Is Picross a Big Deal in Japan?


Brad asked a question a while back about “picross” games:

Hey man. I have an interesting question for you. Is picross a huge thing in Japan? Just in looking around for different games for my Super Famicom, I’ve seen that there are 9 picross games for it! The Nintendo Power (unrelated to the magazine we’re familiar with) Picross series released only on the SF Memory kiosks, which you could pretty much download any game at all onto a special cart similar to how the Famicom Disk System was. There were 8 of those, there was Mario’s Super Picross, and there were 2 Mario’s Picross games for gameboy, only one of them localized for the US, which was a flop according to the Nintendo Power magazine we have. Anyway, fun fact, Mother 2 was released on SF memory. Anyway, have a good one.

If you’re unfamiliar with picross games, here’s what they look like:

I never really got into theseI never really got into these

Basically, you chip away at a grid trying to find a hidden image underneath. I always noticed there were lots of them in Japan, but never paid them too much attention as I never really got into them myself. Looking briefly online, it appears that not only is this a popular game in Japan, it was invented in Japan!

According to this, it sounds like two separate Japanese people invented the game in 1987/1988, and it took off from there. I don’t know the full details, but now it finally makes sense to me why there are so many picross games in Japan – it’s the game’s birthplace. Apparently picross puzzle games are also called “nonograms” (named after Non Ishida, one of the creators), “drawing blocks”, and “illustration blocks” in Japan, while they have other names like “griddlers” in English.

I’m guessing that the deluge of picross games in Japan is due to the fact that it’s a very simple thing to design and program. A small team (even a one-man team) could probably whip up a picross game in a super-short amount of time. Still, it’s strange to hear that the Mario picross games didn’t do well in the U.S.; many of my friends are big fans of the genre and specifically that Game Boy game. I wonder if it just took time for picross’ popularity to take off since it was such a weird, new thing at the time. I should’ve been paying more attention back in the day!

If you liked what I've covered here and know someone else who's a Picross / Super Mario Bros. fan, I hope you'll share it with them. Thanks!
  1. And of course, we mustn’t forget the popular pub quiz trivia that Sudoku was invented by an American architect and called “Numbers in Place.”

  2. I actually have GB Mario Picross on my 3DS because it was available on Club Nintendo at one point. It’s a solid game, but I wouldn’t have bought it with real money. The music could really use some variety though… you can select from five music tracks that are around 20 second loops, and in my opinion only one of them is good enough to listen to for more than a few minutes.

    1. Yeah, that one is pretty solid. Some of the later ones get pretty crazy in terms of scale and puzzle design.

      Though unfortunately the music never really gets better throughout the series. I have no idea why since Nintendo is pretty good at creating catchy background tunes that are meant to play endlessly (see Dr. Mario and the Wii Shop theme).

  3. I grew up playing Mario’s Picross on Gameboy…I really wish the puzzle type had taken off in America. Even today, it’s really a pain trying to get companies to actually release these games in America…at least, on proper game consoles. There are several apps of varying quality available on the Amazon Android market, and probably far more on Google Play and the iStore. And of course, plenty of web-based stuff, too. It is growing…but not that much with Nintendo, which disappoints me greatly.

    As of this writing, North America is still the only major region for which Mario’s Super Picross is not available on Wii U VC. I and others have tried to beg for the game on Miiverse, but to no avail. It’s not like it would cost them much to do it…really sad they care so little about their fans at this point.

    1. Well I dunno, they just released a third Picross game in the 3DS eShop, as well as the first Mario’s Picross, can’t say it’s not like they’re completely ignoring it.

      If anything I’d kill for a mahjong game here in America (and no, not the tile matching kind).

  4. I think there was a picross thing in a My Little Pony: FIM coloring book, or a download from the MLP website. I forget, but I ended up doing one, and it was good, too, ’cause I hadn’t done a picross in a while, lol.

  5. I think i tried that US released one once, but couldn’t get into it. I’m not a big fan of puzzle games (except for Tetris).

    Incidentally, i remember hearing once that one of those SNES Japanese picross games had some pokemon designs in them, and this was before the pokemon series was brought over here.

  6. The lack of interest in these puzzles in North America makes it hard to find book versions here. One book even had to give itself the subtitle “Paint by Sudoku” to get more attention. Meanwhile I heard you can find these puzzles in newspapers in Europe, along with the crosswords and word searches.

  7. We also received Picross 3D for the DS here in the States. Not sure how well it sold, but it’s definitely fun.

  8. I think the problem stems from the fact that, and I’m sorry to have to say it this way, North Americans generally have no interest in puzzle stuff (personally I do). That might also explain why Detective Conan didn’t do particularly well either (guess we don’t like detective stuff for that matter). I’m not honestly sure but I’m starting to want to believe that stereotype that our continent doesn’t like doing a lot of thinking.

    1. Detective Conan didn’t do well because Funimation tried to repackage what essentially was a kids’ show and put it in a time slot aimed towards adults. Also, we generally don’t place murder mystery as a genre for kids over here.

      The manga seems to be popular, as it’s been released in the US for almost 10 years. Not to mention there are plenty of mystery shows on American TV as it is (and I’ll be darned if you say Detective Conan is somehow more complicated than those). I really don’t get how you come to this conclusion.

  9. Never really cared for Picross; there’s a similar type of puzzle called “Link-a-Pix” that I’m fond of, though, which has you creating a picture by drawing coloured lines of varying lengths.

  10. I think part of the issue may have been that the GB Picross game came out at a time when video games were still a thing “for kids” and were mostly bought by adults for kids. I imagine that a lot of adults, not being gamers themselves and underestimating what games their kids could handle, thought twice before buying an obtuse-looking puzzle game.

    On the other hand, when Picross DS came out, there were a couple generations of adults that could buy things for themselves. Also, parents who are gamers might be less likely to underestimate their kids’ gaming abilities (and happier to give their kid puzzle games than some others). As technology improves, so do tutorials, and the availability of demos also helps increase the popularity of these sorts of games.

  11. If picross was invented in Japan, why is its Japanese name spelled using katakana (「ピクロス」) instead of kanji or hiragana? “Picross” sounds like a portmanteau of “pic” (short for “picture”) and “cross”, both of which are English words.

    1. I don’t know the origin of the word, but it’s definitely common for things made in Japan to be named using foreign words, or for Japanese concepts to use foreign words in new ways of its own. Things like Famicom, skinship, salaryman, Magic Ink, NEET, love hotel, etc. are examples off the top of my head.

    2. I think it’s supposed to be a portmanteau of picture and crossword, but I’m not sure.

      1. It DOES stand for Picture Crossword. A quick online search should reveal as much.

    3. ““Picross” sounds like a portmanteau of “pic” (short for “picture”) and “cross”, both of which are English words.”

      That’s exactly the reason why it’s spelled using katakana. Foreign words are spelled in katakana, even if they’re for something that was invented in Japan. As Mato said, “Famicom” (ファミコン) is a good example.

  12. I have about 50 of these fuckin’ things on my iPhone. Don’t start playing them, they’ll suck you in and never let you go.

  13. …by some strange coincidence, I’ve been playing the Game Boy “Mario’s Picross” just within the last few days, for the first time in several years…

    I may have once vaguely known that there was a second Game Boy Picross game, but I certainly didn’t realize there were more, much less as many as mentioned here.

  14. Yeah, they’re more popular in the UK than in the US. You even find them (under the name ‘Griddler’) in newspapers, and there are magazines and books full of them (under the name ‘Hanji-e’, meaning picture puzzle). The name Picross is usually limited to electronic versions, but they’re the same thing.

  15. There’s probably that many Picross games because, just like a crossword puzzle, once you’ve solved them all you’re basically done with the game. They’d constantly have to make new games with new pictures. Well, back then at least.

  16. I’d guess another reason they didn’t take off here is that it’s a simple monochrome image, and because we tend to prefer word puzzles. Sudoku was our first popular number puzzle.

    In Japan, I assume the way writing works made word puzzles less popular. Heck, I even associate Sudoku with Japan.