PictoQuest review – puzzle game meets RPG

As interesting a concept as melding puzzle games with role-playing ones is, it’s been hard for me to get too excited about previous attempts at mixing the genres. While the RPG elements can be engaging, the match-three style these titles usually adopt bores me a little bit. They’re fun for a while, but my interest inevitably starts to wane as the puzzles get repetitive.

Enter PictoQuest, a new genre mash-up which takes RPG elements and combines them with nonograms (Picross, to most people) – and it’s quickly become a favourite.

PictoQuest starts with you picking one of two characters who set out on an adventure to rescue all the stolen paintings of Pictoria from the artistically challenged Moonface. What happens as you start this quest is… well, it’s completely irrelevant to most of what you’re doing other than being a great aesthetic choice. You move your pixelated hero across various nodes atop a fantasy novel-styled map on your quest, and each node is a nonogram puzzle that you must solve.

The meat of the game revolves around not just solving these wonderful puzzles, but doing so in a timely manner – as well as with a dash of inventory management and enemy mitigation. Sometimes there are treasure chests to open which give you more money if you work the solution out quickly, or you might find variations of older puzzles that require you to do it within a certain time limit or without making mistakes.

The bulk of PictoQuest is played out in battles, where there are enemies lurk around, waiting to smack you as you go about solving nonograms. They have health bars and a meter that steadily fills until they’re able to attack you. In filling in the spaces on the board you can interrupt their maneuvers as well as clear them away if you deplete their health. Some stages have multiple enemies that you juggle between with the shoulder buttons, making for a much more strategic play than you’d might assume. It’s not complex to the point of being frustrating in the slightest, but you can also give yourself an edge by plucking items (which you can buy or earn) out of your knapsack to help you along.

The game is breezy but filled with enough incentive to keep you going. Along with traversing the wonderful map, you’ll run into RPG clichés… I mean, NPCs, that give PictoQuest a healthy dose of personality. Much like Jupiter’s Picross, I found PictoQuest at its best when I’d play it a little bit at a time. The first few worlds I busted out post haste, but I started getting that samey feeling from doing so. The game works as a great starter or chaser to playing something else, where you crank out, say, five stages before putting it away. I realize that’s a weird recommendation, but it helped keep the game engaging and fresh through to the end.

Jupiter is slowly taking Picross into different areas, such as Twilight Princess, Pokemon and Overlord, yet these tend to be thematic choices rather than big changes to the gameplay. But PictoQuest brings something genuinely new to the Picross formula by incorporating just enough unique elements, such as active time battles and power-ups, to keep it engaging and interesting well after you’ve mastered the little tricks that help you suss out the answers to nonograms.

Developer NanoPiko has hit it out of the park with PictoQuest, their first game, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

PictoQuest was developed by NanoPiko and is available on Switch.

Disclosure statement: review code for PictoQuest was provided by NanoPiko. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.