Some might argue that there is nothing better in the world than pixel (Picross) puzzles and making out. The afterglow of a tough puzzle finally completed, and the burn of the first kiss with someone new.
I haven’t played many dating simulators, if any at all, because I’ve personally never really seen the appeal (unless there was a Phoenix Wright dating sim.) But the draw of lots of puzzles pulled me in for a good old sloppy one. Pixel puzzles are presented in grids to solve, with numbers around the top and left outer edge which shows you how many of the squares should be filled in. When finished correctly the image is revealed. Not only are there tonnes of pixel puzzles to solve, but there is also a rather good story to enjoy while you do.
Pixel Girl is a newly fledged superhero with the power to solve puzzles. Each of the other team members has their own puzzle-related powers too. As the new team member, Pixel Girl has the task of getting to know each of these quirky characters with their own attributes that make their interactions feel genuine. Endearingly silly, and tongue in cheek gags bring life and humour to each of them and dates end up being on the fly when the villain appears and heralds the end of the world.
If you understand how to play pixel puzzles, you’ll find Pixel Puzzle Make Out League a joy to play, and not just for the diversity. The difficulty level is situational, from easy 5×5 grids to a 15×15 grid for some depictions of cool hacking and general saving the world type stuff. Each wrong mark decreases the time limit you have to complete the image, but if you’re looking for a more relaxed game, you can customise the difficulty – removing the time limit altogether, or opting to start a level with a whole row and line filled out for you, for no penalty.
Filling out the grid produces images which relate to the story, which keeps the players involved in the game in a deeper way. The puzzles were so enjoyable I had to stop myself from skipping the dialogue to get to more of them which is detrimental to the player when the clue is given in the preceding discussion.
In the beginning, I felt the game repeated itself in places where it didn’t need to, or the dialogue went on a bit too long between puzzles. Then I realised I wasn’t paying enough attention to the characters themselves. As the newest member of the team, everyone is just dying to get to know you no matter how coy they try to play. Pixel Girl, whilst specifically tasked for saving the world, dates each candidate on the fly while uncovering a conspiracy, plots, and the truth behind the end of the world. Later it became apparent why things felt a bit repetitive, but it did dampen the pace a little at the time.
I enjoyed the game’s deeper themes of friendship and acceptance of love from others and for yourself. Even though the dialogue is sometimes cheesy, I couldn’t help but get drawn in. The graphic art is expressive and sweet, and the music is exactly the kind of melodious chaos that you would expect from such a strange and dramatic world. Though a little slow to start, the puzzles pulled me in, and the story kept unfolding in stranger ways I just had to find out what it all meant in the end. A quirky indie by Rude Ghost, relaxing to play and full of spicy humour, this might be one of the strangest yet fun games I’ve played in a while.
Pixel Puzzle Makeout League is out now on Steam and Switch.