Art Style: PiCTOBiTS

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May 18, 2009 Art Style: PiCTOBiTS NA
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Title: Art Style: PiCTOBiTS
Region: America Release: May 18, 2009
Model #: Unknown Price: 500 Wii Points
Rating: E - Everyone
Review
Friday, May 22, 2009
In Short:
A unique and touch-centric puzzler shining brightly for DSi.

Nobody seriously contests that DSiWare has had a rather slow start. I myself have recommended that if you have a working DS, it's best to give the DSi a pass for now because of this—regardless of how much I adore the hardware myself. But I don't believe this situation is bound to last forever; and indeed, slowly but surely, DSi is starting to come into its own.

Art Style: PiCTOBiTS constitutes one hefty notch in DSi's belt. While it technically doesn't do anything that couldn't have been done on DS, it is something that likely would have been overlooked and underpurchased at the game card market's $20 price point. But it's absolutely perfect for DSiWare... and packs quite a bit of value in for the $5 in imaginary Nintendo money you'll spend to get it loaded onto your DSi.

PiCTOBiTS is, technically, block-matching puzzle game; but the way it's played is quite unique. You'll start each level off with a pool of colored blocks—"bits"—at the bottom and a palette; touching or sliding across blocks will remove them from the screen and load them into your palette. You then tap or draw them back onto the screen in a different place so that they match up with falling shapes, creating rows or groups of four or more bits, or indeed a Frankensteinian conglomeration of any number of these. When a match is made, the action pauses briefly, allowing you to set up more bits for chains if you haven't done so already. As later levels pile on the speed and complicated shapes to clear, you'll have to start thinking ahead, planning the best way to disassemble the falling shapes.

Chaining is where it's at for doing well; the best point bonuses come from chaining, and you'll complete levels faster as well. Each level features classic Nintendo 8-bit sprites that your completed bits are tossed at; chaining will increase the number of a particular color bit. There's some interesting strategy that you can pursue here, as well; if you are up for a survival challenge, you can set up chains so that you start off with the small multiplier on the bit color you need the most to clear the level, and the larger multiplier on bit colors you need the least; living longer and still chaining large will result in more points this way. I'm not normally the type that spends time dreaming up strategies like this, either—it's a testament to how addictive PiCTOBiTS is.

As things get crazier, you have the option of hitting the POW. The POW will be your best friend as you learn to play PiCTOBiTS, saving your bacon from being buried under increasingly quickly-falling shapes that you haven't been able to figure out how to clear yet. It comes at a price, though; you'll lose one slot from your palette, limiting the number of bits you can move at one time—and frankly, there's no way you can expect to survive long in some levels when you're down to one slot. If you're hammering the POW a lot, you can spend coins (more on those in a minute) to buy back your precious slots. As you get better, though, you'll find yourself relying less on it—and you'll even get a bonus Starman icon next to your score if you clear a level without using it at all, a challenge I found lent substantial replay value to the game.

Coins are given for clearing entire structures of falling bits, as well as clearing special immovable bits; these coins can then be turned around and spent on markedly more difficult "dark" levels. And this is probably my one real complaint about the game: coin-earning isn't affected by chaining multipliers. In fact, it's more productive, coin-wise, to do badly by actively avoiding chains and trying to stay alive longer. That said, it's hardly painful to earn coins; the game has that special something that makes it fun to play just to beat your score, and seeking out the Starman challenges I mentioned earlier gives even more incentive to keep at it.

You can also spend coins on tracks for the included music player arranged by chiptuners YMCK. (An aside: I went into PiCTOBiTS not having the slightest clue who they were—but Brandon introduced me to a selection of their works, and I'm hooked.) The soundtrack, which of course also plays in-game, is pretty great, actually. It's almost entirely remixes of the classic NES tunes from the games each level is themed on—and they do cling a little too tightly to the source material—but it's still about 45 minutes of pretty snazzy remixes along for the ride that are worth listening to on their own. You can even close the DSi while they're playing and listen to it like some sort of giant mutant iPod.

I'm growing increasingly impressed with the Art Style series, and PiCTOBiTS is definitely one of the best—right up there with WiiWare's Cubello. Skip seems to have an endless supply of neat little ideas for both WiiWare and DSiWare, and a remarkable number of them stick rather well. The good news is there's still another few likely headed our way—and if they're even close to as much fun as PiCTOBiTS has been, we're in for a treat. Add a few more things like this on, Nintendo, and I will heartily switch to recommending the DSi to everyone.
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