When you turn on Picross 3D Round 2 for the very first time, you're greeted by a cozy coffee shop covered in vines. The bottom screen features the exterior of this hidden land of calm - a chalkboard out front with an artist's rendering of a warm espresso, the word 'Open' written in elegant, yellow cursive. The top screen highlights the logo, slowly bouncing to the soothing concertina music playing in the background, along with the rustic interior of this warm little nook. Sunlight pours in through the windows. An inviting 'Tap to Enter' prompt on the bottom screen beckons you inside. You could probably stretch out your legs a bit here. Stay for as little or as long as you like.
Hang on to this feeling when you accidentally mark the wrong box with the wrong color near the end of an excruciatingly difficult puzzle, and you realize that 20 minutes of your life just vanished into thin air with a single mistake.
I've remarked before how the Picross series is, essentially, perfection. Even going as far back as the monochromatic Game Boy title Mario's Picross, these nonograms are bite-sized bursts of logic, creativity, and puzzle-solving elegance. But as brilliant as these games are, they've always been kind of cold and detached, moving you through a list of puzzles to consume until you finish them all. Efforts have been made to improve that over the series, but even Picross 3D, as great as it is, is essentially a giant list of puzzles - even with that half-cute-half-frightening animated block as your guide.
Picross 3D Round 2, though, fits its puzzle progression framework into this quaint cafe, and suddenly everything is elevated. Soothing saxophone music accompanies you as you scan through a selection of books, ostensibly taken off of one of this cafe's many shelves. Images of pixelated coffee mugs are emblazoned on save files and tutorial prompts, and your completed puzzles are transformed into toys and placed with care on a simple wooden table next to a warm pot of java. It's so tranquil and earnest about what it wants to be - your perfect coffee break game - and in doing so, it becomes very easy to lose yourself to its charms, to not only forget about your real-world cares, but let go of the frustration you'll feel when you inevitably beef a tricky puzzle.
That earnestness covers all aspects of its design, including all of the absurdly obvious descriptions which accompany every single one of its over 300 different puzzles. Did you know that chairs are "incredibly common pieces of furniture", and that they come "in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles"? I mean, everyone who passed kindergarten basically knows that - and Picross 3D Round 2 explains it to you like it's the most mind-blowing thing in the world. Or, how about that, in the Japanese city of Kawasaki, there's an escalator that's only five steps tall? I… actually didn't know that, but what a strange fact to include. It's like chatting up your local trivia-obsessed barista who happens to be honestly fascinated with life's most insignificant details. In any other game this sort of straight-faced sincerity would feel out of place, but when you put it all next to the coffee, the childlike whimsy in the art design of each of its puzzles, and the smooth jazz soundtrack, it all just fits into place.
The best cafes can fit into whatever schedule your life may take on at a given moment, where you're always welcome with a smile no matter how little or how much time you have to spend there. That's Picross 3D Round 2 in a nutshell: a game that invites you in and keeps you warm whether you've got five minutes or five hours to spend with it. It's the ultimate coffee break, minus the coffee.
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