Picross DS Love

Grids, numbers, and logic.  What comes to mind at mention of such things?

Countless squares filled with seemingly random numbers here and there, all working towards some final solution that one without a deep background in mathematics might never fully understand.  These things should be kept under wraps in the cold, dark recesses of Excel files and databases.

But what is this?  I’ve been having quite a good deal of fun over the last few days with all these things.  No, I’ve not gone completely mad (yet); you won’t find me poring over any massive spreadsheets or manually entering thousands of bits of data into MySQL in the late of night.

No, I’ve found myself yet another game to add to the collection, and a fun little one at that.

Picross DS.

As an artist who has embraced the pixel for many years, I’ve had my eye on games like Picross DS for quite some time, but never really had a chance to get into it fully.  The previous Gameboy version was unfortunately released before I ever owned a Gameboy myself, though I do remember reading about it in Nintendo Power.  If it counts for anything, I have trained for the game somewhat, with innumerable hours in Mario Paint, working with the limited collection of user-editable stamps.

So I strolled into Circuit City the other day, just to see if I could find anything cheap, and sure enough, there was a bargain bin set up with an assortment of games inside.  I nabbed two games for only about $30 total: Picross DS and Lost: Via Domus (or Lost: Easy Achievement Points, as I like to call it).

My time with Picross has been thoroughly enjoyed so far.  The game is addictive, contains many puzzles, and works great with the DS’s touch-screen interface.

Playing the game is simple enough; each puzzle consists of a grid of empty squares, and it is up to you to use the numerical clues around the edge of the board to figure out which cells are filled and which aren’t.  The clues indicate how many cells in each row and column are filled, and how they are grouped (so for example, a row labeled “1 1 2” has three segments of filled cells in it, and each segment is 1, 1, and 2 fills long, in that order).  You are given 60 minutes to finish each puzzle, and any mistakes made usually result in a 2-4 minute penalty.  The game is over and you win when you’ve correctly identified and marked all the cells that are filled.

The game includes multiple modes, a tons of puzzles, and can also be played against other people online.  Nintendo has also released a good number of downloadable puzzles, including many from the original game, which you can grab off the Nintendo WiFi network.  I’ve already downloaded a bunch of these, and I’ve assembled Mario’s head, a Goomba, and a Bullet Bill.  15×15 puzzles are pretty intense!

For some sweet icing on an already sweet cake, Picross DS also includes a built-in editor so you can craft your own puzzles and send them to friends via WiFi or local connection.

I’m actually going to stop writing this now, so I can get in a little bit more Picross DS before I hit the sack for the night.  The game’s been out for a while now, but I still feel it’s worth mentioning here, so anyone out there in search of an oft-overlooked puzzle game might find another solid addition to their DS library.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy the game if you try it!


  1. xot - Over a year ago

    Picross DS sounds great. Touchscreen is a perfect match, and being able to create and share puzzles is full of win. This is one game that makes me a little more interested in purchasing a DS.

    I like Picross puzzles (or rather nonograms) but admit I haven’t solved many. In fact I didn’t even know about Picross until a year or so ago when I spotted a random photo of a Japanese game box. I remember being pretty excited when I saw it because I’d been working on something similar. The puzzles work a bit differently. They are inspired by CAT scans and were proposed as a puzzle by A.K.Dewdney in his Scientific American column circa 1987. They are similar in that you have clues along the edges and have to fill in blocks to form a picture. The difference is in the clues. For this puzzle you only get a single number indicating the total number of blocks in the entire row/column. That mimics how a CAT scan works in that they can only detect a total density along any one ray. That’s a lot less information than a nonogram provides, which means fewer solvable puzzles, which means I’m stuck with a major design hurdle. I have an algorithm that can detect solvability, so that helps, but the limited number of solvable puzzles means a very limited number of interesting shapes and very unintuitive puzzle design. Nonograms definitely work better from a design and solving perspective. But I think there is potential with the CAT scan concept and I’d like to try to extend it in new directions.

  2. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

    That sounds cool Xot. Didn’t know that about CAT scans, but it makes sense if you think about it. Hopefully you can get over that design hurdle with ease!

    What kind of theme is your game going to have, if you don’t mind my asking? It would be kind of neat to make it about actual CAT scans, where you try to help people out by solving their density charts… might be a bit dry too, though, and basing it off of the actual source material might be a little too “easy” depending on how you’re doing it.

    Anyway, I’d be interested to see this game when you’ve got it rolling – I’ve been thinking about making some sort of Picross type game myself, but am not sure if I would finish it right now.

    But anyway, you should check this game out if you ever get a DS. It’s a good one. :)

  3. xot - Over a year ago

    I haven’t considered any kind of theme yet. Medical diagnosis is an obvious one (what did the dog swallow this time), but there are other possibilities that deal with identifying an unknown in a sealed box.

    I actually have a different puzzle game in mind that has black box reverse-engineering as the theme. The CAT scan might actually be a really good addition to some of the other ‘probing’ tools in the game.

    Another idea would be to actually create a CAT scan simulator. The player would not be limited to scanning just the two axes, but would have a limited number of ‘shots’ before having the guess or draw the shape from the collected data. The computation involved in the scanning and display might make this impractical for GM. I’m imagining a 3D version, but it might need to be scaled back to 2D. The 3D display part might actually be a piece of cake if it doesn’t have to be 30fps. That leaves the scanning which will have to be ray tracing or marching cubes. If I stick to parallelpiped primitives it might run a reasonable speed, it’s not like it has to do a scan every frame. Hmmmm…. *gears turn*

    Blarg! Too many ideas! I wish I could find the time to actually make some of this stuff.

  4. FredFredrickson - Over a year ago

    Hehe, tell me about it. All those ideas sound like interesting (and possible) games. I’ve got a constantly growing number of ideas I want to do someday – i just have no time to do them. Plus, I really feel like I should get on the ball with updating the Reflect website and service, and that means even less time to make games. Boo!

  5. Soleil - Over a year ago

    After reading this, I’m wondering whether I should port my nice shiny Sudoku/Crossword engine to C# since I rarely use GM for anything anymore. That, and I’m getting some puzzle games for my DS, and I can’t wait for Professor Layton 2.

    Xot: Just make a voxel grid, maybe 20x20x20 or so, and grab 20×20 slices of the indexes. Each grid index is either ‘solid’ or ’empty’. Then when you actually draw the thing in 3D, use a simpler vertex model in place of the voxel grid. Or is that what you just said?

    Theme: You are a performing dolphin. You use sonar to scan things in boxes and match them up with different 3D shapes, and amaze crowds of people for fame and money.

  6. xot - Over a year ago

    What I’d be trying to recreate is called tomographic reconstruction.


    Imaging a row of parallel rays forming a sheet passing through the target. Each one of those rays records the total attenuation along its path through the target, which is essentially, the total amount of solid material along the line. Now draw each ray in a single shade, a shade whose brightness is controlled by the recorded attenuation. Now perform another slice, coplanar to the first, but from a different angle. Draw those rays on top of the first set. Repeat. If you do this enough times from enough angles, a clearly defined cross-section of the target emerges from the chaos.

    Of course to do that I need a method for calculating the total attenuation along each ray. Marching cubes is a voxel technique that might make that easy but I think ray tracing would give cleaner, more accurate results.

  7. xot - Over a year ago

    I saw something very, very interesting in the DSi promo video from the recent Nintendo press event: 3D Picross


    Keep your eyes peeled at around 2:40. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

  8. Jade - Over a year ago

    Yeah, Picross is great. I spend many hours with the Gameboy version of the game. Recently I’ve been playing Gemsweeper from Lobstersoft (http://www.lobstersoft.com). Great game!

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