It takes a little while to learn how to read the puzzles. However, once you get familiar with the core rules, the gameplay mechanics become second nature. Meticulously hammering away at blocks and freeing the clever pixilated creations that live inside of them becomes dangerously addictive after you overcome the initial learning hurdles. Then, you can free up your mind to focus on the challenges thrown at you. Both the blocky masses and the curious items hidden inside of them grow larger and more complex as you progress. The difficulty curve is gradual, increasing slowly throughout the course of many levels, so you get plenty of practice before tackling the brutes waiting for you later in the game. For added incentive, Picross 3D has a simple rating system for each puzzle that helps keep you moving through the game while also offering an incentive to revisit earlier levels. You earn a single star for simply clearing a puzzle, two stars for clearing it without messing up, and a perfect three-star rating for clearing it perfectly within the green time limit on the counter. Fully completing tiers unlocks new levels and more challenging puzzles. Every so often, you also run into special levels with slightly different rules. One-Chance Challenge stages can only be completed without making a single mistake, and Time Challenges have you frantically solving portions of a puzzle in order to add seconds to the countdown clock.
Rewards for a job well done are often quite charming.
With more than 350 puzzles in all, there's a tremendous amount of content to explore. Even if you happen to exhaust all of those stages, the game lets you create your own puzzle items with an easy-to-use editor. Using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection or a local wireless connection, you can download and play puzzles that others have made or share your own creations. The variety and overall level of charm found in the hundreds of items you uncover is equally impressive. Objects are arranged into about 80 different themed collections, including various species of animals, different kinds of humans, home appliances, fantasy warrior items, fruits or veggies, holiday gifts, and much more. Completing each puzzle reveals the hidden object, colors it in, and gives it a fun little animation. You can access all of the collections and animations from the menu to track what you've found so far. While the pixel-art objects and their animations are quite enjoyable, the game's overall presentation lacks polish in some areas. The menu systems in particular are underwhelming, and the strange animated block critter that hangs out on the top screen is a bit of a head-scratcher. Though backgrounds can be swapped out to suit your taste, a more unified and clean visual look with a more appealing color scheme would have been a better fit.
A disappointing presentation doesn't mar the inherent brain-boggling fun you find in this exhaustive collection of puzzles. Picross 3D is still a great game with tight gameplay that makes excellent use of the DS's features. It provides a wonderful progression into a new and interesting dynamic for the core game that will delight existing Picross fans, as well as usher in a whole wave of converts.