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CONSOLE: Game Boy DEVELOPER: Ape, Jupiter PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): March 1995 GENRE: Puzzle
// review by Jeff

Get out your hammer and chisel! We're going on a Picross excursion!

It's official: Mario can't keep a job. (Then again, neither can I. Oh dear!) He hasn't really been working too hard on that whole plumbing business lately. And no, just dashing through pipes doesn't qualify as "plumbing", unless he's acting as a toilet snake. He was originally a carpenter in Donkey Kong, he's tried his luck at medicine in Dr. Mario, and he's even taken up a variety of professional sports. But I have to ask: when in the hell did he ever have the time to earn himself an anthropological degree and become an archaeologist? The answer is shrouded in mystery, but we know he's done it, because we now get to meet Mario the Archaeologist in Mario's Picross.

Mario's Picross is a puzzle game. The reason Mario has chosen this particular occupation is because in order to succeed, you must chisel away at rocky squares and dust away the remainder, just as you would do at an archaeological dig. This game actually takes its premise from nonograms, logic puzzles that require you to use numbers alongside each row and column to determine exactly which squares need to be chiseled away and which ones left blank in order to develop a picture.

I could describe this one in words, but that wouldn't be fun. Why don't we complete a puzzle together?

So here we are with a blank puzzle mat in front of us. This one has ten rows of ten spaces each. (I could've covered a larger one, but I only have so much time!) As you can see, there are numbers along the side and across the top of the playing field. This indicates how many squares should be filled in, though it doesn't tell you straightforwardly WHICH ones. That requires some logic. If there is more than one number at the edge of a row or column, that means that there will be multiple groups of squares filled in with at least one blank square to separate them. See that "1 1 3" in the second column? That means there will be one square filled in, followed by at least one blank space, then another square, at least one blank space, and three more squares filled in (and the rest of the column would also be blank, if applicable). Got it? Not quite? Well, let's solve this puzzle.
See on the left how there are two rows with zeroes beside them? That means there will be NO squares filled in on either row. I'll just mark those off to ensure I know not to accidentally fill in anything there. See? 20% of the puzzle is already complete. That was easy.
The third column has an 8 on the top. Now that we've removed those two rows from the picture, that means there are only eight remaining. That means every square in this column, aside from the two marked off, must be filled. It's the only way I can get a group of eight squares in there. I'll fill those in.
Hmmm, the next three columns also have an 8 on the top. Better fill in those columns!
Now here's something interesting. The fourth row down has a "1 8" beside it. So what that means is that there will 1 space filled in, then a blank space, then eight more filled spaces. And if you think about it, 1 + 1 + 8 = 10, so it stands to reason that this setup is all we can fit into the playing area. As you can see, I've filled it in and marked off the blank space so it remains unused.
Same goes for the next row.
The same situation is happening for the next row. It's marked "7 2". That means we need room for 9 filled-in spaces and 1 blank. That's 10! So we need to complete that row thusly.
The next row has a "1 5 2" indication. 1 + a space + 5 + a space + 2 = 10. So we'll have to fill in that row as 1 square, 1 space, 5 squares, 1 space, 2 squares.
Looking now at the second column, the numbers "1 1 3" now can speak to us. We know where one of the 1s can go, and it's surrounded by marked squares, so we can't use those. That leaves one empty space above, and three below. Considering we need a 1 and a 3, we'd better fill those remaining squares in because there's no other solution.
Aha! Look at that bottom row. It's marked with a 5, and there are already five squares filled in. That means no more squares can be filled in, so we'd better mark off all others in that row.
Same goes for the final column: it's marked with a 4, and there are already four squares chiseled out. Okay, check off the outstanding blank squares. Get the idea yet?
With that column completed, I can see that there are only 9 possible squares in each row remaining to be filled in. For this row with a 9 beside it, knowing that the last square cannot be used, we must fill in the others.
In the first column, marked with a 7, there are only seven squares that haven't been marked off as unusable. So we need to chisel out the remaining blank spaces so a line of seven dark squares appears.
The second last row has a 7 as well. Since we now know the set of seven squares starts at the left, count from the left and fill in any outstanding spaces until there are seven filled in. Then mark off the rest as unusable. Almost done! (Thank goodness, right?)
Ah, now there are five darkened squares in the second last column, where there ought to be only five. Mark off the rest.
Then just add that last square to the sequence in the third row where there should be a set of 7 dark squares. Congratulations (to me, I suppose)! We've solved this puzzle! ...but wait, what is it?
Oh, it's a cup. Well, it sure beats Mario's ugly mug! Get it? Heh heh...

That probably didn't qualify as "exhilarating", but once you get into the swing of things (and actually PLAY the game), it can actually be simultaneously enjoyable and frustrating. Mario's Picross offers several ways to satisfy both the amateur player and the expert nonogramophile alike. There are two basic modes: Easy Picross and regular Picross. The former starts you off easily with 5x5 tables and gradually eases you into 10x10 and 15x15s. Regular Picross mode just shoves you straight into 15x15s, but they're not THAT much harder. Luckily, you have the option of receiving a hint prior to starting, so you can see all the squares of one row and one column, but this little action will show up in your stats, making you appear weak in the eyes of others. I like to go without the hint now; aside from adding a challenge, it's not so bad, considering you get 30 minutes to complete a puzzle (and it doesn't take THAT long). Those 30 minutes, however, may be valuable if you're prone to mistakes, as each one will cost you some time. The first error docks you 2 minutes, the next costs 4, and subsequent gaffes will cost you 8 minutes' time until you're down to zero. Then it's game over, man. Completing all 192 puzzles in the two initial modes opens up a Time Trial where you basically get as much time as you need, but the game will not tell you when you make a mistake. Essentially, the game will continue until you are done. Could be all day...

Unfortunately, because you're playing on a screen the size of a rice cracker, 15x15 puzzles are as complex as you'll find. In sequels, however, the size can increase dramatically (up to four connected 15x15 boards, or 30x30 for the math buffs). As well, don't expect this to be a graphical powerhouse. The graphics serve their purpose and nothing more, but what can you expect from a puzzle game? It IS compatible with the Super Game Boy accessory for the SNES, so if you want to see nifty borders (or just enlarge your playing screen so you can see what you're doing without having to be in the perfect light and without need to recharging batteries every six hours), try it that way. I do like the included music, though. I enjoy bobbing my head while I ponder the logical quandaries placed in front of me. If you like puzzles that make you think, or if you enjoyed the more recent Picross DS, then this is a release to track down. Luckily (but not coincidentally), it's been released very recently on the 3DS Virtual Console, so that's a perfect way to re-experience this oft-overlooked classic... AND to get your brain pumping after playing too much Angry Birds. Yes, I went there.

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