It’s often good to recognize popularity when finding out more about a game you don’t know, so what is the situation with PiCTOBiTS? Well for starters, it gives many players something that was a bit harder to see with the other Art Style games, familiarity. If it wasn’t clear already, PiCTOBiTS features iconic characters from Nintendo’s time in the ‘80s with the NES. It’s pretty easy to see this as the best-faring Art Style game when all people had to do was take one look at it and say, “Whoa, I remember these games!” or “Hey, Nintendo is having a bit of a Throwback Thursday!”, and this was before Nintendo made the weekly DSi/Wii Shop updates on Thursdays (when this game was released it was on Mondays). Nowadays, Nintendo uses their classic NES franchises a bit too much like with NES Remix (and all of its variations), recurring discounts on these oldies, or even a miniature version of the system. With that let’s go into detail about how Skip dealt with the eight or so games used in PiCTOBiTS.
The game is centered around bits, hence the name, and you’ll clear these colored blocks using nothing but the touchscreen. That isn’t the whole of it though, as you must move these bits by tapping and scooping them up with the stylus in order to store them inside of your palette, which is the thin container on the far right/left side of the screen. The palette can only ever hold as many as eight bits at once; which is good when you’re dealing with 8-bit games and not 9-bit ones. The bits also fill up the palette from bottom to top and leave the palette in reverse; the bit most recently put into the palette is the first to leave.
Where the placement of bits come into effect is with the falling “megabits”, the large blocks that are cleared with by adding bits of their color to them. You can add bits in either four vertical, four horizontal, or a two-by-two combination or higher (such as three by two) to match the color. This means that there can be oddly-shaped megabits that have multiple intertwining colors with each of those colors only needing one bit to make everyone of them a two-by-two square. The general purpose of clearing the megabits is to keep them from touching the bottom so as to prevent these blocks from separating into individual bits, or not clearing so there can be more of them when the player is running low on bits.
“Permabits” are marked with X’s and do not move when they have fallen or go into the palette when tapped. The only way to get rid of these bits is by clearing them before they land, or by clearing them with a level’s falling megabits. Each permabit and whole megabit that is cleared gives you a coin. The coins can be used to buy dark versions of the fifteen normal stages (they raise the difficulty up a few notches), and they can be used with the in-game music player.
Clearing stages in PiCTOBiTS is done by revealing a stage’s NES game character. Thankfully this does give an idea of how many bits of a color are needed to finish a level, since the ones that are cleared fly up to the top screen for this purpose. Once all of the pixels of a certain color have been finished on the top, any more bits of that color will simply turn grey and disappear. This will make many of the harder levels that lack in heavy color combination become a fight against the other colors trying to clog up your screen while scanning for the one color that is needed to beat the level.
Chains are important in PiCTOBiTS in that they will multiply the amount of bits that are cleared while being sent up to the top screen. The number of chains go up when you clear bits consecutively while the megabits are suspended midair (since the screen freezes while blocks are being cleared). To continue a chain you’ll have to keep those bits moving by tapping on the bits you want to fall down immediately after clearing the last block. Additionally, megabits also fall quickly after a section of one is cleared, this makes it vital to have the bits for clearing the rest of block at hand.
Bits in the top row of the screen are a hazard and will cause a game over if they are preventing megabits from falling for than three seconds. The offending bits will flicker and the falling bits will freeze, so unless that bit is a permabit the hazard can be moved easily, not long before something gets blocked again.
The POW is a powerup that is allocated on the palette and can be used at any time. When used it will erase the bottom line’s bits while dropping all the suspended ones above straight down. This is clearly useful in that it can easily move bits off of the upper rows of the screen and/or move permabits. The catch with POW is that every you use it a slot of your palette will close, and this will run you down until there is only one palette slot left, which isn’t the most efficient way to play. Where the potential chaos can balance itself out again is by opening up one square with five of your hard-earned coins.
Small extras include the pause menu, which is accessed with any of the face buttons minus Select. Another are stars that can be earned by beating a level without using POW a single time during a level, a ultimately meaningless endeavor that only provides extra challenge. Buying music is also done in a somewhat unusual manner, where the normal version of a theme must be bought before being able to buy the slightly extended and more expensive dark version theme (referred to as the plus version). Neat features that make the music player worth using are the ability to shuffle the songs and listen to the music with headphones while the DS is in sleep mode. Also, do not waste 1000 coins on “Credits +” as it quite literally only adds the death sound from Super Mario Bros. to the end of the initial credits theme.
The musical composition of PiCTOBiTS was done by the chiptune trio YMCK. The genre’s music is normally not good enough for one’s eardrums, but YMCK made a point to not sound redundant like usual, and instead used custom 8-bit sound processor voices that slip right in with their remixes of the featured games’ themes. Speaking of which, let’s go over the list of NES games that appear in PiCTOBiTS’s stages.
Super Mario Bros.
The classic and iconic Nintendo platformer would never shy away and miss the chance at being in a Nintendo game about Nintendo games. Out the fifteen levels, Super Mario Bros. appears in five of them, with two at the beginning of the game and three at the end of it.
The forever exquisite and surprisingly original ripoff of Joust has been recreated with its one and only Balloon Trip theme intact. It seems strange that only the Trip theme stuck, as the main game has its own theme as well. It was probably left out for the sake of the main theme being awfully alike the Trip theme, and thus having the two consolidated together, or because of the ear-bleeding that is induced from the high-pitched beeps the game makes.
Two parts here, the mountain ascending theme and the summit, and both of them have been remade into overly jazzy renditions.
The catchy tunes of eggplant men chasing Mario in his construction worker outfit make for something awesome to get into the feel of clearing bits.
One wouldn’t even think that this hard-to-enjoy black box game would even be able to support PiCTOBiTS musically, and yet it did. This might be where one will wonder, “Why aren’t there any of the later NES games like Kirby’s Adventure or Metroid?”. A question that would be indeed, but with games like Kirby that were developed outside of Nintendo’s corporate home it may have just seemed weird to incorporate it with fully Nintendo-developed games. The sprites from the games may have been too large and too colorful compared to how many colors are normally in a stage of PiCTOBiTS. Lastly, each of the featured games have a number of levels that match the number of musical tracks featured in the actual game. Meaning that larger later NES games will have broken the rule established, and in reality the game is still able to fare greatly without using too many different games (heck, there are only eight of them, and that might just be for a consistent “8-bit” feel).
Almost the same boat as Baseball, but the game was actually fun to play and had a main theme to really remix. YMCK really can not get enough of their jazzy triplet embellishments.
Miyamoto’s fun and forgotten Pac-Man clone is handed over to Americans for the first time with some of its weird and satirical Christianity aspects to see. The game does tell players that the game was only released in Japan despite also being released in Europe as well. Two musical themes makes for two separate levels.
The Legend of Zelda
The overworld and dungeon themes have been restyled with their Famicom Disk System remnants embedded in the sound. It just might just make you hungry for an Octorok or two (cheesy CDI reference could have been avoided).
Few small details to wrap up the game; the hand controls are configurable since the game is almost all touch screen based, and switching from right to left-handed gameplay simply moves the palette over to the right side of the screen. The aesthetics are pretty obvious throwbacks to the NES feel, with mosaic menu transitions, large flickering bits that decorate these menu screens, and original 8-bit sound effects that go along with the quantized placement of bits.
It is simple to see how PiCTOBiTS became so recognized when all this game had to do was show up with the NES games and be right at home with the DSi Shop. The other games in the Art Style lineup still did well, but they needed to take risks with their lack of known characters (or real characters at all). This makes PiCTOBiTS the only one that didn’t have to try, and fortunately it still did.
This could have been written without mentioning the classic project that may have turned up once or twice for everyone during elementary school, but it helps to introduce the game like so. There is a papermade pattern of six squares that would then be folded into a three-dimensional cube, and of course each of the sides being colored on and such. Now if this simple activity was a large million-dollar industry, you would not see very many children taking this simple and easy job for granted, right? Now this is not exactly what BOXLIFE is all about, but it definitely paints a picture of what the gameplay consists mainly and solely of, boxes. As it has been the situation with breakdown these simple games, let’s dive into how the cutting and folding of boxes in BOXLIFE works.
Starting with the scissors, these are selected with either left on the D-Pad or Y; folding may be either up, down, X, or B; and reattaching previously cut boxes can be done with right or A. Every one of these controls may also be done with the touch screen, but the buttons will certainly come in handy for either faster movement or the avoidance of hitting the wrong onscreen buttons, since they are a bit tiny.
By tapping and holding the areas where there is no paper, the small 3-D modeled scissors will appear. Sliding the scissors along the creases will cut the paper, and the separated section will also change color. Folding the paper only works with the squares on the end of a pattern (in other words, a square that only has one side taken and/or three sides not taken). The actual folding is done by sliding the stylus along your cut pattern, but stopping mid-fold to take of care of something else will keep the box as it was for a few seconds before it flattens itself out again. Not sliding along the pattern will, perceivably, prevent the box from actually being built (and will act as if you released the stylus from the screen). Built boxes will be taken off the screen by a mechanical factory arm, and knowing this only actually comes in handy in one of the two game modes. The reattachment tool is not used as frequently and is done by simply sliding the stylus across the cut square’s division.
BOXLIFE has two modes; “R&D” is the first, and is more of a level-based mission mode type of deal. The first handful of levels teach you new patterns to cut your boxes in like the ones that resemble capital and lowercase “T”s or the archaic long S. It’s also good to mention that much of the eleven or so forms are actually just variations of taking four squares and two more on each of the adjacent sides (with these forms simply just moving the two outer squares up and down along those sides). Every one of the fourteen levels is structured with ten challenges, and each of them is worth a maximum of ten points; to advance to the next rank in R&D a minimum of seventy points or higher must be scored.
The given patterns are not random and are part of chosen set. The major obstacle is the time limit there is that will result in the game’s immediate end if it runs out, but there is also a penalty meter that removes points within a couple of seconds of not clearing the individual challenge. The first two squares of the meter are blue, indicating that there is no penalty; the third is a yellow one that provides a hint as for what box formations are embedded in the cluster of squares (before that they are just question marks on the top screen). The next two are red and do nothing asides from pointing out that the player is close to receiving their penalty, and the last five take away one point all the way to a maximum of five points, this meaning that the lowest score possible after completing every challenge is fifty.
Other quick choices to be made are ones involving passing a challenge which can be done if you are pressured for time or if you are positive that you’ll still beat the level with 70 points, since passing a challenge clearly gives a zero. There is also a reset button for if, say, you were too hasty on cutting out your forms and now have way too many mistakes that can be quickly reattached; this does not reset the timer or penalty meter, so you should still be hasty with your R&D.
Advancing through the fourteen R&D ranks is how changing your paper made character’s appearance is done. From lowest to highest, the ranks are: amateur, part-timer, craftsman, professional, specialist, genius, rock star, and king. It is not just through passing the challenges that will bring up the character’s rank, as it also depends on how many perfect scores are received (a score of 100; turns the challenge panel orange instead of its initial white color). If the fourteenth level becomes much too aggravating, a good strategy to use is by saving pictures of the challenge’s solutions that you find, or you could try to finish them all with a 100 after seeing the same patterns a few hundred times. On the aesthetic side, helpful graphs are shown in both of the game’s mode’s results screens to show how you’ve done in recent plays, and with these graphs, the idea that you are in a handmade workforce is really pushed upon the player.
The other mode that is featured in BOXLIFE is “Factory”, this mode is the high score mode of the game, and yet there is a time limit, so it is not truly endless like much of the Art Style series’ high score games. What is endless in “Factory” is the sheet of paper that you are given to work with; the player is to make as many boxes within the time limit, while using as much of the paper as possible. Every wasted sheet counts as a penalty, and there are cylindrical bombs that fall from above (their shadows showing where they’ll fall) that will explode after sitting for too long and burn the four sheets on its sides and the paper under it, which all count as their own penalties. If another bomb is within the burn zone of a bomb, then that bomb will explode as well, and thus, in order to avoid clusters of bombs causing severe penalties they must captured inside boxes. The largest frustration this mode can give is from folding a box with or near a bomb only to have it explode, causing your newly tattered box to fall to pieces.
Moving the large sheet of paper closer to the shredder at the bottom is possible by pressing the L and R buttons or the SEND buttons at the edge of the screen. This shredder is where the wasted paper is counted up and can not be used while paper is being cut, folded, reattached, or burned. Bonuses are the only time that the mechanical arm is of actual importance, and are really just a multiplier that is activated by finishing up boxes before the last arm leaves the screen. They start at x1 and move up by multiples of two (x2, x4, x8, x16).
The score at the end of a playthrough in “Factory” actually becomes your character’s monetary earnings. They are calculated by adding up the bombs, boxes, and bonuses earned and subtracting the penalties. The amount of income received and penalty deductions given increase with higher ranks, making it vital that the boxes are carefully made and bombs are successfully captured. The earnings will always be added to a total amount that you have, and upon getting enough money in the total, items for a miniature garden on the title screen can be earned. The final item is received with a total of two million dollars, so it come as no surprise that your simple isometric garden can feature beaches, gorillas, greek-style buildings, windmills, tanks, commercial airplanes, hot springs, elephants, and castles, just to name a few of the rewards. This garden is divided into four sections: the character’s house, yard, vehicle, and animal; which can be rotated upwards with the D-Pad and downwards with the A, B, X, and Y buttons.
The music of BOXLIFE can be thought of being just as divided as the functions each of the game’s modes. “R&D” has plenty of easy-listening type music that is done with 8-bit voices; the range can be filled with animal noises, DJ turntable breaks, and irregular pop rhythms to simple bossa nova. The use of these simple sounds were most likely done to resemble the “Factory” as the other side of the coin, which has more of the soft and cutesy melodies that fit well alongside the adorable main theme. The credits are also pretty great in their remixes of the main theme: Credits 1 is the complete main theme and has the boxes from the game thrown to explode like fireworks. Credits 2 is a strange version of the main theme that features the 8-bit voices and backwards samples of the lyrics “Ha Co Lai I Fu”; it’s almost unnerving in the way it sounds and with the rapid-fire motion of the fireworks being thrown up all at once. Credits 3 is the “Thanks for Playing” version and has a relaxed and sleepy acoustic guitar playing alongside the dreamy lyrics of the music.
BOXLIFE's visuals are very simplistic and are almost too outright in their low-budget presentation. The boxy characters will make all of the children of the modern gaming scene think immediately of Minecraft. Of course this is where they are wrong since the game is infinitely better on every scale, but that’s besides the point. This game is a strange one that really defines what a game really needs to have in order to be labeled “artsy”, and if it could really be compared to any other maybe that could be done with Suzuki Bakuhatsu or DIALHEX (premise-wise).
BOXLIFE is also a prime example of how the DSiWare Art Style games work in terms of their target audience. Being the Nintendo DS, it was always about getting people that may have never played video games before to play them. AQUIA and PICTOBITS were definitely geared towards those who know games, but BOXLIFE, BASE 10, and ZENGAGE were made with the casual construction, mathematical, and slide-puzzle lovers in mind.
After the Nintendo DS’ early hit Brain Age, it became the goal of the system to provide a large library of games that supported the casual market, so much so that the DS’ library had the largest first-party library of any of Nintendo’s consoles. Possibly as a format of continuing this casual appearance, but most likely for space to play the game, BASE 10 was made to be played with the DS being held like a book.
Let us simply start with the opening of the game, which strangely enough took advantage of Mobiclip’s power-saving video codec. Nintendo actually bought out Mobiclip where they now exist as NERD (Nintendo European Research & Development). The first time the FMV codec is utilized is during the strange calculator overflow-esque scene right before reaching the title screen. This may also come off as a quick yet very purposeful way of showing just what BASE 10 centers itself around, classic seven-segment digits. The game immediately segues itself into the title screen, where anyone playing will start get to the feel of the digitalized ambience and aesthetics that separates BASE 10 from its other Art Style counterparts (as always).
As the name of the game suggests, the gameplay at its core is simply adding numbers to an exact sum of ten. What is handed to you in order to do this is a group of numbers on the touch screen that can be slid around on the screen. The numbers will swap places with each other horizontally and vertically, but the catch is that the numbers are going to be flipped over (or reflected) during that process. For example, if you take a two and move it over in any direction, it will become a five, and the opposite is true with flipping a five over.
The problem with some numbers is that they will become unusable “non-numbers” (dull gray color) if they are flipped in certain directions. Take one for instance, if you flip it up and down it is still a one, but flip over sideways and it won't work as a number any longer. Much of the numbers have simple rules like this, but numbers like four become rarely used in a sum since it is only a four in one position, and a nine or a six can be flipped vertically and horizontally in any direction to become its opposite number. Much of BASE 10’s applied learning comes from knowledge of how to move the numbers around to lastly arrive at your needed sum of ten.
Aside from sliding numbers on the screen, numbers are added together by simply tapping on both ends of the numbers that are being summed. Therefore, if you have a three threes and a one, in that order for the purpose of this example, all you need to do is tap the first three and the only one to add everything and make the numbers fade from the screen.
Chaining is the skill of the game that requires the most practice to use effectively. What it allows the player is this: as a sum of ten is fading from the screen you can take any number(s) next to the end of the initial sum and create a separate sum of ten. Taking the example from earlier, you may add a nine to that last one, and then a one to that nine, and two fours and a one to that one, and so on. However, even seeing a chain like this and having everything in the right place takes a bit of planning beforehand.
Solids numbers appear as colored and immobile, and can not be moved by sliding. The only way to remove them from the screen is by having them included in a sum, and when this is done, all of the numbers of the same value as the solid one will fade from the screen.
There are a surprisingly high number of modes in BASE 10; four total. The first of the two main ones is “ZEROSUM”, which is more of a stage-based mode with a set goal in mind. In “ZEROSUM”, a set target amount of numbers must be cleared off of the screen in order to beat the stage. The mode features nine levels and a demo to demonstrate the gameplay. The levels are titled by the numbers that appear, and so they are named like 12, 123, 1234, 12345, etcetera up to the ninth which is 1234567890.
Some small details to point out that apply to most of the gameplay modes: blank spaces onscreen can not have numbers moved on or passed through them unless there is a number sitting it its spot. This is where zero the hero can be used to act as a placeholder that can never become a non-number, effectively making it a movable and usable blank space. Because of the way BASE 10 is oriented, it may seem very strange that numbers fall from the left. Don’t forget about the top (or left) screen filling up, as after a red line appears to warn you for a few seconds the game is over. Lastly, the more numbers cleared at once will speed up the rate of the falling numbers’ descent, which in ZEROSUM’s case makes a whirring sound.
“PUZZLE” is the second of the main game modes; the goal here is to get rid of all of the numbers in the fewest amount of moves as possible. There are nine stages to beat with the same number ascension mentioned before, and each of these levels also has three levels. The levels require a good mastery of the chaining mechanic if you want get your number of moves to stay under the par (they are marked as a better achievement).
After beating either of main modes, the credits will be unlocked. This is the only other FMV of the game, and shows numbers creating the staff members’ names with a very low frame rate; this somehow making the credits seem more avant-garde. What makes BASE 10’s credits worth pointing out is because only one of the two screens that displays the credits will show them, and therefore both the “ZEROSUM” and “PUZZLE” modes must be beaten to see the credits in their entirety.
“INFINITE” mode is an endless variation of “ZEROSUM”, and being an endless mode as it is, the goal is just to get a high score. The progression works through the standard 12, 123, etc., until you finish 1234567890 which then raises the level of difficulty (sharply), and also changes the background music and the color theme. Other than the high score screen shown before starting the game and the level progression therein, there are not many new concepts that need mastery with “INFINITE”.
“VS” works by using the Nintendo DS' Download Play wireless communication to play the game without another copy of the game being needed. Considering ROTOHEX and DIGIDRIVE, BASE 10 makes for a total of three Art Style games with multiplayer in them, and is the only brand new (i.e. not a remake or sequel) game in the franchise to have this feature. For starters, both players’ screens are visible; this was made possible by having the numbers fall from top to bottom, so the opponent’s screen can be viewed on the left screen of the system. Aside from making the game between players more intense by condensing the space to play without losing the game; it is possible to dump numbers from your screen onto your opponent's by summing up three or more numbers at once. Summing up six horizontal numbers at once (which normally just gives a point or number bonus in either INFINITE or ZEROSUM) will shuffle up the numbers of your opponent’s screen, completely changing their values and usability in the process. Outside of the gameplay itself, the loser will decide if another match can be played; ending the communications if another game is decided against. Playing with VS mode is very pick-up-and-play due to its universal understanding of simple addition, so you could hand it to a friend and have them understand what’s up within a few seconds of playing.
The aesthetics of BASE 10 are definitely centered around early computers and old house phones, where the sounds become an aural treat for the ears. ZEROSUM has the same musical theme throughout, and yet uses a wide range of sound effects that give off the sense of early electronic computing clamor and a stiff robotic feel to it. PUZZLE mode, with its blank white backgrounds, feels the opposite and hosts plenty of soft and natural percussion instrument sounds, such as the snare drum that plays while swapping numbers around on the screen. INFINITE has many quiet and ambient techno themes and sounds, making for a good number of playthroughs with a modern tone. VS features a tranquil song that plays while sending game data via the DS Download Play that actually matches up quite well with the noise the recipient DS makes while downloading the data. Speaking of which, the actual VS mode doesn’t even have music, it's only the beeps of buttons on a phone being pressed and echoed sounds from making up sums of ten. Other factors, such as everything in the menus having to be be tapped twice, were most likely a nod to the double clicks on the user interface of a computer.
This game, BASE 10, absolutely develops a strange and unusual personality that is hard to find amongst the most surreal, visually, and aurally appealing games. The difficulty of the game is never too high, so it is mainly determined by one’s ability to count and add. A game like this can easily stand for being an edutainment game for young children and could potentially thrive on the modern mobile market; if it were not for the lack of many vibrant colors that the game does not have on offer. The games with the simple premise of adding to ten was also given to the young market on the DS in another first party form. Developed by MuuMuu, also the team that created games like that of Pet in TV, Astronoka, and gave additional development to Jumping Flash, there was Make 10: A Journey of Numbers. This game is very obscure and not very recognizable, more so than BASE 10, and was only released in Japan, Australia, and various countries in Europe. However, the game does give children their fill of wacky hand-drawn characters and less complicated action with what exactly goes on with the digits that rise until ten. Either way, if players are seeking for a game that looks and feels like the work of a mathematical genius, then BASE 10, is the cup of tea that could never disappoint.
Ending on a mild note, BASE 10 has no left-handed option. It’s pretty ridiculous, seeing how PiCTOBiTS added this feature, and it wasn’t even as vital there.