PictoQuest: The Cursed Grids Review – Switch

From Nanopiko, a team of only 3 people, one of the best Picross Games I’ve ever played in 10 years!

I have been playing Picross games since I was roughly 17. There is something about it that just switches on my brain and makes me want to play that one more level.
When I heard about PictoQuest I was thrilled and excited: a Picross game with an RPG twist? Sign me up!

Moonface “niarks” all the paintings away. EVIL!

The game sees the evil wizard Moonface stealing all the paintings from the beautiful city of Pictoria. It’s up to Flöh, a young knight in training and Arvel, daughter of a famous Pictorian painter, to venture on a journey and recover what was stolen.
Yes, the story isn’t anything to rave about and that’s absolutely fine, even though a more detailed plot line might’ve helped getting us invested in our characters a bit more.

Whoever you may choose, don’t expect any difference in gameplay.

At the beginning we are asked to choose a character between the two available, but as far as I am concerned the difference is only aesthetic and makes no difference whatsoever to the gameplay.
The game’s levels are presented on a map, divided in zones. Each zone can represent a Picross grid, a shop, a teleportation point, a boss or a side quest.
We move from space to space trying to reach the end of the map and our final confrontation with Moonface.

Probably the best picture to describe grid solving: the second column says there’s no filled blocks. Therefore on the first row, 1 and 3 can only be placed in the spaces. Your grid solving skills will gradually improve over time. It’s so satisfying.

Picross grids are pixelated encrypted images we need to decipher piece by piece.
Trying to describe how to solve a Picross grid isn’t easy at all.
Picross grids can be of any size: 5×5, 10×10 all the way to 20×20 in the case of PictoQuest.
On the edge of the grid there is a series of numbered hints. When 2 or more numbers are present, the rule is the numbers (indicating how many squares need to be covered on that line or column) have to be separated by one or more empty squares.

Grids can vary in size.

All clear so far? Good, because I’d need one month and you’d need a masters degree explain every Picross strategy there is. The game explains rules well enough to teach you at least the very least the basics.
Now, for a very seasoned player like me, solving Picross grids can take as little as 20 seconds for small grids and 5 minutes for medium ones. This is where the game’s RPG mechanics kick in.
More often than not enemies are present, each with an HP and time bar. Enemies will attack at the end of the time bar, like in a turn based rpg, depleting our life meter by half a heart or a whole one in case of a critical strike (enemies will also attack if you make a mistake while solving the picture).

Enemies will keep you on edge during your decryption adventures.

This kept me on edge, as not only I had to solve grids quicker than usual, but I also had to defeat the enemies, who receive damage every time a row or a column is fully solved, depleting their time bar in the process.
My approach to grid solving had changed; muscle memory starts kicking in, you recognise numbers patterns quicker than before, you don’t want to fully solve that row because you need to save the attack for when it’s more convenient.
Some levels present bosses, who possess different attacks from regular enemies, like deleting some squares you marked off the grid.
I found myself scrolling between enemies with L and R all the time, managing the different stats they have (such as health or time bar regeneration), trying to survive their attacks.

You don’t scare me, weird… Pokémon thingy!

At the beginning I was a bit overwhelmed, but soon enough something kicked in and I truly started to fully appreciate that extra layer of depth levels showcase.
Shops are dotted here and there on the map, where we can spend cash earned in our encounters on items like orbs, freezing the enemy attacks or extra heart containers (cough…). Items will also randomly spawn on the hints bar and can be collected by solving that particular row/column before they disappear.

Shops will sell you items for hard earned cash. This is also where you can collect your side quest rewards.

NPCs on the map will offer you side quests to be played between normal levels, offering different sets of rules to be followed in order to succeed, like not making any mistakes or solving the grid in a certain time limit.
The reward can vary from receiving a set amount of coins to an item to be used in battle.

Pfff.. Try me.

The game difficulty level is well balanced throughout, but halfway through even I started to find the levels a bit more challenging from what I’m used to from a Picross game.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I genuinely got stuck for the first time in years, forcing me to develop new strategies in order to advance! Amazing!
The only minor critique I have is about a little glitch I’ve discovered if you return to the home menu without hitting the pause button: the game keeps playing in the background and enemies will attack once you go back to playing. When this happens, enemies will always miss, so I wonder if the developers at Nanopiko know about this issue.

She’s training in secret. Beware.

The graphics are well presented, with an exquisite colourful HD pixelated art style reminiscent of the 16 bit era, well mixed with more traditionally hand drawn pieces. The grids themselves, once solved, animate in such a fluid way, unlike anything I’ve seen before, even in the mainline Picross series. It is simple but a true joy for the eye.
It’s worth mentioning the game’s English localisation isn’t the most accurate, showing some of the funniest dialogue I’ve read in ages (all for the wrong reasons) and I love it.

LGBT representation or just typos galore?
I genuinely screamed at the screen. THE FRUIT OF MY BUM!

The music in the game is surprisingly atmospheric and of great quality.
You know you’re playing a good Picross game when you start humming in time with the music. PictoQuest features the very helpful the option to skip to the next track or mute the music completely in real time while playing.
There’s some sort of voice acting in the form of gibberish, reminding me vaguely of The Sims. It made me giggle a few times and never got tedious.

PictoQuest: The Cursed Grids is one of the biggest surprises of 2019; incredible how a team of only 3 (three!) people managed to pull off a Picross style game with its own twist on the formula that is extremely engaging and capable of improving the skills of a seasoned player like myself.

Highly recommended! Here’s hoping for a DLC or even better: a sequel!

PictoQuest: The Cursed Grids can be purchased on the E-shop for £8.99. A huge thank you to NanoPiko for providing the review code.

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