Review: Pixel Puzzle Makeout League (Switch)

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Everybody’s daydreamed about waking up one day with pixel puzzle-themed superpowers, right? No? Well I know I have, and apparently the good folks at Rude Ghost have too, because that’s the concept behind Pixel Puzzle Makeout League, a humorous, surreal, adorable game that sees you saving the day by solving pixel puzzles, and finding love along the way.

Related: Pictopix is essential for anyone who enjoys pixel puzzles. Here’s our review.

Pixel Girl was a regular young woman with a fascination with nonograms, aka pixel puzzles, aka Picross—those wonderful logic puzzles that see you using numbered clues along the edges of a grid in order to reveal a picture hidden within. Then a flash of light and some cryptic words from a voice inside her head, and she found herself with the unusual ability to solve whatever problems she finds before her… by turning them into pixel puzzles.

Pixel Girl wasn’t alone in this strange phenomena. A few other local puzzle enthusiasts also found themselves mysteriously granted superpowers relating to their preferred choice of brain teaser—sudoku, crosswords, chess—and so they did what anyone would do in such a situation: they donned costumes and formed a superhero team called the Puzzle League. They even found a humanoid jigsaw puzzle piece to join the gang in Piecea, an alien visitor from Puzzle Planet. The Puzzle League soon finds its work cut out for it when giant everyday objects start falling from the sky, and the dastardly Villain—that’s his name—keeps trying to kidnap Pixel Girl.

In other words, Pixel Puzzle Makeout League is just bananas from the outset, and it just gets more and more bizarre as it trucks along. It’s pure goofball humour with a surreal twist, that misses the opportunity for some puzzle themed joke or a sudden deviation to being a low-poly early 2000s MMORPG for a spell. Most of the narrative is delivered through a visual novel format, and the developers didn’t shy away from using flashy, often ridiculous text animations as often as they possibly could. In almost any other visual novel, that’d probably ruin the whole experience, but here, it just makes every line of dialogue even funnier. Pixel Puzzle Makeout League takes a completely absurd premise and leans into wholeheartedly, with results that are absolutely hilarious.

There’s plenty of heart amid all those jokes, too. The frowned-upon nature of workplace relationships be damned; Pixel Girl is single and ready to find love, and she’s just joined a group of super-cuties that she’s going to be spending a lot of time with. As you spend more time with each of the other Puzzle Leaguers, you’ll grow closer to them, learning more about who they are and getting your flirt on. These cute little romantic moments are always a welcome reprieve from pencils the size of trucks dropping out of the sky and dealing with a villain whose incompetence is somehow more villainous than his evil schemes.

There’s also a heartwarming story running through all of this about the responsibility that comes with power, the doubt that can so often accompany that, and the worry that one’s efforts to help only end up making things worse. The other members of the Puzzle League are all dealing with their own problems, from Sudoku’s crippling shyness to Chess’ struggles in his new (self-appointed) role as leader. For all its over-the-top silliness, Pixel Puzzle Makeout League also manages to be sincere when it wants to be.

Given Pixel Girl’s unique powers, there are pixel puzzles aplenty in Pixel Puzzle Makeout League. Visual novel-style story segments are frequently interrupted with a nonogram or two to solve, tying into the scene in question in fun, entertaining ways. One of my favourite puzzles in the whole game is literally a 15 by 15 grid with “15” as the clue for every row and column—possibly the easiest, least-interesting pixel puzzle imaginable, taken in isolation. But in terms of what the picture you reveal actually is and how it fits into the story, it had me rolling on the floor with just a little dash of pondering the very meaning of life.

All up, There are some 250 puzzles in Pixel Puzzle Makeout League, spread across the main story and an optional dungeon full of bonus puzzles. They range from very easy to reasonably—but not excessively—difficult, with a variety of different hint functions and extra challenges (like a time limit) to help each player customise their experience.

There’s a wealth of great pixel puzzle games on Switch, but Pixel Puzzle Makeout League easily finds itself among the best of them. It has a great assortment of puzzles, but it’s the way it blends those with funny, charming story dating sim elements that really makes this one stand out. Pixel Puzzle Makeout League delivers laugh after puzzle-themed laugh, with plenty of super-cute romance and some genuinely heartwarming moments.

Score: 4.5 stars

Pixel Puzzle Makeout League is developed and published by Rude Ghost. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC.

A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.

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About Author

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.