Back in the days when I was writing for that other site I would post snippets of reviews here and link to them. As they’ve disavowed any knowledge of me I figured it’s fair game and since I just transferred PiCTOBiTS to the 3DS and reminded myself of this review, here ya go:
For a simple downloadable title there’s a lot of history behind Art Style: PiCTOBiTS. Developer skip started things on the Game Boy Advance with the ‘bit Generations’ series and have evolved the hallmark of simple gameplay coupled with arresting visuals into the Art Style series for the WiiWare and DSiWare stores. To date PiCTOBiTS is the most original and worthwhile investment on the fledgling DSi downloadable service, but it’s not quite enough to warrant upgrading from a DS Lite on its own.
That’s not to say it isn’t mind bending, puzzle game fun because this is some of the most frantic, perplexing and rewarding action I’ve yet encountered at the end of a stylus. In traditional fashion big colorful pieces come marching down the screen and it’s your job to turn their pokey angles into squares, rectangles and lines to clear them before they reach the bottom. You do this by touching a colored block at the bottom of the screen and then placing it along the downward path of the larger megabit pieces. Each stage starts you out with a few rows of blocks to work with but once they’re gone you’ll have to decide which megabits you clear and which ones you let fall down the screen to provide more color coded ammunition.
Clearing the megabits as fast as possible is challenging enough but to play the game well takes incredibly quick hands, and an even quicker intuition. Once you take out part of a megabit the game freezes while the pieces fly up to the top screen, giving you only seconds to line up more blocks underneath before the remainder of the megabit plummets to the ground. The quicker you clear megabits the higher your multiplier climbs, doling out more golden Super Mario coins in the process. Using the megabits strategically combined with the ability to place blocks anywhere on the screen (instead of simply stacking them up as in most other puzzle games) is half of what makesPiCTOBiTS so unique.
Holding true to the Art Style formula, the retro presentation is the other half of the package. With a cartoon cast or uninspired visuals the game would be little more than a forgettable knock off of 1989′s Quarth, but PiCTOBiTS packs as much Nintendo fan service as Super Smash Bros., both in its visuals and soundtrack. Each of the fifteen stages is based on an NES game, ranging from the ubiquitous Super Mario Bros. and Zelda to the more obscure Devil World, Baseball, and Wrecking Crew. The colored blocks that fill the screen represent little chunks of a pixel image from the game and also serve as your goal. Unlike the never ending flow of Tetris, once you’ve cleared enough megabits to fill in the image on the top screen you’re done. Colored blocks and a gray backdrop are all the graphics you get but combined with the music each stage inexplicably becomes the game it represents.
Remixing a song is a delicate balancing act; maintaining the sound that made the tune memorable in the first place while adding elements to make it a standalone piece. Japan’s chiptune group, YMCK, has done it perfectly here inPiCTOBiTS, adding nothing but equal parts 8-bit “blips” that fall right in line with the source material. It’s also interactive and as you progress through each stage new layers of melody build over the basic beat until the tune is in full swing, ratcheting up the excitement and drawing you beyond the puzzle game. On one of the final stages I found myself thinking of the massive green, white, and yellow megabits as Koopa himself, not just parts of the image I was creating. I was right there with Mario, jumping over fireballs and hammers even as my hand was moving colored blocks around the touch screen. It’s a sense of immersion that you very rarely ever get from a puzzle game and totally justified the $5 price tag for me, even if it’s not the most content-rich experience on the DS.
As good as it is, Art Style: PiCTOBiTS isn’t going to drive anyone to spend $170 on another Nintendo DS system. Playing straight through the fifteen stages is only going to take a few days of bite-sized play sessions and though there’s a lot of unlockable stuff, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. The music player, with seventeen tracks to unlock (each with alternate renditions) is only for the truly geeky and the Dark versions of each stage are so frantic and challenging that most players are unlikely to struggle through more than one or two. However, it’s pretty much inevitable that we’re all going to upgrade to a DSi at some point and no matter what has hit the service in the meantime, Art Style: PiCTOBiTS will always be one of my top recommendations on the DSiWare store.