Pushmo ReviewJoe Shaffer
You won't find me raving about puzzle games very often. Part of that has to do with growing up in the '90s where Tetris derivatives were as common as water. The more block dropping and item sorting and color matching I did, the less interested in the genre I became. Occasionally these days, I get a hankering for a good puzzle game, but I wouldn't drop a nickel on most of them; especially since I can find a passable browser-based one for free. Let's face it: Tetris and the Internet have both saved and killed the genre.
I discovered, though, that it doesn't take a miracle to get me to purchase a puzzle game these days. All along I wanted something from the genre that it hasn't given me: a break from Tetris clones. I downloaded that long overdue break on my 3DS, a game called Pushmo.
This is yet another game involving various colored blocks, but none of them fall from the sky or need sorting. In each stage, the blocks form different shapes. Some of them are basic polygons, while others are more complex designs used to accentuate challenge. There are even several levels dedicated to "murals," recognizable shapes like cars, bunnies, and rockets. Some later murals even resemble various Nintendo characters like Mario and Link.
By gripping the front of a block, you can pull it outward up to three steps, and even walk on it. Using you wit, your objective is to pull the right blocks out in a shape or mural in order to get to a trapped child, represented by a small icon usually near the top of the shape.
This may sound easy, and it is for about the first twenty or so levels, but some puzzles are downright tricky. Many will require you to figure out how to pull a block three steps outward when you only have a couple steps worth a block beneath you. This means grabbing the block you want to pull out from the side and making sure you have enough space on the block below it to pull it out. Others utilize switches that cause every block of a certain color to pop all the way out. This can be damning as well, as doing so at the wrong time might impede your progress and cause you to start over. Other levels feature colored ladders. Jump down one and it will transport you to another ladder of the same color on another part of the puzzle.
What's impressive is how intricate each level is. Some, like the rocket later in the game, can practically be divided into sublevels. You'll find yourself pulling out blocks just to set yourself up for more block pulling. That's when the game gets really complicated, and you'll sometimes realize you missed a phase. Sometimes you'll screw up and realize that you need to pull out a certain block before even starting the bulk of the puzzle. Pull out the wrong block, or fail to pull out the right one, and you might have to restart the whole drawn out mess.
In a way, Pushmo is like a puzzle-platformer. Situations usually call for our pudgy protagonist, Mallo, to leap from from block to another. Some cases will have you dropping from one block down to another, or even executing a tricky jump around a block. It's these platformer elements that make the game a real joy to play, even though there are times where the control response feels a bit off. I've biffed a few major jumps thanks to that.
By adding a simple concept, Intelligent Systems finally created a memorable puzzle game that's actually worth purchasing. For $9, you get nearly 200 levels. 180 of those make up the campaign, with some unlockable special challenges after you've beaten it. While this sounds like a sweet deal, those 180 stages can be incredibly daunting. Many of the levels can be beaten in a matter of minutes, but there are a lot of them that are real brain-busters. There were times where I would only play one or two levels a night because some of the tougher ones really exhausted me mentally. It made going through all 180 stages without putting the game on a back burner a challenge in itself. It's not because the challenging levels aren't entertaining, because they certainly are. It's just that you'll feel like you're just slogging through the game at times.
Still, if you enjoy puzzlers and are tired of further iterations of Tetris, pick up Pushmo. It's an inexpensive buy that nets you a lot of content, all thankfully attached to an addictive puzzle-platformer.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.