Art Style: Pictobits is a funny mix for a puzzle game. Many puzzle games challenge you by throwing random input at you faster and faster until you break. (Tetris is a classic example.) And many puzzle games give you set-piece challenges that, while perhaps requiring some quick thinking and precision (and even having a bit of randomness), let you develop approaches that are targeted to the layout of a specific level. (Bust-A-Move levels can be examples of this.)

Pictobits, however, is in the middle. At first, it looks like a straightforward example of the “faster and faster random input” school: blocks fall from the top of the screen, the game’s designers actually manage to come up with a new but not particularly gripping twist on how to deal with that, and if you survive long enough, you win. (And unlock a picture from an NES game: Nintendo loves milking the nostalgia.)

That winning is the first sign that it’s not in the “faster and faster” school: you’re not supposed to win in games like that! Anyways, as you progress through the levels, you first run into one additional gameplay wrinkle, and, as the stages harder, you start to fail. And, on replaying the levels, you notice that the patterns seem pretty familiar, that you run into the same sorts of shapes at the same points in the level, and have to figure out ways to quickly arrange your squares to eliminate most or all of the falling shapes most thoroughly. So it really is a “set piece” game, it’s just that the set pieces are quite a bit longer than in most games of that subgenre and have quite a bit more flexibility in how to deal with them.

And then, if you’re like me, the game eventually gets hard enough that you stop playing. Which is okay. It’s the first DSiWare game that I bought; it would have cost me all of five dollars, except that you get ten dollars of credit when you purchase the system, so I effectively got it for free. And I got five bucks worth of enjoyment out of it: a puzzle system with a few new ideas, that ultimately didn’t come together for me, but that I was perfectly happy to have spent two or three hours with, to have had with me on a recent plane ride. I remain a supporter of Nintendo’s Art Style experimental series: I’ve enjoyed the games that I’ve tried in it, and I imagine one of them will end up really pushing one of my buttons.

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