Jupiter’s Picross S series for years has been a fun and reliable source of puzzling nirvana, each new entry perhaps best illustrating the age-old saying of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. While solving grid-based puzzles has never once lost its appeal, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wondered what else might be possible with a game like Picross. The excellent Murder by Numbers injected a murder mystery into the mix a few years back for example however, the actual puzzle part was still very much business as usual. Picross X: Picbits Vs Uzboross offers perhaps the biggest change up to the formula, but is it one for the better or is Picross best left as is?
So, we all know the deal by now when it comes to Picross right? Grid-based puzzles with numerical clues for every row and column indicating the cells that need to be filled in and those that don’t. Normally, these would take on sizes starting at 5×5 grids moving on up as high as 40×30 each producing a lovely pixel image when completed. In the case of Picross X: Picbits Vs Uzboross however, all puzzles remain no bigger than 5×5 (or some varying degree) which may sound ridiculously easy for veteran players but hear me out, there’s a surprising amount of challenge to be had (not to mention surprises) to be found here.
While you’ll be solving puzzles, the aim of the game and each of its levels is to successfully keep your Picbits (essentially cute little bunny-like creatures) from being eaten by Uzboross (essentially large worm-like creatures). The faster you complete a series of 5×5 puzzles, the better your Picbits’ chances in not being munched up as well counterattacking the Uzboross at the end of the level. Survive and it’s onto the next level, defeat the Uzboross and you’ll be rewarded with challenges.
Levels can play out over multiple rounds, taking on both a difficulty and even mode type. Easy, for example, will likely contain plenty of simple solutions involving completely filled in rows or columns. As for the modes, these are where things get particularly interesting tasking the player with not just solving puzzles but doing so in certain ways such as filling in rows in a certain order or in a single stroke. Particularly devilish though, are the bombs that require defusing by first filling in all cells in its row and column. There are a number of these alternate rules to discover that add some much-appreciated variety to the mix but more importantly challenge to its smaller grids. As you quickly solve puzzle after puzzle in each round, you’ll also get the chance to unlock treasure chests in bonus rounds, all this adding up to essentially helping keep your Picbits alive and provide ammunition to counterattack at the end.
While your main goal will always be to keep your Picbits from being gobbled up, levels also have three challenges to complete often involving hitting certain scores, using a certain skill or dealing damage. Complete the trio and you’ll then unlock a tougher version of said level with three more challenges to triumph. Just like the Picross S titles, there is plenty of content here to sink your teeth into.
As you progress through the game’s many levels, you’ll unlock skills that when equipped help you mid-chase. These come in two forms – passive and active. Passive will constantly be in effect offering the player everything from awarding extra points for filling out empty spaces with an X to lessening penalties for making mistakes. Active meanwhile work on cooldown and require a button press to initiate offering brief perks such as a points boost or revealing a limited number of cells that need filling. These can all be levelled up too, reducing their cost to equip and thus allowing for more skills to be simultaneously taken into a level.
Outside the game’s main you’ll find two more modes, the first focused on co-op play. Playable online or locally on multiple Nintendo Switch devices, up to eight of you will team up to take on the Uzboross. Unfortunately, my efforts to find someone online came up empty, however, you are still able to play this mode alone but of course, it results in an experience that feels pretty similar to the main single-player mode. Uzbo Run meanwhile is essentially an endless mode, where you’ll keep solving puzzles until you run out of time, blue fruits offering a chance to equip skills as you go, a neat distraction with a fun randomised element to it.
Completing challenges will earn you PICS which can be cashed in to change the appearance of your Picbits, chasing Uzboross and other elements. Everything from giving your Picbit a hat or new colour to changing the background they’ll be racing away on. There’s a good mix of stuff available and it adds further personality to the already cute little critters.
It’s worth mentioning that Picross X: Picbits Vs Uzboross continues Jupiter’s trend of including both button and touchscreen controls in their games, the latter perfectly suited to the smaller grids and larger cells. Whichever you choose though, the game accommodates well even scaling its grading of time taken based on the option you choose.
Jupiter takes an interesting swing with Picross X: Picbits Vs Uzboross, its blend of level-based gameplay, skills and snappy puzzles a refreshing alternative to the slower-paced affairs seen in its other efforts. While some may find its smaller grids limiting compared to those games, what it does instead presents a whole new take on the formula and one that excites me for what the developer may and can do next.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Jupiter