Nonograms aren’t typically the first puzzle type you would expect to see on home consoles. Their simplicity lends itself more to mobile devices, or the Nintendo Switch where the Picross series does very well. However, slap some RPG mechanics to it and you have a much more fleshed out version, in theory. Not only that, but you also have a game that feels like it was designed purely for yours truly.
PictoQuest actually started out life on the Nintendo Switch before being ported to various other places, and now finally making its way to Xbox consoles. Also known as PictoQuest: The Cursed Grids, this version on Xbox is identical to those that have come before it.
The world of Pictoria has been overrun by Moonface and his band of cronies. To stop them, noble heroes Flöh and Arvel must travel the land completing these puzzles and taking back the land. PictoQuest may have RPG mechanics, but you won’t be playing this one for the story at least.
If you are unfamiliar with nonograms, PictoQuest has a tutorial to ease you into them. They do look pretty daunting at first with nothing but an empty grid and numbers dotted around the side, but get the hang of them and they are a joy to solve. Essentially, the numbers should indicate how many squares you need to fill in for that row/column. In a 5×5 grid if you were given the numbers 3 and 1 you would know that line has a group of three blocks to fill in, a gap to separate and then a final single block to fill. Without a visual aid it can be a fruitless task trying to explain, but trust me, they are far easier than they initially appear.
Once you have got the hang of them, it is on to saving the world. There are over 100 various nonograms to solve on your quest. Many of the pictures hidden within aren’t directly associated with your adventure but do feature designs based on quintessential RPG tropes. Various weaponry, enemies, items and all manner of items that feel RPG-like will be uncovered as you complete the puzzles.
PictoQuest unfortunately does not allow you to save a puzzle whilst halfway through. You must either finish it or admit defeat. Admitting defeat also throws up a conundrum as there is no way to progress until you complete the one in question.
But how does all this fit into an RPG? Well, you are using these nonograms to defeat enemies. Whilst it wouldn’t be anyone’s first weapon of choice, it lends itself quite well to this riff on turn-based battling. Each enemy you face has a timer gauge that fills. Once it is full, it will attack your chosen hero. Only by completing a row or column can you reset the enemy’s timer and do damage to them. Mistakes in the grid allow the enemy a free hit, and if you lose all your life you must start the puzzle again.
Sometimes there will be multiple enemies to take on, and you need to keep an eye on their individual timer gauges and choose which one to attack using the bumper buttons.
Fights against enemies aren’t all that common because they can get a bit stressful when you start to deal with 20×15 grids. Many other nonograms can be taken at a much gentler pace and reward you with coins depending on how many mistakes you make. Coins can be spent in the various shops that appear on the map. These stock potions to replenish health, health upgrades and power-ups.
These powerups come in three flavours: Fire can briefly show you which squares need to be filled in, thunder will fill in a chosen 3×3 area automatically and ice can freeze enemy timers. They are all beneficial when used in the right situation and can make the difference when things get tricky.
PictoQuest is RPG-lite but it does contain side quests. On your journey across the world map there will be various people and animals that require your help. These challenges will be previously completed nonograms but with extra difficulty modifiers such as no mistakes or really tight times to beat.
Each area also has a boss battle at the end. Bosses hit you for more damage than standard enemies but can also employ ghosts to wipe away any crosses you have put on the board. They aren’t too dangerous compared to standard enemies as long as you keep an eye on everything and not just the grid itself.
PictoQuest also has another RPG staple that may go unnoticed and that is a rather good soundtrack. Each new area has its own theme, and these are effective at chilling you out when playing. Things can get repetitive when listening to themes for an extended period, but you can skip between tracks using the left trigger.
Aside from Hatsune Miku Logic Paint S, the Xbox is pretty barren when it comes to picross and nonogram puzzles. And as someone who doesn’t know the first thing about Hatsune Miku, this only really leaves PictoQuest. Just as well then that it is a pretty good picross game. It doesn’t quite hit the heights of the Nintendo Switch series, but the inclusion of RPG mechanics make this an original take if nothing more. And even nonogram veterans will find plenty of longevity here with the 100+ puzzles serving up around eight hours of pure picross pleasure.