro. One thing to note about both the music and sound effects though, there’s no volume control for either of them in-game, and they’re a bit loud so I always turned the volume down on my PC whenever I launched the game.
Although Piczle Cross Adventure does so much right in its puzzle solving interface, there is one wrinkle: the mouse controls during puzzles can be a little sticky. Sometimes when I was moving the mouse quickly and clicking I ended up marking the wrong tiles by accident. You can play using a controller, and those controls worked flawlessly, but I’ve gotten so used to playing Picross on DS that I prefer to solve nonograms with a stylus or mouse. The mouse controls are hardly unplayable, most of the time I didn’t notice the issue, but it is worth mentioning since it cropped up from time to time throughout the game. Other than that, the only gripe I have with the puzzles was area-specific. In the theme park area there’s crowd sound effects like laughing and screaming in the background, Rollercoaster Tycoon kind of stuff, but it keeps playing when you’re in a puzzle. It was way too distracting, so I had to mute the sound effects in that area just so I could concentrate. Luckily, you can easily toggle sound effects off from the pause menu of any puzzle!
Though you’ll spend the majority of your time solving puzzles, the RPG and adventure game mechanics are fun too. Between puzzles, you move around town to find objects that have been zapped and solve puzzles to restore them. You’ll sometimes run into obstacles that require a specific item to bypass. For example, one time there’s a log blocking the path, so you need to find the chainsaw and use it to cut your way through. Or rather, so your follower Gig use it to cut a way through while Score-Chan takes a nap. The level up system is very barebones, some puzzles just require you to be at least a certain level before you can play them. Each puzzle you complete gives you experience towards the next level, and the Level Up screen after you reach it has joke “stat increases,” like Booksmarts + 5, etc.. These don’t affect the game at all, but they were amusing sometimes.
Progression through the adventure game portion was straightforward most of the time, there was only one instance where it became pretty obtuse. There’s a sphinx riddle part near the end that was a little annoying. It’s a cool concept, you have to look through your logbook to find the puzzle that answers the riddle, and then give its 3-digit puzzle code to the sphinx. The problem is, there are a ton of puzzles in the game, and scrolling through the logbook was a little tedious, made worse by the fact that the scrollbar was glitching out when I tried to drag it around. Eventually I figured out what the riddle answer was supposed to be…but I hadn’t completed the puzzle for it yet! I tried wandering around a bit on my own to find the puzzle I’d missed, but eventually I gave up and searched the Steam Community forum to see if anyone else got stuck here. I stumbled across this thread about fishing which lead me to the answer: you have to play the fishing mini-game until you catch a Red Herring in order to unlock the area the required puzzle is in. I had missed that area entirely, because I hadn’t been able to figure out how to get past the bear when I went through the woods at the beginning of the game. I just assumed the area wouldn’t be required to complete the story, and assumed it would unlock in the post-game or something. I had found the fishing mini-game much earlier in my playthrough, and I even had fun playing it for a little bit and catching a few other fish, but I never would have thought it was required to finish the story.
Despite a few flaws, this is a great puzzle game. I got pretty hooked on it while I was playing and couldn’t wait to play more! I don’t think it’s as good as Murder by Numbers, but it’s still a very charming puzzle game worth playing if you’re a fan of adventure games and nonograms. And hey, I liked it enough that I got 100% completion, finishing every puzzle in the game as I went, and then finding a few secrets and finishing a few puzzles only available after completing the story. My final time for all that was 22 hours 14 minutes.