Mario’s Picross for the Game Boy is the first in a line of puzzle games from Nintendo that feature a collection of nonogram picture logic puzzles. Mario stars in the game as an archaeologist that, with hammer and chisel in hand, chips away at the puzzles on stone tablets to slowly reveal an image pixel by pixel.
Picross puzzles involve a square grid of cells where the player must determine which cells should be colored in (or in the case of this game chiseled away) and which should be left blank. Numbers along the top and left side of the grid indicate the number and size of unbroken lines of filled in cells there are in the given row or column that are separated by at least one blank cell. For instance, if a row has the numbers “2 5 4”, that means that there are from left to right, a group of two colored in cells, a group of five colored in cells, and a group of four colored in cells, with all other cells being left blank and at least one blank cell between each group.
When a puzzle starts, the game gives the player the option of receiving a hint. If the player elects to be given a hint, one row and one column are randomly selected via roulette, and the solutions to those selected rows and columns are revealed. Each puzzle must be completed within a 30 minute time limit. Mistakes penalize the player by reducing the time left. The first mistake takes off two minutes, the second mistake takes off four minutes, and the penalty continues to double with each additional mistake. If the timer reaches 0:00 the player gets a Game Over and must start over. Players can mark cells that they know should not be filled in with an “X”. The game tracks the number of times each puzzle is attempted, the amount of time taken on the first completion of a puzzle, and the best completion time of a puzzle.
The game offers a total of 192 puzzles to solve divided into three groups of 64. The first group is labeled as “Easy Picross” and is intended to introduce the game and how it is played. In the initial puzzles of this group, Mario explains the basic rules, techniques, and logic of Picross in order slowly initiate newcomers to the puzzle type. The puzzles in “Easy Picross” consist of 8 puzzles of size 5x5, 40 10x10 puzzles, and 16 15x15 puzzles. Experienced players have the option of skipping over this set of puzzles straight into regular “Picross” mode which contains the other two groups, labeled as the “Kinoko Course” and “Star Course”. The “Kinoko Course” steps up the challenge from the initial “Easy Picross” group and contains only 15x15 sized puzzles. The “Star Course” is only available after completing the “Kinoko Course” and it contains the most challenging puzzles in the game, all of size 15x15.
The game of Picross originates from Japan. Originally known as nonogram picture puzzles, the game has come to be known by many other names including Paint by Numbers, Pic-a-Pix, Griddlers, Pixel Puzzles, and Crucipixel. In 1987, two unconnected Japanese men, graphics editor Non Ishida and professional puzzler Tetsuya Nishino, both almost simultaneously invented the nonogram logic puzzle. Soon after, the puzzles started showing up in Japanese magazines and newspapers. In 1995, Nintendo decided to cash in on the popular puzzle fad with the release of Mario’s Picross.
Mario’s Picross met with a reasonable amount of success upon its initial release in Japan on March 14, 1995. However, the US launch later that year was a disappointment for Nintendo when the game failed to succeed commercially despite a heavy ad campaign. The game also struggled to appeal to American critics with many of them labeling the game as boring. As a result, Nintendo opted not to release either of the sequels (Mario no Super Picross for the Super Famicom and Mario’s Picross 2 for the Game Boy) outside of Japan. More recently, Nintendo chose to release Picross DS in all markets, most likely motivated by the surging worldwide popularity of Japanese style puzzles such as Sudoku.