Review

Published on March 15th, 2017 | by Graham

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Fantasy Mosaics 19: Edge of the World Review

Fantasy Mosaics 19: Edge of the World Review Graham

Summary: There's plenty of nonogramming fun here, but it's ultimately too easy.

3.5


Just in case you missed the first 18 games (!) in the series, let me fill you on Fantasy Mosaic 19’s genre, and the possibly unique quirk it brings to the table.

The Fantasy Mosaic games are nonogram puzzles (also known as griddlers or picross), which are a type of logic puzzle where you mark squares in a grid as either filled or empty, based on clues about how many squares are in each row or column.  They’re easy to learn, enormously addictive, and of my very favourite games (I’ve lost so many hours to picross that it’s a little scary).  They are my jam.

The ‘5’ in the first column means there’s a block of five consecutive squares in there. The ‘2 17’ in the last row means there’s a block of two and block of seventeen separated by at least one space.

Fantasy Mosaic adds a quirk to the genre, which I personally have never seen before.  Initially I found this twist to be an exciting variant of a game I’ve played many, many times before, but ultimately I think it may detract more than it adds.

Let me explain.

The griddler I’m familiar with has a single grid.  The harder, larger ones often start out with a period of being completely stumped.  There can seem to be no way into a puzzle, until one uses a tricky bit of logic, interlacing the clues from a particular row and column together, and manage to fill in or cross out a square or two.  The frustration of being so completely halted is broken by the relief and satisfaction of solving it.  It’s then often followed by a satisfyingly easy flow of filling in a few rows or columns, until another period of being stumped.  At some point, enough of the puzzle is solved that it becomes elementary to finish the rest, which offers a cathartic and relaxing colouring-in sort of senstation, which is a nice counterpoint to the harder moments.

Fantasy Mosaics is a little different.  Each puzzle actually has multiple grids, all the same size and all laid on top of each other, and in a different colour.  Say you’re filling in a picture of Santa.  They’ll be a red layer for his clothes, a white layer for his beard and the snow, and another couple of layers for other details.  Each layer is a nonograms puzzle with its own set of clues, but each filled in square is shown on all layers.  You can switch between the colour slayer at any time.  Hopefully that made some kind of sense – it’s a lot easier to understand in practice than to explain.

A puzzle close to completion. I’m working on the yellow layer here which is nearly finished. Filled-in squares from the other colour layers show on this one.

The major pro to this approach is that it almost completely eliminates any of the frustrations associated with tricky nonogram puzzles.  If I start a puzzle and don’t see an easy way to get started on the first colour layer, I can just flip through the rest until I’ve found one – say an easy row of 20 for the floor.  Once I’ve filled in a good bit of that layer, the initially-impossible first layer is usually startable.  The game was at its best when I found myself alternating between a couple of layers, filling in some squares in one colour that make another colour layer possible.

The downside with eliminating any frustrations, is that much of the challenge is lost as well.  In the seven hours it took me to complete the game’s 100 puzzles, I got stuck only around four times.  There simply wasn’t enough logic required for a logic game, and any time I was finding it a bit tricky I could simply switch to an easier layer.  Upgrading to the harder of the game’s two difficulty modes helps as it removes some ease-of-play helpers (I’ll get onto the interface, which is close to perfect, in a bit).  By the halfway mark I was making an effort to stick with the harder layers, to puzzle through the trickier (and more satisfying) logic rather than simply change to an easier layer.

This helped, but there’s a fundamental issue.  With the traditional single-layer griddle puzzle, I know it can be solved.  However stuck I get, I know if I just think hard enough I’ll be able to find the solution.  With Fantasy Mosaic, some layers simply aren’t possible to solve, without first iterating on the other layers – so once I’m stuck hard, there’s little temptation to keep working on that layer, as it may well be impossible.

I think the core problem is that the creators are determined to make each puzzle form an image.  This limits how difficult they can make a given puzzle, as it’d be incredibly tricky to make each colour layer both challenging and a part of the image as a whole.  I’d love to see them mix some abstract puzzles in to Fantasy Mosaics 20; free of the need to be an image, they could make the puzzles as hard as they wanted.

But this is sounding like a negative review, and I don’t want to be down on Fantasy Mosaics.  In truth, I loved it, and played through the whole thing in just a couple of sittings.  Its easiness is probably part of what made it so incredibly addictive.

And the creators need credit for nailing the interface for the most part, though you’d expect that after nineteen goes at the formula.  There’s a lot of helpers, such as rows and columns automatically filling with blanks where you’ve finished filling in the squares, and these eliminate a lot of the busywork that comes with griddlers (though it makes the game easier still, and I would have liked an option to disable it).  Mistakes are flagged immediately rather than you being left to spend ten minutes working an now-unsolvable puzzle, and there’s a limited number of mistakes per level (with more mistakes unlocked as you progress in the level, a nice touch).

There’s just a couple of interface niggles.  You can drag-select a row of squares, but it’s too easy to accidentally draw outside of the line which cancels the drag.  The ‘casual’ difficulty option automatically crosses out which clues it thinks are obviously solved, but I found too often that it decided a particular clue was solved when it wasn’t obvious to me at all.  This gives way too much information, so I recommend bumping it up to the harder difficulty, which only crosses the clues out when the full row/column is completed.

What else?  I liked that the game was almost immediately going with the larger puzzles – some nonogram games make you wade through far too many trivial 5×5 or 10×10 puzzles before letting you get to the good stuff.  And I didn’t like that a couple of times there were two possible solutions and I had to guess which one was correct, which shouldn’t happen in nonograms.  The presentation is fine, with attractive enough static backgrounds, and music that doesn’t grate after many hours.  There’s some meaningless plot about collecting objects for a garden belonging to a bunch of world-travelling penguins.

A situation where I had to guess – there are two possible acceptable solutions here.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fantasy Mosaics 19.  After so many iterations the creators have managed to file off most of the rough edges from nonograms, and left an incredibly moreish version of the game.  I just wish there was a little more challenge and bite.

Is the multiple colour layers thing really unique to Fantasy Mosaics, or has it showed up in other nonorgram games?  Let me know in the comments below!

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