I Can’t Stop Playing Picross, Send Help

I Can’t Stop Playing Picross, Send Help
Image: Getty Images / Kotaku

I’m going to make this quick so I can get back to the game that’s making me write this in the first place: Picross has taken over my life.

Mario’s Super Picross (pronounced PIE-cross) is a free puzzle game on the Super Nintendo service available to all Nintendo Switch Online subscribers.

(Yes, I know the etymology of the word is “picture crossword” and thus it should be pronounced “pih” but consider; you’re wrong, your friends are wrong, Kotaku contributing editor John Walker is wrong, and even Mario Himself is wrong.)

At first glance, Picross looks horribly complex and explaining it is even worse, but if you have any passing knowledge of Sudoku, the mechanics of Picross will be familiar to you. Even then, I am loathe, dear reader, to explain to you exactly how Picross works lest you too be sucked into the Devil’s Masonry like I have, but I’ll do my best.

In the game, you clear blocks from a square grid based on number clues running along the two axes until a hidden picture is revealed. For example, if the game presents you with a 5×5 grid and the first column is topped by the number five, you know that all five blocks in that column need to be chipped out. Likewise, if you are presented with two numbers in a row — say 2 and 2 — you know that four blocks in total will be chipped out of that row in chunks of two. For columns or rows with more than one number attached, there will always be a buffer of at least one block between them.

Got it? No?


Trust me, it is not an easy thing to verbally explain. When my partner described this to me, my eyes glazed over and I could smell burning flesh from my brain frying within my skull. I should have turned away then, my frying brain was a warning to me — “turn back, here there be monsters” — but I did not heed my survival instincts.

I hate my partner now. It’s his fault I’m in this mess. He’s the one who got me hooked on this and now we are both lost.

This maddening obsession started innocuously enough, he would spend a lot of his idle time with his nose pressed into the screen of his Switch muttering numbers under his breath.

I didn’t mind it, we’re both gamers and sometimes we get absorbed in a game to the exclusion of all else. I was like that with Hades, so turnabout is fair play.

But then, I made a mistake. Naturally curious about how my partner was spending all his free time (and I do literally mean all) I asked him to show me.

I would regret this.

He showed me the game, explained it, chose a simple puzzle, and handed me his Switch. When I looked up from the Switch again, hours had passed — I was lost, sucked into the same block-breaking puzzle spiral that had seized him.

Now whenever we’re together, it’s all Picross all the time.

A cursed Wario level. No time limits, no hints, no penalties, just you and your own mind. (Screenshot: Nintendo )A cursed Wario level. No time limits, no hints, no penalties, just you and your own mind. (Screenshot: Nintendo )

I can’t say it’s all bad. The pandemic combined with the onset of fall with its grey days and chill winds makes it the ideal conditions to stay inside and do absolutely nothing that involves outside human contact. This past weekend was perfect, the two of us hunched over our Switches, curled up on the couch under blankets, chipping away at our puzzles while the Great British Baking Show played on pleasantly in the background. (In this house we stan Paul Hollywood.)

The game also has nefarious Wario levels that offer you a grid and numbers but no timer, no hints, and no penalisation for clearing the wrong block — expecting you to either get the puzzle right or spend hours screaming “What did I do wrong?” as you wonder why the puzzle won’t clear. I avoid Wario levels as my obsession with getting things right would ensure I add another life sentence to my Picross addiction.

Now, the only words spoken between us are numbers muttered at the screen as we count blocks, or the occasional loud curse whenever we miscount or commit some other error that results in a penalty or “Game Over.” We defer dinner until late and often bargain with one another at bed time — ”OK one more puzzle and we’ll go to sleep.”

Please, don’t end up like me. Do not go to your Switch. Do not download the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app and do not under any circumstances play Picross. Play the previously unreleased Star Fox 2. Play Super Metroid. Play Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. Play anything but Mario’s Super Picross.

But…play it anyway. It is a lot of fun.


  • Sending help: There are four very excellent Picross games (Picross S, S2, etc) as well as as PictoQuest and the Overlord Picross spinoff that I can wholeheartedly recommend for your nonogram fix. There’s also Murder by Numbers which I haven’t played yet, but hope to soon!

    • I second those picks, the 3DS ones are great, it’s worth swinging by MyNintendo rewards where you can get the Zelda Twilight Princess Picross. Just stay away from the pokemon one, it’ an awful time-gated veriant I’m glad never caught on. Lastly Konami, of all companies, put out of free one on mobile, themed after their classic games, only a few banner ads here and there, very much worth it.

      Murder By Numbers is ok, it’s an Ace Attorney style game with Picross puzzles that doesn’t quite do either thing remarkably well, it’s missing the ‘holy crap’ moments of AA does so well and the quality of life gameplay Jupiter’s Picross games have, plus man there’s a lot of ‘checkerboard’ patterns in their puzzles. Also get ready to learn a fair bit of ‘drag’ slang.

  • “The game also has nefarious Wario levels that offer you a grid and numbers but no timer, no hints, and no penalisation for clearing the wrong block”

    Wait … what’re the other levels like then? I’ve fallen into more than one (non-Nintendo) picross hole in my time, and never seen a timer or penalties.

    • Nintendo/Jupiter Picross puzzles typically come in two flavours, with the kind you’ve described being the tougher type. The rules used for the Mario puzzles here count down from 30 minutes and give time penalties for mistakes, but the upside of that is that you’re actually told if you make a mistake, unlike in the Wario puzzles, meaning that it’s less likely for the player to get stuck. Being penalized is frustrating, of course, but the ruleset in Mario’s puzzles do help with learning the game.

  • The Picross games (pronounced Pik-ross. Don’t be a goon and call it Pie-cross, holy shit) took over my life on DS and 3DS. They’re perfect for the platforms.

    I haven’t played on in ages because the Switch versions don’t support touch screen controls and it just kills me seeing all of these AMAZING games being unplayable on my Best Train Game Machine.

  • For those wanting to play on other devices, the Konami Pixel Puzzle collection is available on iOS and google play stores. You’ll get weeks worth of puzzles for free (only contains ads for Konami games and no FTP gate keeping). Highly recommended!

  • (pronounced PIE-cross) ..
    Wait a minute, is that the official pronunciation?

    I’ve always thought it was Pic – Cross as in “Picture – Crossword”

    Also, no hints, timers, and penalties is the purest way of playing picross.

    You should also check out Picross 3D on the Nintendo 3DS – still waiting for a 3D version for Switch.

    • Not sure about official English pronunciation, but in Japanese it’s ピクロス “pikurosu” which is like the “pic” in “picture”. So I’ll stick with that. Yeah Picross 3D Round 3… I’d be all over that! I wish the Switch Picrosses had touch screen controls. I’ve gotten used to the buttons but the DS and 3DS games were much better.

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