Nintendo seems to have become fond of using Pokémon as the basis for its free-to-play offerings recently. First there were Pokémon Shuffle and Pokémon Rumble World, and now we’ve been given Pokémon Picross, which mixes classic Picross puzzling with elements of everyone’s favourite critter-catching games. If you haven’t heard of Picross before, it’s a puzzle similar to Sudoku where you have to work out which squares in a grid you should fill in and which should be left blank according to clue numbers on each row and column. It’s hard to explain without a puzzle to hand, but the game does a good job of explaining it and by the time you’ve finished the five tutorial puzzles you’ll have a decent grasp of what to do.
After these tutorial puzzles, you’re introduced to the Pokémon elements of the game. Each subsequent puzzle forms a pixel-art picture of a Pokémon, and when you’ve successfully completed the puzzle you “catch” that Pokémon. Pokémon you’ve caught can then be used during other puzzles to help you along, with powers that can reveal filled-in squares, show which rows and columns have confirmable spaces or correct any mistakes you’ve made.
It’s here where the free-to-play aspect creeps in; after using a Pokemon’s power it’s made unusable for anywhere between an hour to a day and a half. If you want to skip this cooldown period you have to use Picrites, an in-game currency which you can either earn by completing challenges on each puzzle or buy with cold, hard cash. You also have an energy gauge which reduces with each block you fill in, with one point returning each minute and again with an option to instantly recharge it using Picrites.
Picrites are also required to open up new areas to unlock more puzzles. At first it’s easy enough to gather enough Picrites to unlock these areas, but by the third or fourth time you’ll hit a point where the only way to afford it is to stump up the cash for more Picrites or wait a few days to complete enough of the game’s daily challenges to earn them. These paywalls can be annoying if you want to carry on playing in long sessions, but ultimately it’s still possible to play the whole game for free if you’re patient enough.
There’s a surprising amount to complete too. Each puzzle has three challenges, such as completing it within a time limit or only using certain Pokemon powers, which reward you either with Picrites or mural tiles. Each mural tile provides a puzzle in itself, with completed tiles gradually building pictures of Primal Kyogre and Primal Groudon. There’s also an Alt-World mode which introduces harder puzzles with hint numbers that span multiple rows or columns (although this is again locked behind a sizeable paywall). Add to that the random daily appearance of Mythical Pokemon puzzles in each area and even without the long waits to amass Picrites it’d take even the most seasoned puzzler a long while to complete. Overall, Pokemon Picross is a fun, satisfying and often challenging puzzler marred slightly by progress-halting paywalls, but it’s definitely worth your time if you’re willing to be patient with it.