by Alex Balderas
It’s no secret that Nintendo’s 3DSware system was off to a much slower start than many of us expected and hoped for, in fact, up to this point we only really have Pyramids and Freakyforms in the service, and while I personally haven’t played either of them, I also haven’t heard anything about them, good or bad. In comes Intelligent Systems. Having developed such titles as Puzzle League and Wario Ware, Intelligent System’s expertise was put to great use in making the first 3DSware killer app, Pushmo. Let me tell you that within 2 days of Pushmo’s release in North America and Europe, there are already countless user-created levels circulating message boards, and for good reason.
Pushmo is a Puzzle game about reaching a goal placed on top of a stack of different shapes of blocks. The player can do this by pushing in and pulling out different blocks in order to form platforms on which to jump; the catch is that, when you pull out a block, all adjacent blocks of the same color are also pulled out. The objective is simple and the rules are clearly delineated, which makes for highly smooth and frustration-free play, something I consider a necessity in all good puzzle games. As such, Pushmo is made up entirely of those “a-ha!” moments that come when figuring out a very clever puzzle, but a particular addition of this game is that these moments come not only from discovering the different ways in which blocks can be arranged, but also from the way in which one can exploit the jumping mechanics.
One early example of this is in the first non-tutorial world, in a level where two blocks intertwine in a way that suggest pulling blocks then pushing them in from atop a different block, and so on and so forth. After unsuccessfully attempting different patterns of pulling and pushing for some 3-5 minutes, it slowly began to dawn onto me that I could jump in diagonal out of a single enclosed block onto the top of another, something I do all the time in games like Mario Galaxy and Mario 3D Land but never thought of doing in a puzzle game.
The best thing about this little addition is how it increases the potential for user generated content, since the cleverest creators will be making sure their levels employ the neatest tricks, both of procedural block pushing/pulling and of platforming.
As far as built-in content, the game really is a “page-turner” and, like in Super Mario 3D Land, you will find yourself playing just one more level, over and over again. This is only helped by the great difficulty curve of the puzzles which, except for the first 18 tutorial levels, never make you feel like either a genius or a numskull, and almost every other level has you learn a new trick that inevitable becomes indispensable later.
Because the levels aren’t all designed around a single mechanic (jumping or block pushing), the game throws varied worlds at you so you never feel like you’ve been seeing the same kind of algorithm-based puzzle solving for a while. To better explain, let me give World 1 and World 2 as examples: World 1 is based entirely around the difficulty of the levels, with the designs being highly minimalistic but similarly hard to beat; World 2, on the other hand, has picturesque levels such as “Shooting Star”, “Saturn”, and “Orange”, which vary in difficulty to some extent.
This is especially true after the second “tutorial” world (it’s World 5 in reality), where two new game elements are introduced (manholes and push switches). Both elements would add only a bit of content to the game on their own, but when combined with the jumping and regular push/pull mechanics, the resulting combinations are near limitless, and ensure the game keeps feeling fresh even after hours of gameplay.
As I’m writing this review, I’m done with approximately 60% of the main game. There are 11 main worlds, each with 18 levels for a total of 198 uniquely crafted puzzles. By the end of World 6, the game has gotten very challenging and it takes me at least 5 minutes per puzzle, so I can only imagine the later puzzles will be much meatier. Even so, the game offers you more levels (supposedly custom-created by an in-game NPC), though how many I don’t know. Couple this with the endless stream of user-created levels already flowing through message boards like IGN’s Nintendo 3DS Lobby, and you have quite an amazing amount of content to take advantage of. Even this user-generated content is extremely easy to import: simply go to the Pushmo studio, select an empty space, and select “scan QR Code”, then look at any image of a QR code on your computer screen or even a print-out.
All in all, I’m thoroughly impressed with Intelligent System’s latest effort, and for the measly $6.99 it costs, I have absolutely no qualms recommending this to anyone and everyone. If anything, all puzzle fans owe it to themselves to check out this great game.