Piczle Cross Adventure for the Nintendo Switch (also available on PC) is a humorous, self-aware picross game that steps ever so slightly outside the boundaries of its puzzle genre. This open world picross game feigns the appearance of an RPG without the actual core RPG mechanics and somehow the concept works in its favor.
I'll be honest, my impressions of this game were.... not great in the beginning. I felt like I was a bit quick to judge it, but I pushed the judgements aside because it's picross. How rough can it be? Turns out, with some proper tweaks in the Settings, and actually giving it a chance, I'm having a great time!
A quick summary of the plot: there is an evil scientist (Dr. Mona Chromatic) who is trying to turn the world into a monochrome, pixely mess so she creates a robot (that looks very similar to the protagonist you play as) and sends it off to "pixelate" the town. As a result, you work with Professor Molecule (both characters from another game series - Piczle Lines DX) to put the town back together! Various items have been pixelated and in order to put them back together, you solve a picross puzzle!
And... that's really about it. There are just over 300 picross puzzles to solve, plus amusing, hidden secrets you can find, but that's the main focus of the game. I'd say the way this game sets itself up works with how simple it is, because it's a fun spin on a more simplified picross game where you just select the next level/image you want to solve and go. The writing is very self aware and also light-hearted, with some 4th wall breaking. It doesn't take itself seriously at all which adds to its charm.
Some fun aspects that are incorporated into the game mechanics are similar to ones you'd see in RPGs. As you complete puzzles, you gain experience. That then works towards leveling you up and unlocking puzzles that may have a minimum level requirement. There are many puzzles within each part of the town, so if you come across something level-locked, it won’t be long before you can gain access to it. From what I've experienced in the game however, that about the extent of the leveling. When you do level up you get some comedic stats and funny quips, but there are no skills or abilities of any kind.
You also obtain a map shortly after starting the game that shows you all the locations around town you can explore. Those are accompanied by statistical information about the puzzles within them. You can see the number of puzzles you've done / need to complete, as well as if there are any hidden secrets still to discover. This is a nice touch to keep track of puzzles you might be a bit stuck on, and want to come back to later. Items you find along the way help to unlock more portions of the map and, by proxy, more puzzles.
My one big concern with this game though, and what originally started me out on bad terms with it, is the settings and their initial inaccessibility. Upon starting it up, my settings were set very differently than I was used to, and that led to some frustration. After some inspection, I realized this was easily remedied via the settings, and saw how much modification the game allowed. I was surprised by the level of accessibility in terms of mechanics and felt a bit bad for jumping to negative conclusions before investigating further. Out of all the picross games I’ve played though, this one just had an initial setup that was so… odd.
The settings menu as well was not as descriptive as I would have liked which, again, was irksome. Once you progress a bit farther in the game, however, you enter a Library which has an assortment of books you can read. Those books contain a variety of picross tips (some of which I didn't even know about), and more details about the settings themselves. Putting time and effort between having the ability to change the settings, and giving full descriptors of what the settings are felt like a weird choice in flow. Regardless, once I had reached that point (which in all honesty is not that far into the game), it was smooth sailing.
I wanted to highlight this in case there's a chance someone picked the title up and dropped it before giving it a chance. Once you have fiddled with the settings to your liking, the game is fairly smooth, with nothing else really standing out (which to me is a good thing). Minus these setbacks, and some thoughts about how I would have established the beginning of the game differently, I have really fallen for this title.
Piczle Cross Adventure takes the bare bones of a classic puzzle game and adds a layer of paint and whimsy that gives it more life and humor, without giving too much depth. The lack of depth I would say is a good thing, as it's not trying to be much else other than a picross game with a playful narrative and an endearing town to explore. If you like picross, but have never played a game that incorporates picross into a pre-existing genre, for example something like Murder By Numbers which is equal parts picross as it is visual novel, then I would highly recommend taking a look at this game. I think it's a great stepping stone title to break into new and innovative ways picross can be played.