Review: Pictopix

Disclosure: Review code for Pictopix was provided to VGBlogger.com for coverage consideration by Tomlab Games.

If you’ve set a New Year’s resolution to whip your brain into better shape, nonogram puzzler Pictopix is a great place to start.

For the uninitiated, nonograms are a type of grid and number puzzle in which numbers or sequences of numbers aligned next to each row and column are used to decipher which cells to cross out and which cells to fill in, the ultimate goal being to reveal a hidden image that springs to life as colorful pixel art once solved. Pictopix doesn’t attempt any twists on these traditional rules, it simply presents a vanilla flavor of nonogram. Which is perfectly fine, because not every scoop of vanilla ice cream needs to be slathered with chocolate sauce or turned into a gluttonous sundae to be satisfying.

Tomlab Games lets the purity of balanced, thoughtful nonogram design speak for itself, matching impeccable puzzle logic with a clean and intuitive interface that works beautifully with mouse and keyboard or a controller. Left click colors in squares, right click crosses out squares to be left empty, and a middle scroll-wheel click can be used to place placeholder markers as erasable visual guides as you work through a puzzle. Squares can be filled in click by click, or you can click and drag to quickly paint large sections. Face buttons are used for the same functions with a controller.

On some of the larger puzzles, if you aren’t careful, it can be easy to stray out of a row or column and accidentally paint the wrong cells, like coloring outside the lines in a coloring book. However, a smart slide option can be toggled from the settings menu to lock the cursor onto the currently selected line for the duration of the held click. Even if you drag wildly beyond its boundaries, only cells in the selected row/column will color in. Smart slide isn’t needed for controller play, as moving the cursor up, down, left, and right is less likely to go astray while using analog sticks or the d-pad.

Pictopix contains 150 puzzles (plus a small batch of unlockable bonus puzzles), progressively building in size from small initial grids of 5×5 up to 10×10, 15×15, 20×20, and 25×25, as well as a few mixed sizes like 25×20 and 25×15. A puzzle editor is included as well, though currently Steam Workshop support for sharing custom grids has not yet been implemented (but is in the works). The base puzzles on their own offer immense value. Obviously playing time will vary from player to player based on individual puzzle-solving skill, but I’ve sunk nearly 30 hours into the game so far and have somewhere around 15 puzzles still to polish off, plus a bunch more to improve my score on. There’s a Shuffle mode too, but it really doesn’t add any extra value since it merely lets you play a randomized sequence of puzzles you’ve already completed or unlocked.

Puzzles are unlocked in order of size, so you’re required to go through the smaller puzzles in order to get to the larger ones. Each puzzle completed unlocks a new one, with up to 10 puzzles available to play at a given time. Start a puzzle and get stumped? No worries. The game comes with a suspend option so you can save your progress on one puzzle and move on to try another one without losing any of your work. As far as I can tell there is no limit to the number of puzzles you can have in simultaneous suspension, a nice advantage this game has over the equally excellent nonogram puzzler Paint It Back, which only allowed progress to be saved for one puzzle at a time.

In addition to an introductory tutorial that’s handy from the main menu for anyone in need of some early guidance, one of Pictopix‘s standout features is its adaptable difficulty scaling based on a set of optional hints. Hints include revealing a puzzle’s object category and color, highlighting rows and columns with solvable cells so you always know where to focus your attention, number fading to mark off numbers that are verified, and the ability to undo or redo moves. These hints can be turned on/off at varying levels based on a chosen difficulty preset–Novice (full hints), Intermediate (some hints), or Expert (no hints)–or manually toggled based on personal preference or need.

Determined by chosen difficulty and the number of errors committed, performance on each puzzle is rated on a scale of one to three awards. One award is given for completing a puzzle. Two awards are given for solving a puzzle without using any hints. The top three-award score is reserved only for expert players able to solve a puzzle without using hints while also making limited mistakes. The only problem with this setup is the lacking of a clear delineation between how many mistakes rule you out from earning three awards. It can be frustrating to sink a ton of time into no-hinting a puzzle and thinking that you’ve done well, not knowing that you’ve already made one too many errors to get the full score. At these moments I also noticed the lack of a ‘restart puzzle’ option from the completion recap screen. There are buttons to continue on to the next puzzle or quit back to the puzzle selection gallery, but no way to quickly restart the current puzzle on the spot. Hopefully that’s something that gets added in a future patch.

Something else I’d like to see changed is the way the game currently links changing of the background color in with the object theme hint. Playing with this hint turned on, each puzzle has its own background color so you get some variety. Without hints, though, every single puzzle plays out on the same grayish-blue background color scheme. Even though the presentation is very clean, attractive, and relaxing, it can also become monotonous for advanced players due to the unchanging palette. Different background colors really aren’t a hint, so I don’t quite understand why there isn’t a standalone option to set or customize the color scheme.

Pictopix may not have that special secret sauce to differentiate it from other nonogram puzzlers, but what it does offer is a polished, cleanly designed, and logically balanced puzzle experience bolstered by tens of hours worth of nonograms to solve as well as a variety of hint options catering to players of all skill levels. What the game lacks in personality and pizazz it more than makes up for in functionality and sheer volume of content.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Efficient, intuitive interface
+ 150 puzzles in a broad range of sizes (plus future expansion through Steam Workshop)
+ Hint/difficulty settings cater to all skill levels
+ Suspend progress on multiple puzzles at the same time
+ Award system adds replay for completionists, skilled players

Cons:
– Unclear how many mistakes drop three awards to two
– No button to quick restart from the puzzle completion screen
– Can’t change background color without using hints

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Tomlab Games
Developer: Tomlab Games
Release Date: 1/5/2017
Genre: Puzzle
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam for $6.99

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!