Retro: VC Weekly #170

Welcome to VC Weekly, N-Europe's guide to the wonderful world of Nintendo's download service. Written by Sam C Gittins.

A real treat for Puzzle game fans this time around as there really is no title quite like this underrated gem which deserves your attention. Anyway enough from me and on with the game!

Available for download this week we have...

  • Mario's Picross

Price: GB �3.60, EU �4
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Jupiter Corp
Released: 1995
System: GameBoy

Ask anyone what a Nonogram is and you'll probably be presented with many blank looks unless you happen to live in Japan as that's where these puzzles were created way back in 1987, they grew in popularity beginning to be published in written media in the early nineties but it wasn't until 1995 that Nintendo decided to jump on the bandwagon by working with developer Jupiter to create a game based on these now popular puzzles and so Mario's Picross was born. Sadly this title failed to take off in either America or Europe respectively at the time despite it being a perfectly playable puzzle title, which is why only Japan got the Gameboy sequel � this may change now � plus why we didn't get Mario's Super Picross in Europe until 2007 on the Wii's Virtual Console; however this is the original game that started it all now available to a wider audience which is a blessing to behold.

I was fortunate enough to play this cult classic puzzle title when I was young so I have already experienced its addictive tendencies first-hand, but to enjoy it a second time I feel especially elated . At its heart is a very simple concept based on numbers which you must read in order to create a picture at the end... admittedly it may not sound particularly exciting but once you pick it up I can almost guarantee you'll have great difficulty in putting it down again; Picross is played on a grid ranging from five by five for the Easy mode right up to fifteen by fifteen for the more challenging puzzles, along the top and side are numbers which correspond to the blocks that must be chiselled away so if you saw a five on one of the smaller grids for example then you would clear an entire line whereas if there are two numbers such as a three then a one that would mean that there is a block that must remain untouched in that line.

There are three courses available Easy (Yoshi) which is your basic entry level, Kinoko (Mushroom) containing reasonably taxing puzzles and the Star course which is self explanatory because it only opens up after beating Kinoko; it contains perhaps the most challenging puzzles in the game taking even veterans a while to complete even using the introductory hint offered to you at the start each time and while it is possible to 'guess' at which blocks should be filled particularly on symmetrical images it isn't always advised because for each mistake you lose two minutes off your total time limit of half an hour with each subsequent error doubling this penalty so patience is definitely required here. If you do end up beating all one hundred and ninety two puzzles � sixty four per course � then you'll unlock Time Trial mode which randomly chooses you a puzzle from another selection of sixty four each time you play but here you are not offered hints, nor are you timed plus you aren't informed when you make a mistake; so while you can't lose time by messing up you can waste it by chiselling in the wrong place, this adds an extra dynamic to an already excellent experience.

You may not be expecting much from the visuals but what's presented here really shines through for adding detail where it's required which is exactly what you want from a puzzle title; with that said there are some nice facial animations on Mario plus some decently detailed menus which add to the charm. There are five different musical compositions for you to choose from while carving away blocks, each being well suited to the situation but adding a slightly different mood depending on what you select, one thing rings true for all of them though which is that they are undeniably catchy so it's little wonder that these were reused for the excellent SNES sequel; also worth a mention is the save state function which can be very useful if you need to save your progress at a moments notice.

With over two hundred and fifty puzzles to solve in total I think it's safe to say that Mario's Picross certainly offers tremendous value for money, while it's true that the SNES follow-up plus the two DS titles offer more of a challenge plus additional features this is the original title responsible for the rest that followed, as a template it's near perfect. If you're new to this puzzle series or are simply looking for more puzzles to crack then this is both the ideal starting point plus port of call for the Picross enthusiast and if there's anyone who hasn't given this excellent title a go then I would urge them to do so as it is one of the most rewarding experiences ever to grace a console.

Verdict : Mario's Picross is near puzzle perfection in portable form.

That's it for another installment of VC Weekly which will return again soon. So until then, enjoy the rest of the week and Game On!

Sam Gittins

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