Allow me to introduce myself. I’m TC, and I am a picross addict.
There are currently no fewer than four of these addictive little puzzlers on my phone, two on my Switch, one on my DS and a number of hanjie books (yes, actual paper books) on my shelves. So imagine how excited I was when the PixelCrashers team asked if I’d like to review a brand new addition to the genre!
For those wondering what on earth I’m talking about, picross puzzles (also known as nonograms, hanjie and various other names) are grids which you use numerical logic to fill in and create images. Pixel art by numbers, if you will. It’s a simple concept that scales really well, offering a difficulty level for everyone, from basic 4×4 grids up to whatever size the creator feels will fit on the screen (or in the book, if you’re going Old Skool).
What Depixtion brings to the table is a concept I’ve personally never seen before. Instead of building up the image by putting individual colours into a single grid, or even more simply, putting black cells onto a white background, here you complete three separate puzzles which are then layered. Using basic colour combinations (red + yellow =orange, etc), the overlayering blends the three grids to create a single image with a wide array of colours, and therefore a more detailed picture. If you’re scratching your head as to what I mean, here’s a simple example:
To increase the palette further, each cell can use either a brighter or a darker colour. So light red plus dark yellow plus dark blue results in something different to dark red plus dark yellow plus light blue. It all adds up to create a wonderful level of complexity in the completed images.
Another nice touch is that as you fill in the cells, the preview changes to match – not that you’ll notice if you’re racing to get a good time! As you get into the swing of things, you’ll find yourself darting from one spot to another as each cell filled in reveals what to do with others around it.
The tutorial is detailed enough for an absolute newbie, but not so intrusive that someone with more experience would be annoyed. It eases you into the basic 4×4 levels and then that’s it. You’re off and before you know it three hours have gone by…
When I play these on my phone, it’s easy to accidentally tap a cell I didn’t mean to, and that often means losing a ‘life’ or taking a time penalty. Okay, in the grand scheme of things that’s not really a problem – it’s not like this is Dark Souls. But there’s a tiny part of your gamer brain that registers a failure and that does affect the experience. For me at least. Maybe I’m just too sensitive a flower?
Depixtion doesn’t penalise you this way though. If you put a colour in a cell that should be empty, the only thing you lose is the time working out that you were wrong. Some people might prefer to take a hit in order to confirm that ‘ok that cell’s definitely blank, now I can move on and fill in around it’, but I find this comparative lack of hand-holding really refreshing.
Fortunately if you do get too lost, the pause menu offers the option to check for mistakes – telling you how many you’ve made, and if you choose, highlighting them to you for the cost of that layer’s star. I’ve never been one for chasing 100% success rates, so I am happy to sacrifice an arbitrary award for the sake of my sanity. You can also clear a whole layer in the pause menu, if you’ve ballsed up so much that it’s littered with mistakes.
If the pressure of seeing the timer ticking away is too much for you, another option in the pause menu is the ability to hide it, for an even more mellow experience. In the earlier levels I enjoyed racing the clock, but after trying the hardest grids I think I’ll be hiding it for those. If I’m going to lose a couple of hours to a puzzle, I don’t want a constant reminder of how slowly I’m going!
A good picross game never leaves you feeling that guesswork is your only option – the next step should always be fathomable from what you can see. And this, my friends, is a good picross game.
With puzzle games generally being solo endeavours, the sense of challenge has to come from within. Personally, I want to feel like I’m competing against my own skills, rather than against the game itself – if I fail I want it to be because I couldn’t work it out, not because the game threw a curveball at me. Depixtion pulls this off beautifully and I know I’ll definitely be returning to levels I already beat to see if I can do them faster. Speedrun, anyone?
Music is always important in games, whether they’re sprawling open world adventures or stylised puzzlers, and you’ll be pleased to hear that the choice here is lovely. I imagine that creating music which needs to loop for an unknown period of time (dependent on the player’s ability) is quite difficult. It needs to be interesting, but not irritating. Too short a loop and it risks becoming a hastily-muted earworm, but too long a loop and it’s possible the latter part of it might never be heard.
Depixtion nails this dilemma, in my opinion. I was never irritated by the music, even almost two hours into the hardest puzzle. I’m not expert enough to define the genre, but my best guess would be a kind of synthy electronic jazz? It’s gentle and flowing, but with an upbeat hint to keep you interested.
Whether you prefer to use keyboard and mouse or a controller, you’re covered. After trying each method, I preferred the mouse but if for any reason you don’t wish to use one (repeated clicking can get tiresome, I admit, especially if you have existing health or mobility issues), rest assured that you can easily use a controller instead.
My only minor gripe with Depixtion is that it lacks a save function. When the largest puzzles can take well over an hour to complete, the ability to save and return later is pretty much essential. As it was, I felt I had to get the 28×28 grid finished before I could step away to attend to real life stuff, which did take the fun out of it – at times it felt like a slog. If I’d been able to save my progress and come back when convenient, I believe I would have enjoyed that puzzle much more.
Edit: Since the time of writing, the Developer has informed that the game does have an autosave feature. However, due to this not being made entirely clear, it wasn’t utilised.
(There are some minor typos too, but I only point that out because as a qualified proofreader I feel obliged to!)
You want Steam achievements? You got it. You want a mental workout that doesn’t leave you pulling your hair out in frustration? Sorted. You want all this for well under a tenner? Get yourself over to the Steam store now. Just don’t blame me when you find yourself dreaming about tri-colour grids.