Category Archives: Nintendo DS

Like Clockwork

Maybe just one more before calling it a day…

I’ve pretty much run out of screenshots, yet Picross 3D just keeps on going. It seems to do that in an extremely punctual fashion, too, as after its tutorial and easy levels stole 24 hours of my life, its normal challenges pilfered another 24. I really should’ve knocked on wood after the previous status update, though. That same evening, I was almost ready to give up due to a couple of puzzles that felt just plain impossible. Still, I guess listening to your own advice occasionally works, as the very next day I managed to solve them with minimal fuss. Picross 3D is a game where banging your head against a wall is usually only good for getting a headache. Give it a little break every now and then, and the move you previously missed might suddenly be clear as day. I’ve had some very tense moments with ten-minute puzzles that didn’t open up until the last few seconds but after over 200 of them, going through them now is mostly relaxed, mechanical work where your brain kind of rests, only giving your hands minor stimuli to make them transform those lumps into eventual shapes.

Picross 3D is pleasant, too. Its controls take a little while to get used to, but the basic gameplay is solid. Pretty much my only gripe are the zero columns, which always need to be cleared out before actually starting to solve anything. At first, I removed blocks with a zero one by one, until the manual (or the tutorial, which I inadvertently skipped) told me to just hold down on the touch screen to remove an entire column at once. Still, even that style requires you to have more or less a direct view to the end of the column, so in the end you have to slightly adjust your viewpoint for most of them. Also, some of the bigger challenges have so many zero columns that merely getting rid of them all can take closer to a minute. Once you’re done with them, then make a mistake, and then start all over again… It’s not exactly fun. Sure, getting rid of all the pointless columns is an empowering start into any puzzle, but I’d much rather have a button that would simply remove all cubes obviously serving no other purpose than needing to be removed.

My other little niggle is actually more about the hardware than the game. Instead of a feathery DS, I’m playing this one on a New 3DS XL, which has a weight of 329 grams and is pretty darn heavy to be held with one hand for long periods of time. Even if the game is very much about solving “just one more” puzzle, sessions with it usually end in the finger joints of the hand holding the console screaming mercy. As a handheld, the New 3DS XL is perfectly fine for games played while holding the console with both hands but if one of them has to use a stylus, it gets mighty uncomfortable after an hour or two. Still, as the 3DS so lovely tracks the time spent with each game played, I’ll stick by it. Anyway, all normal challenges are now faultlessly done, so surely the remaining hard ones won’t be impossible, either (although this time I’m banging my fist on wood, just in case). Onwards!

Surreal Sleuthing

Being the new guy without a nickname sucks 🙁

The best word to describe this weekend is probably “perplexed.” That’s not because of three-dimensional numeric puzzles, though, but because I decided to complement that game with Goichi Suda’s debut adventure The Silver Case. During these past couple of days this eccentric visual novel dating back to 1999 has been both charming and annoying in that uncompromising way that, by now, has almost like become a trademark for this renowned video game designer. Whoever decides to experience The Silver Case won’t get off easy but just like most of Suda’s brainchildren, it sure is one unique trip.

The adventure takes place in the year of the game’s original release date, set in the fictional Japanese metropolis of 24 Districts. After a lightweight intro of events, the player ends up as a newbie detective in the Heinous Crimes Unit of the city. They’re troubled not by just everyday cases but also by Kamui Uehara, a legendary serial killer from more than 20 years ago, who escapes a psychiatric institution only to restart his deplorable deeds. The official authorities aren’t the only ones having interest in the guy, as a sleazy chain-smoking freelance journalist, Tokio Morishima, is suddenly given a wealthy contract to dig into the very character of that scumbag. So, detective instincts and investigative journalism, here we go!

The Silver Case is a game in name only. Using an extremely awkward command wheel, you choose between moving, exploring hotspots of interest, utilizing items you have, and saving. Navigating through the maps viewed in first perspective is only about moving and turning one square at a time. A couple more buttons have been reserved for looking up or down, but all this is just trivial cosmetics. There are no moments of having to make a choice, and no chance of dying, so the game mechanics are all about making an otherwise passive story into at least a seemingly interactive one.

That might sound boring but as far as visual novels in particular go, it’s the journey itself that matters. In that respect The Silver Case is… …well, at least sporadically brilliant. Even for a remake of a game that is almost 18 years old by now, it’s still pretty darn stylish on whole. The ambient, jazzy soundtrack supports the on-screen events nicely, and the game’s wild and unpredictable visual mixture of still images, CG sequences, anime, and acted FMV clips is pure art. The dialogue is even better. The characters’ lines are terse and notably coarse, but even if the f**s and s**ts fly like never before in gaming, they flow in a remarkably natural fashion. The character chemistry is absolutely stellar, and the best times are often had just following the back and forth between everyday people talking about everyday stuff.

Towards the end, all this charm pretty much falls apart but as I still haven’t finished the game, more about its shortcomings later.

Happiness through forms unearthed!

As a quick status update, I’m most certainly still into Picross 3D. As a pleasant surprise, its normal mode isn’t nearly as punishing as I dreaded it to be. Sure, there have been a couple of moments when I’ve thought about giving up because I’m just too dumb. Still, when giving any puzzle a few more goes, or enjoying a good night’s sleep before retrying something, everything is still very much solvable. That’s only natural, given that most puzzle games are never so much about intelligence than intellect. I’m still having trouble dealing with cubes that need to be separated into three or more segments but I also think the game itself is doing its hardest to teach me that skill. Overall, the game is getting a tad challenging but it’s still fun!

I Am So Smart! S-M-R-T!

I can’t help but starting to feel that Picross 3D isn’t merely a second-stringer to be played when nothing else of importance is around. Whenever I decide to quickly solve a puzzle or maybe two, I suddenly find myself realizing how time has simply flown by. I’m no longer inclined to guess, and even if those initially oh-so-generous time limits suddenly feel uncomfortably strict, making me either go under or over them by a minute or two, the game is a logic rush like none other! After a whopping 24 hours, I’ve finally completed all Beginner and Easy challenges with three stars. Merely solving a puzzle is worth one, which is good enough to make progress, but the extra stars for not making any mistakes and staying within the time limit have – at least so far – been far to tempting to skip.

At this point, the game’s most rewarding feature is its pacing. I began with “heh, this is laughably simple” only to quickly run into “oh dear Lord, is this even solvable” and eventually “hoo boy, this sure takes time to solve.” Every now and then that one single cube needed to proceed does a stellar job hiding out of sight but on whole, relentless practice truly does make perfect. The geometry of any puzzle still occasionally allures me to mark and remove cubes that are right “for sure” but such seduction no longer works; I’m now all about numbers and logical deduction. The time limit is still nothing more than a needlessly stressful feature that mostly leads to stupid mistakes and a quick restart. Then again, the frequency of those mistakes seems to dwindle as I go, so perhaps such a virtual whip has a well-intentioned purpose after all. Then again, the 3DS sequel purportedly does away with time limits altogether, and it sounds like the best overhaul ever.

Whatever the case, I’m now totally into Picross 3D. After 144 puzzles solved, I’m (slightly worriedly) off to tackle the ones under the Normal category. This won’t end well.

In the meantime, the last few acquisitions of the first half of the year have finally arrived to wait for their turn to shine come summer vacation (or perhaps retirement) days. Despite all the snide remarks that PlayStation Vita is dead, it’s still very much alive and well, the dungeon crawler slash visual novel (?) Ray Gigant serving as exhibit A and the ecchi shooter (?) Gun Gun Pixies as exhibit B. Obscure Japanese oddities, of course, might not even count in the first place but after all these years, I’ve still managed to end up with slightly more Vita games than 3DS games. The difference is negligible, though, so as far as handheld console gaming goes, it’s definitely a case of either or – preferably – both.

Chisel Work

Oh, them uncomplicated days…

I’ve spent the rest of this weekend admiring Nintendo’s marketing strategy. More than a year ago, 3DS gamers were given a free Pokémon Picross poisoned with microtransactions. Playing it was always a matter of hitting an artificial wall requiring a little bit of money to continue. Even if freemium is the worst thing gaming has witnessed, and even if I refuse to support it with a single penny, the game still managed to teach me the basics of picross. A bit later, 3DS also got a traditional, good to honest retail game, Picross 3D: Round 2. In the end, not only did I buy that one, I also grabbed its predecessor, the 2010 Nintendo DS release, Picross 3D. That’s the one that has been keeping me busy this weekend, and even if my hip is still busted, at least my brain gets a proper workout.

Picross 3D little cares about storytelling. After creating a profile, a peculiar yellow bird (…which I suppose it is) swiftly introduces you the basics. You’re challenged by a 3D lump consisting of cubes. Many of their faces have numbers that indicate how many consecutive cubes belong to that axis. Based on this information, you have to chisel out a thing or a form that will then perform a little congratulatory animation before you move to the next puzzle. The source material can be freely rotated with the stylus, and holding down a d-pad button enables you to either chisel away a single cube or mark it as part of the final product. Just going around the edges is good enough for a moment but as the challenges get more devious, you have to utilize scalpels. They allow you to dissect the lump to get a better understanding of its nature, and it’s more or less the only way to solve items that have hollow interiors.

Even ordinary, two-dimensional picross might look utterly incomprehensible, and it sure is hard to even describe the way it works in 3D. Still, you can be sure to learn the gist of it surprisingly fast. What you can’t be sure, though, is quickly turning that learning into comprehension. After 14 hours, I’m still not even one fourth through the game’s massive 350+ puzzle collection. My brains are already screaming mercy, and I’m still stuck with challenge sets labeled easy. Every so often, you get an irresistible urge simply to guess, but it’s always a bad idea. Even if you were right, you probably just managed to screw up your own logical path a bit further down the road. If you were wrong, you are usually given five mistakes until a game over, but even one mistake is enough for a tiny personal death. Should that happen, at least we perfectionists just give up and start the puzzle from its very beginning. The worst feature in the game is definitely it’s time limit. It’s always extremely gracious, but still something that annoyingly ticks away in the background. Good performances tend to be given a 5-15 minute limit, passable ones even more than half an hour. Still, even if that sounds like a lot, time sure does fly while thinking.

Even at this point, I think it’s already safe to say I’ll never be able to complete this game but what the heck, let’s see where my brain takes me. At least it should be a neat support game for whatever main project I might choose next.