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Paint it Back: Picture Crossword Perfection

Paint It Back is, at its core, a collection of nonogram puzzles. Such puzzles have been staples of puzzle books for decades, often being referred to as Griddlers, Pic-a-Pix, and many other names. Perhaps the best-known version of such puzzles in video game form is Nintendo and Jupiter’s Picross series, which has seen tie-ins with numerous brands including Pokemon, Final Fantasy, and Sanrio.

Nonograms are played on grids of various sizes. The larger the grid, the more difficult the puzzle. Each column and row will typically have some numbers beside it, and these numbers are used as clues to indicate how many squares the player should fill in along that line. When all of these clues are used in conjunction with one another, the correct answer can be determined through logical deduction. 

To add an extra element of spice, the completed grid will typically form a picture of some kind, looking very much like the kind of dot art used in sprite-based games. Sometimes, a title is provided to give an extra hint as to what general shape the player can expect the completed picture to take. This is perhaps one of the reasons why nonograms and video games have gone together so well over the years. 8-bit sprites in particular will often fit on a reasonably-sized nonogram grid, making for a fun and nostalgic treat for any players familiar with such graphics.

Paint It Back is hardly the only game on mobile platforms to use nonogram puzzles. So what makes it stand out the way it does? It’s all in the presentation. While some games like this put the puzzles themselves above just about every other element, Paint It Back is sometimes willing to sacrifice the puzzle a bit to achieve other goals. Some puzzles are ridiculously simple for the sake of a joke, while others take what appears to be a basic object and present it in an absurdly complex way. The titles of the puzzles can give you an idea about what the picture will be, but they’ll just as often throw you off in the name of delivering a good punchline.

Then there’s the narrative framing, which sees you and the curator of an art museum in a bit of a pinch. The grand opening is about to arrive, but a freak accident has wiped out all of the paintings. There’s no time to bring in the professionals to fix them. It falls to you to paint them all back. Each gallery has a theme for all of the works contained within, and as you complete each one it will be marked as open. It’s a cute story, and although having narrative context isn’t necessarily important in a puzzle game like this, it’s a nice extra. Importantly, it’s quite unobtrusive, never drowning the player in excessive dialogue. Just a little wink and nod here and there.

The most vital aspect of any video game version of nonogram puzzles is the interface. There’s a reason that this type of game became a lot more common after touch screens became a standard component in handheld game systems. Larger puzzles in particular present a variety of problems, and each game rendition has its own way of handling them. In the case of Paint It Back, you can choose to take on larger puzzles in smaller chunks by playing them on lower difficulty levels, or you can use a pinch-to-zoom feature to take on the entire puzzle at once. You aren’t punished by marking the wrong square in this game, so if you touch somewhere accidentally, you can fix it without penalty. As far as a touch interface on a relatively small display goes, Paint It Back’s method works quite well.

Sometimes the most familiar of dishes can be simultaneously comforting and novel when they’re presented in the right way, and Paint It Back is a great example of that. Doing nonogram puzzles is a very relaxing activity that is going to be almost routine for a certain type of player, but the humorous bent and absurdity of it all helps Paint It Back stand out from the pack. It controls well, and it’s a great experience for those who are new to nonograms and more advanced players alike. With the large number of puzzles on offer, it’s also a game that will keep you busy for quite some time to come.

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