So they finally jazzed it up.
I have reviewed a lot of Picross games from developer Jupiter, who have been making these games for decades. Their run of Picross-e games on 3DS and then Picross S games on Switch have been consistently good, though with nearly a dozen different Jupiter-made Picross games on Switch, the format of completing progressively larger Picross puzzles in a nearly identical setup and structure has worn a little bit thin. That’s what makes Picross X: Picbits vs. Uzboros, their latest release, a fascinating project. It’s Jupiter’s attempt at jazzing up their stable Picross formula, and while I appreciate the effort, it scratches a different itch than I want out of Picross.
The focus isn’t on taking your time to complete 5x5, 10x10, and 15x15 puzzles in succession. Here, it’s all about tackling varieties of smaller puzzles, typically 5x5, as fast as you possibly can. These short, timed rounds require you to think quickly and act fast. Surrounding that is the subtitle, as I guess you’re controlling “Picbits” and going against the Uzboros. At the end of each round, you’re graded on the puzzles you completed, how fast you completed them, and more to give you a score that turns into damage to an Uzboros. You can switch between button and touch controls, though the speed of the game made me feel like touch controls were the only way to be successful. Each of the game’s many stages also has bonus challenges that typically revolve around using (or not using) abilities. Those abilities do things like increase your score and temporarily prevent mistakes. I found myself really only bouncing between them to make sure I could complete the bonus challenges. Stages also have different twists, whether it’s something like bombs appearing on the grid so you need to make sure you solve it before they explode, or a stage where you have to finish the unused squares as well as the used ones to complete it.
You can also play all of this cooperatively locally or online. I didn’t play too much of the multiplayer, but it’s definitely a novel concept. A lot of what Jupiter has done to toy with cooperative Picross has been interesting over the years and this is an evolution of the basic co-op they’ve included in recent Picross S games. A degree of visual customization crops up here as well, as you can unlock different themes and icons to decorate your play experience. The retro Game Boy aesthetic is particularly charming.
I found myself wanting to go back and play other traditional Picross games as I played Picross X, though. That isn’t to say Picross X is a bad game, far from it. It’s a creative attempt at mixing up the formula for the series. It’s just an attempt that didn’t land as well for me as I had hoped. Here’s to Jupiter continuing to creatively iterate on Picross while also returning to the old style and giving us a new allotment of traditional puzzles every now and then.