I play an awful lot of picross/nonogram games. I write about very few of them. Despite the apparently very simple nature of the puzzle, one that can and is played easily with pencil on paper, getting it right on a computer seems to be a high challenge. So when there’s Picross S on Switch, and Pictopix on PC, both of which are close to perfect, it’s tough for anything else to measure up. This is why I was so intrigued by Nonozle.
I’ve decided to think of Nonozle as speed-picross. It is, it’s fair to say, not a festival of great pixel art. Some of the solution images are so poor you’d never guess what they were. (Others are fine.) But that barely matters when the execution of how you fill in those puzzles is quite so sublime.
There are basics that have to be gotten right when creating a digital picross, at which I would say about 95% of attempts fail. You need to be able to draw a line of filled-in cells with the cursor contained to the relevant row or column. You need to be able to X out cells, and then draw a line filling in the rest that doesn’t overwrite them. (And vice versa.) Everything should be easily performed with the mouse, without ever having to leave the puzzle to click on icons (this one drives me the craziest when it’s missing). Nonozle gets every element of this perfectly correct, then adds in bonus excellence like middle-clicks to mark in potential cells, and does it so damned well you can fly through its puzzles.
Then the presentation does everything you want. Cursor over a cell and it highlights the numbers for the relevant row and column. Numbers grey out when correctly filled, but not in a way that creates spoilers for the line. And perhaps most importantly, the presentation is as minimalist as it could be, with no ghastly backgrounds. It even has a dark mode. The only thing that’s truly awful here is the music, and that’s easily turned off.
This is, perhaps, the nerdiest review I’ve ever written in my life. In fact, it’s a deliberate practice of Buried Treasure to never write reviews that assume a depth of knowledge in the reader, such that anyone should be able to understand a game without having to look up a glossary of terms. But not today. Today I’m nerding out on my Mastermind chosen specialist subject. I’m writing to the picross aficionado, and rudely ignoring the rest of you.
As I perhaps hinted at the start, Nonozle doesn’t match up to the heights of Picross S or Pictopix. The latter is still the absolute peak of the format on PC, given infinite life with its user-created submissions, but with its own brilliant collection of core puzzles. Nonozle‘s own collection of 200 doesn’t hold up against that, given not only that the solutions are so often visually nonsense, but also because it doesn’t have the deft hand of difficulty behind it. Instead, most puzzles are fairly simple, right up until you bump into the handful that suddenly hit a point where deducing the next move involves playing out a bunch of scenarios. Nothing wrong with that in a tough puzzle, but here it appears to be poor design – especially given it occurs in one of the very early 5x5s.
Yet I found I absolutely didn’t mind any of this, just for the utter speed with which I was able to fill them in. There’s just no fiddle at all. It is the most glorious execution of the UX I’ve ever seen. My dream now is for this and Pictopix (already fantastically good to play) to have a prodigy child.
This is a perfect game to play with a podcast on, a low-impact TV show on the other monitor, or what-have-you. It won’t have you sat there, stuck, trying to unpick the threads to solve a puzzle, but rather give you that constant stimulation of rapidly completing challenges.