PiCTOBiTS is the latest game in Nintendo's quirky, retro-themed Art Style series, and it's one of the first honest, challenging puzzle games to hit the newly launched DSiWare download service. It plays a little like a touch-screen version of the old shooting puzzler Quarth. You use the stylus to pick up colored blocks at the bottom of the screen and drop them in the path of falling, incomplete shapes to fill in their gaps and clear them from the board. It's a new spin on the old "falling blocks" puzzle trope and a great way to hone your reflexes on your new DSi.
PiCTOBiTS' simple concept is enhanced by a combo mechanic that lets you set up chains where clearing one set of colored blocks will cause other different-colored blocks to also be cleared. The game starts off slow, but after a few levels the shapes will be dropping so fast and in such complex patterns that at first you'll be scrambling just to keep up with the deluge. Luckily, you have a POW feature that clears the bottom few rows and drops all the hovering blocks to the bottom--at the cost of one slot in your block queue (where blocks you've picked up are stored before you put them back down.) In harder levels the game turns into a real balancing act that tests both your reflexes and your ability to quickly match patterns and colors. It's hectic in a fun, satisfying way.
The Art Style series often trades in 8-bit aesthetics and rosy Nintendo nostalgia, and PiCTOBiTS continues that trend. Each of the colored blocks you're completing on the touch screen acts as a pixel in a classic Nintendo character on the top screen, so as you complete a level, you start to build up a sprite of Mario, a goomba, Ice Climber, some Excitebike racers, or other favorites up top. The chiptune music is straight out of those old games, too, with some remixes provided by Japanese group YMCK. There are definitely hooks here for the diehard Nintendo fan in you.
There's a decent progression mechanic here that carries over between levels, too. You earn coins as you play, based on your combo performance, and those coins can be used to unlock all of the game's music in a standalone player that keeps on playing when you close the DSi. You can also buy "dark" versions of each stage that feature different sprites of the same characters and which are also way, way harder than the originals. (I love how the purchase screen for these levels lists the required number of coins as the "dark price." Sinister!)
Given the dual nature of each stage, and the fact that the pieces are randomized in the first place, you could be playing PiCTOBiTS for quite a while. I wouldn't recommend playing it in a moving vehicle, since you need to be pretty precise with the stylus. Overall, this a tough, rewarding puzzle game that will take you a while to master, and even longer to unlock all the available content. At $5, PiCTOBiTS costs only half the value of the free DSiWare points you get with a new DSi--and if you're serious about playing games, this is a challenging way to break in the service.
For visually oriented among you, It might be easier to understand PiCTOBiTS gameplay if you see it in motion. Here's a trailer that spells it out.