Whether you know them as “nonograms” or “picross,” Japanese visual logic puzzles first received broad international exposure in the 1995 Nintendo Game Boy game Mario’s Picross, a cartridge with 256 different black-and-white puzzles inside. Picross games start with an empty grid that has numbers on each of its sides, telling you how many squares should be filled in, only implicitly suggesting how many need to be left empty. Using two tools—the equivalents of a pen to “fill” spots and a pencil to X out presumed empty ones—you complete each puzzle and create a picture in the process. The simplest puzzles are 5×5 grids with black and white as the only colors, but more complex ones radically expand the grid sizes and color palettes to become serious challenges.
Today, we look at six picross games for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, each with its own advantages and disadvantages; you can decide which one or two are right for your personal needs. Read on for all the details.
Though Doki Doki Bloki ($1, version 1.3) from Doki Doki Games is an iPhone/iPod touch title that runs at low-resolution on the iPad, it offers the most complete game console-style experience of the bunch. Featuring energetically animated retro 8-bit backgrounds and similarly enthusiastic chip music, Doki Doki Bloki includes a total of 100 puzzles spread across three difficulty levels—small (5×5), medium (10×10) and large (15×15). The game’s mascot DeeDee is a polygon-rendered girl who walks you through the controls, which differ from other nonogram titles in that you need to move an on-screen brush using a virtual joystick, using separate fill, X, and “bomb” (limited auto-fill) buttons as you play. New puzzles are unlocked only in sequence, so experts can’t just skip to the more challenging ones; this will be an issue only for those who are already familiar and bored with beginner-level challenges.
Doki Doki Bloki’s in-your-face retro style won’t appeal to everyone—the music, for instance, is both catchy and sometimes harsh—but we liked both it and the graphic design of the numbered grids, which give the game enough of a professional veneer to appeal to fans of console picross titles. If it wasn’t for the control interface, which is unnecessarily clunky for a game that could be using straightforward tap and swipe controls on a touchscreen, this $1 title would easily be our top pick. As-is, it’s worth the price for first-time picross players, falling short of greatness for experienced App Store gamers due to the controls. A free Lite version is also available. iLounge Rating: B.
Tanut Apiwong’s iPixCross ($1, version 1.0) is an iPhone/iPod touch title with low-resolution graphics on the iPad, offering 81 puzzles spread across easy (23 5×5), medium (34 7×7) and hard (24 10×10) difficulty levels. What makes iPixCross worth considering is its inclusion of color puzzles, which start early in the game and use an interesting system to gently ease players into solutions: you complete each layer of color one at a time if you want, using a palette button to go back and make adjustments if you determine that you’ve made a mistake. Unlike Doki Doki Bloki, iPixCross allows players to play any puzzle at any time, displaying menus with ? icons for incomplete puzzles and renderings of ones you’ve solved.
Unfortunately, though the game uses more intuitive touch-based controls than Doki Doki Bloki’s, it doesn’t permit swipe-filling of multiple blocks, and requires the use of a separate eraser button to remove both X marks and filled blocks of anything but the current color. We also ran into a puzzle that we solved by meeting all of the logic requirements for its multi-colored grid, but the game wouldn’t accept it as the right solution—a “more than one correct answer” problem that’s really difficult for a player to work around while switching between different colors to make changes. The game’s user interface lacks for background art, animation, music and sound effects, but the block-based menus are nicely themed. iLounge Rating: B-.
MosaicLogic (Free, version 1.2) by Wizard’s Tools/Kaoru Kasai is a universal app with support for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. The fact that it’s free might encourage you to give it a spin, but it’s unquestionably the worst of these titles from a user experience standpoint, on both the iPad and the iPhone/iPod touch platforms, where it differs mostly in the amount of empty space left on the screen between iPhone/iPod touch-designed visual elements. On the iPad, you get an interface that mixes blurry, upscaled artwork with fuzzy numbers and buttons that don’t make a lot of sense—who wouldn’t want “high detail” turned on, and why does it keep switching off? iPhone and iPod touch users have the same graphics, only confined to a smaller and seemingly more appropriate space… but with iAds at the top of the play screen. If you’re willing to play with the game’s settings and go through some additional inconvenient steps, you’ll find that this game has some worthwhile puzzles, including both color and monochrome versions.
For some reason, MosaicLogic includes only 10 puzzles that vary in size from 5×5 to 20×20, forcing you to use a folder interface to open puzzles and download an additional 10 puzzles that grow as large as 25×25 or 20×30—positively huge by comparison with other nonogram games. There are also four separate $1 in-app purchases that each include 15 or 20 more puzzles with various themes. Unfortunately, no tutorial is offered to explain the initially confusing controls, which place a targeting reticule on the screen with every touch, and oddly scale the board’s elements with pinch gestures. A second control scheme is even worse and more confusing than the first, with a third—tap to fill with separate buttons at the bottom for colors and the like—making the most sense, assuming you are willing to keep playing with the settings long enough to discover it. Unless the developer goes back and fixes the interface for this game, it won’t even be worthy of grabbing for free. iLounge Rating: D-.
PicGrid – Picross Puzzle ($3, version 1.4) by KMD9 is a no-frills iPhone/iPod touch-formatted nonogram game that delivers an easy-to-use interface for solving puzzles. With 210 monochrome puzzles spread across three grid size levels (5×5, 10×5, and 10×10), PicGrid doesn’t make much of an attempt to impress you with its graphics: it merely changes the color of the background and grid from level to level, shifting white border numbers to green when you’ve satisfied whatever they specified—correctly or incorrectly. Simple fill, pencil X, and zoom/pan buttons are included at the bottom of the screen, and swipe gestures let you fill in multiple spots at once, the latter feature much appreciated after playing picross games without it.
Despite the fact that there’s nothing flashy about this title, the menus and in-game controls are completely intuitive, and PicGrid offers more than enough puzzles to keep players sufficiently occupied for the price. A free Lite version offers 30 puzzles so you can see whether you like the game; our guess is that experienced fans of picross will enjoy the numerous advanced puzzles enough to drop a few bucks for this one. iLounge Rating: B.
Of all of the picross variants here, Pixelogic – Picross Enhanced ($3, version 2.1) and Pixelogic for iPad ($5, version 1.0) by Joel Riley are the most likely to impress players with big numbers—both games include the same 5×5 (40), 10×10 (33), 15×15 (26), and 20×20 (16) puzzles, with the option to download more than 300 additionally archived “Daily Puzzles” for free, one puzzle or one month at a time. Though there’s no animation, no changing background artwork, and only the simplest of sound effects, the user interfaces before and during the game are both solid.
You can swipe to fill or X out spots, depending on which marker you’ve selected at the bottom of the screen, and though the grid design isn’t fancy, it looks a little nicer than some of the barest bones picross titles in the App Store. Puzzles are solely monochrome, but there are enough to keep you challenged for weeks. The developer also offers an optional hand-holding feature called Error Feedback that enables first-time nonogram players to cruise through solutions: simply swiping your finger over the grid will fill and X out blocks as appropriate, rather than using the separate fill and X buttons found on the bottom of the screen. As a counterbalance, Error Feedback only lets you make five mistakes before ending the game. A tool lets you create your own puzzles, as well, with options to save the puzzle or upload it to the developer for Daily Puzzle consideration—a nice idea.
But there’s one big disappointment here, and that’s the cumulative $8 price for users who want to play the puzzles on both an iPad and iPhone/iPod touch. Even though the puzzles are the same between both versions of the app, the iPhone/iPod touch version makes poor use of the iPad’s screen, and the iPad version doesn’t run on the other devices. On the iPad, Pixelogic displays the entire grid at full size all the time, while the iPhone and iPod touch app automatically zooms into the 5×5 portion of the grid you’re using, rendering the rest of the grid as a disproportionately shrunken set of colored and blank tiles. Oddly, you pay more for the iPad version even though it omits this feature, which no one would have wanted on the larger-screened device anyway. There’s really no good reason to charge twice for the same set of puzzles, particularly considering how similar the apps’ interfaces are to one another.
That having been said, if you’re an experienced player looking for a huge collection of nonogram puzzles at a reasonable price, Pixelogic would be as good a place to start as any; between the Error Feedback and puzzle creation tools, it offers novices and creative players some fun options, as well. If you own both an iPhone/iPod touch and an iPad, you may want to hold off on purchasing either version until a universal application becomes available at a reasonable price. We preferred playing the full screen iPad version of Pixelogic, but the lower price of the iPhone/iPod touch version makes it a better value. A free Lite version of the iPhone/iPod touch game is available with 15 sample puzzles. iLounge Ratings (Both): B.