It's a good puzzle game in a good package.
I've got something you've probably never heard before. Games aren't for crazy people like us any longer. They are for all of the normal people out there. Nintendo's latest foray into this market is a Touch Generations puzzle title called Picross DS. Before you read any farther, if you don't know what Picross is, make sure you check out our preview for the game. It'll explain just how you play.
The main single player mode of the game consists of more than 130 puzzles of increasing difficulty. These puzzles are divided up into two different categories. The difference between those categories highlights one of the odd features of the game. One half is your standard pencil and paper simulation. What that means is that you won't know if you make a mistake. It will be up to you to figure it out. The other half of the games (and all multiplayer modes) tell you immediately if you get something wrong. The only penalty is a time one, and in single player it's basically pointless. Getting enough of them will keep you from seeing the rather pathetic animation of the picture at the end. Trust me, this isn't a huge loss.
Keeping up with other recent Nintendo games, one of the more interesting feature is called Daily Picross. There, each of several modes can be played daily, and the time taken to complete each is recorded and tracked on a nice little chart. Overall, this is quite fun, and it really teaches you to think with speed in mind as you do the puzzles (which will prep you for the multiplayer mode). The only problem is that the pool that potential puzzles are pulled from seems a bit too small. After only playing for 5 days, I already started seeing some repeat puzzles. In a game like Picross, repeats can really defeat the purpose, and when you are trying for the fastest time possible, repeats can really mess up those rankings. It's apparent if you look at my copy of the game, as my overall average for solving five 10x10 puzzles is 1:30, while my fastest time is 22 seconds. That's a pretty huge difference. I did it in 22 seconds when three of the five puzzles were repeats.
So this brings us to multiplayer. If you are going to play a game like Picross competitively, about the only statistic you could rank is the time it takes to solve the puzzle. In the primary mode (playable both online and locally) players simply race to complete the puzzle as fast as possible. I completely and totally stink at this mode. I played about 25 matches online and lost every single one, most of them to players who have won more than 500 matches. While you can't see what you opponent is doing (to avoid cheating) you can keep track of a little progress bar that tells you how far along he is. When a player gets something wrong, he can't make any more moves for five seconds, and his progress bar shakes. This shaking makes it so you can classify every player in one of two categories. Some of them bash through it, taking plenty of time penalties but uncovering enough of the puzzle for them to finish. I always lost to them. The other group barely ever takes time penalties and solves the puzzles the proper way. I always lost to them too. I tried both strategies and couldn't make either work, but the "always play fair" part of me tries to minimize time penalties as much as possible. Multiplayer would have held truer to the spirit of the game if it didn't tell the players when they did something wrong, but this would hurt the competitive aspect of the mode. Maybe a better solution would have been to increase the time penalty a bit. It's quite frustrating to lose to someone who seems to make a mistake on every other move. However, if you do happen to get a game against someone with a similar skill or experience level to yourself, it can still be quite fun. That's just quite hard to do in the random matchmaking mode. Playing online is also very impersonal. Communication during matches is non-existent. Unless a game is so intense that it can make a case for needing all of the bandwidth possible, there is no reason for it not to have voice chat similar to what was done in Pokemon Diamond and Pearl. Those games set a standard, and we better start seeing more games like them.
The other intriguing feature of this game is the ability to make and share your own puzzles. This sharing can be done online (friend codes only) or over local wireless. It's a cool way of extending the life of the game by sending clever puzzles around, but actually creating good puzzles is a lot more complicated than I expected. The first thing I wanted to do was make some classic Nintendo sprites, as I'm not the most artistically inclined person in the world. The first issue is that you are only dealing with two colors in Picross games. So then I went to some classic Game Boy sprites for inspiration. These would have worked alright, but the vast majority of them were just too large. Shrinking them down messed the image up beyond recognition. I eventually found some good candidates and began entering them into my game. After finally completing the sprite, I found out that it wasn't a solvable puzzle yet. I clicked the "Fix" button and a bunch of squares were added that screwed up the image pretty badly. I never could get one of those sprites to work. While drawing a picture seems like a simple task, creating a puzzle that can be solved without guessing obviously isn't.
Overall, Picross DS is a good little package. Competitive play just doesn't work as well as it does for some other puzzle games, but it can still be fun in short spurts. If you like pick up and play puzzle games on your DS, that's sufficient reason to pick up Picross. It will go nicely in your case next to Planet Puzzle League, Tetris, and Brain Age.