The latest addition to the Art Style series delivers the same simple, addictive fun found in most of the other titles.
When downloading Art Style: PiCTOBiTS from the DSi Shop, I didn't realize that I'd be getting far more than I bargained for. Now don't get me wrong, this is great. I didn't expect the classic 8-bit Nintendo theme and graphical style, as well as the remixed chiptune music.
Overall, Art Style: PiCTOBiTS is a small game with a small scope. There are a total of thirty levels, fifteen of which are dark levels that must be purchased with in-game coins. Each level has its own unique theme with accompanying song, and the levels become progressively harder.
The game is displayed across both of the DSi screens. The top screen is initially a blank slate, which is subsequently filled in as players perform the puzzle gameplay on the bottom screen. Arrangements of different colored "bits" (blocks) fall from the top of the screen. Their descent is not a smooth one as they seem to fall along a grid, stopping every two or so grid spaces. This gives players the opportunity to perform their task: eliminating the bits before they make contact with either the bottom of the screen, or already present bits located higher up on the bottom screen.
Eliminating the bits is an interesting procedure. Players must first collect bits by touching the stationary bits on the touch screen. These are then stored in a reserve column that is visible on the left side of the touch screen (or right if you're left-handed). These reserve blocks are dispensed (last in, first out) when players touch parts of the screen where there are no stationary or descending bits. Typically, players will want to lay down bits so that when a falling bit formation makes contact, it clears the entire falling block of bits. Bits are cleared when at least four of the same color are arranged in a straight line, square, or rectangle of some sort.
In later levels, this becomes impossible to do, so players must attack the falling structure in pieces. However, once the structure is modified it makes a very fast, immediate descent to the bottom of the screen. Thankfully, while a set of bits is being cleared the action on the screen pauses, allowing players to prepare for the upcoming event. This pause is also used to systematically clear all of the other falling bit formations elsewhere on the screen. Doing so will start a multiplier that will earn players more points and coins for purchasing in-game content (i.e. Sound Test songs, and Dark Levels).
As players start tackling these levels, they will quickly notice that they are extremely hard. They will also notice that their screen can fill up quite quickly with just one slip up. The game accounts for this by allowing players to "POW" the level. This will cause all of the straggling bits to fall to the bottom of the screen, and eliminate the two bottom rows. This sacrifices a slot in the bit reserve, which increases the challenge over time. Players can remove this restriction by buying the spot back with five coins, which must be earned in the heat of the battle.
As hinted at earlier, players are doing all of this in order to fill in a picture on the top screen. In keeping with the theme of the game, this picture is a different 8-bit character that corresponds with the game featured in the level. During gameplay, all of the different colored bits that are cleared from the bottom screen are subsequently transferred to the top screen where they begin to assemble the picture. The level will not end until players complete that picture. Often times this means clearing many unnecessary bits while you wait for the one bit formation of a specific color you need to complete the picture.
The gameplay of PiCTOBiTS is quite frantic, stressful, and challenging, but most importantly it's fun. Given the high challenge level, the game pushes you with each progressive level to become better at managing the madness. In the dark levels, it isn't a rare occurrence that you'll POW away your entire set of reserve spaces and need to buy them all back multiple times. The only real frustration with the game is the finicky touch screen. At times you'll think you grabbed a block, only to find that it didn't register when you touched. Other times you'll place two blocks instead of one, messing up your chance to clear a formation. But overall, the controls work fairly well most of the time.
The game's entire presentation is fantastic, but the true standout is the chiptune remix music. Because each level is themed for a different NES game, the music and sound effects from that game are taken and remixed into catchy tunes that really fit the mood of the game.
Art Style: PiCTOBiTS is easily one of the best entries thus far in the Art Style series, and is without a doubt one of the best games currently available in the DSi Shop. Players looking for a fun but challenging title can't go wrong with PiCTOBiTS.