Puzzle games have never been my forte, but that being said they do catch my attention now and then. Of course Tetris has been the go to puzzle game for many, many years, especially on any Nintendo handheld, but the winds are changing with the December release of Pushmo on the 3DS eShop. We got a chance to play this innovative and addicting puzzle game recently, which surprisingly was developed by Intelligent Systems, who are known for deep and engrossing games like Advance Wars, Fire Emblem and Paper Mario. Well they have developed a really great puzzle game for the 3DS that I think once you try it you won’t be able to walk away from it.
There is a semblance of a story, as you are Mallo, an unsuspecting villager who surprisingly thrust into the role of hero as he rescues children who are trapped in structures simply known as pushmos. These pushmos are the puzzles of each level and they come in various forms and shapes. The trick to solving each puzzle is that at the start of each level the puzzle looks like a simple and flat object, but you can pull out or push in individual blocks of each puzzle. You are allowed to pull out blocks a few spaces, as you are on a ‘grid’ so to speak and there are three different ‘spaces’ that you can pull each one out to. The essence of each puzzle is that you must make it to the top of each puzzle in order to rescue each child.
The game gently leads you into the harder levels, and there are a lot of levels, well over 200 or so. The game’s first set of levels are tutorials as Pushmo gradually familiarizes you with the tricks and trades of the game. The puzzles are somewhat simple at the start as you learn the in’s an out’s (pun intended) of pulling and pushing blocks in order to complete each one. As you progress through each level, the game gets tougher the deeper you go, and you’ll find that you’ll need to sit and stare at the screen planning out your solution more often than not. But the reward for doing so is great as the feeling of when “the light clicks on” is satisfying to say the least.
It’s not all about pushing and pulling of blocks though. As you progress through the game Pushmo throws in some twists and turns in the form of switches and manholes. For example, when you activate a switch you will find that all the blocks of a specific colour may pull out of the puzzle, which can change the gameplay in one single instant. Manholes are like little warp zones so to speak as you can jump into one and end up in another area of the puzzle, helping you reach a specific area that may assist in your puzzle-solving mission. I found that the addition of these new play mechanics later on in the game made the whole experience change and it continued to make it fresh as you progressed onward to each subsequent level.
What I really enjoyed about the Pushmo is that it allows you to progress at your own pace. There is no timer to beat and you can just putter along on each level as you see fit. It was great not to feel stressed out, as I did not have to rush to get the puzzle done before a timer hit zero. This allowed me to put the game down on occasion, walk away, clear my head, and come back with a fresh perspective. There is also a nice little feature that allows you to rewind your progress, so if you think you messed up a move a short time earlier, or you fall where you did want too, you can rewind it just enough to continue on from that crucial point. Should you ultimately feel that you have no chance of finishing a level no matter what you do, you can also hit a “reset” switch to start the level again as it erases all your progress and resets the blocks. Finally, if you find your self stumped on one particular level, you can skip it and come back at a later time. All these little features adds for a game that should satisfy all skill levels, from veteran puzzlers to those casual or new puzzlers out there.
As I mentioned earlier, there are over 200 puzzles in Pushmo, but the game gives you the chance to add many more levels via the Pushmo Studio. This is basically an easy to use creation studio where you can design your own puzzles and share them with friends. You open up this studio later on in the game, so don’t expect to use this right away. It is a simple affair, utilizing the 3DS’s touch screen, but creativity rules here and you can create whatever you want as long as your imagination and the tools you are given to create it in can blend into one (e.g. your artistic vision versus the actual grid size for your design). Once you’ve created your puzzle you can then create a QR Code to share it with others. This is where I found the studio somewhat limited, as the only way to share your creations, or get those of others, is by physically scanning in the QR Code. There is no way to share them over Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection either locally or over the World Wide Web. Heck, there is no StreetPass or SpotPass functionality either, which would have made random collection of user created puzzles pretty neat. I did a bit of research on the web about the Pushmo Studio feature, and there are user created forums or hubs showing off custom made puzzles that you can copy. Still, I think Nintendo and Intelligent Systems missed a big opportunity for community features by not building in an online ability to trade and post puzzles for others to collect.
Visually Pushmo is a very eye-pleasing affair. Although not very complex, the game has a visual charm to it that just works. The colours are bright and vibrant and the game’s puzzles are uniquely designed and look great. Our miniature hero Mallo manages to move around each puzzle with ease and looks good doing it, from walking, climbing to jumping. The use of 3D is also well implemented. Although you can play the game in 2D, it is meant to be played in 3D as the effects really do work. The added depth makes each puzzle stand out (pun not indended) and adds to the overall gameplay experience. I was quite happy with what I saw on screen and I think you will too. As for the sound, the chirpy and cheerful music combined with the cute and quirky sound effects all combine to make a happy and enjoyable sounding experience.
Pushmo is a game that you’d expect to find on store shelves, as the amount of content and features is above what you’d expect to be found on the 3DS eShop. With a ton of puzzles, a creation studio, and some very addictive gameplay, Pushmo has a lot going for it. The only thing that could have made this puzzle game any better is the addition of sharing puzzles online, and not just by using a QR Code. In the end the $6.99 price tag is pretty much a steal as this game is a definite buy for most gamers out there.