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Pushmo (3DS) artwork

Pushmo (3DS) review

"Like Mario in Donkey Kong the hero can leap only a short distance, so a lot of pulling is necessary if he’s going to scale some of the larger puzzles. It starts to feel almost like you’re building your own platformer as you go, which could easily become frustrating except that you can undo the last 15 seconds or so of play by holding the L button to rewind your actions, as in a Prince of Persia title."

Nintendo doesn’t have a proud and extended history of delivering exciting new properties in the form of a download, but Pushmo (Pullblox or Hikuosu in regions outside of North America) could easily be the start of an exciting new trend if that’s what the publisher wants. Developed internally by Intelligent Systems (the branch responsible for the Fire Emblem and Advance Wars franchises, among others), Pushmo is an addictive puzzler along the lines of Picross 3D. With a virtual price tag of only $5.99, it might be one of the best deals Nintendo has ever offered.

The goal in Pushmo is to solve puzzles known as pushmos. This task is accomplished by pushing and pulling blocks. Each puzzle contains a child that is trapped in a block, so you must reach that block and pull it at least one space toward the screen to free the captive. When you brush against the captive, the level concludes.

Pushmo asset

Stages contain 18 puzzles apiece. Early stages feature puzzles with such simple design that you might start asking yourself how such a crude concept can support a whole game. Blocks can be pulled toward the screen up to a depth of three blocks, and usually they won’t tower more than four or five blocks high. The variety of puzzles possible within those constraints is quite limited. However, there are around 200 puzzles in the game. The simple ones offered at the start are replaced by increasingly complex ones in short order. Horizontal space available expands quickly and special blocks appear that allow you to automatically extend all blocks of a certain color all the way toward the screen. You’ll also find blocks that serve as portals of a sort, once both sides of a portal are worked free. Some puzzles even make a game out of providing switches that you should actively avoid stomping, just to keep you on your toes.

The real challenge in Pushmo comes from your need to move your character around the screen. He looks like a chubby little Eskimo in a red jumpsuit. Because your avatar takes up valuable space on the screen, you may frequently reach the top of a puzzle and find that you’re one space shy of being able to solve it, because that space is occupied by your portly hero.

Like Mario in Donkey Kong the hero can leap only a short distance, so a lot of pulling is necessary if he’s going to scale some of the larger puzzles. It starts to feel almost like you’re building your own platformer as you go, which could easily become frustrating except that you can undo the last 15 seconds or so of play by holding the L button to rewind your actions, as in a Prince of Persia title. If you make a leap and the play control gets in the way or you just misjudged, you can just rewind and try again. That mechanic eliminates a lot of unnecessary frustration. You’ll be thankful to have it at your disposal.

Of course, some of the later puzzles are complicated enough that even the ability to rewind time won’t be enough to spare you from defeat. It’s possible to push and pull blocks in such a way that you leave yourself cut off along one edge or another of the puzzle that you’re climbing. Then you’ll need to drop down to the base of the puzzle and stomp on a switch that resets everything. There’s no violence here, no lives lost and no timer. A fall from even the top of the puzzle can’t kill you, but the loss of progress has the same effect. When you fail, you feel it.

Pushmo asset

Pushmo becomes a curiously demanding and addictive experience the further you advance. Some of the later puzzles are downright devious. You may swear upon first accessing them that someone made a mistake and it’s not actually possible to complete them. While the occasional early challenge might stump you for a minute or two, the puzzles starting in the fourth stage numbered stage (there are a number of mural and tutorial stages along the way that aren’t numbered) can each take more like a half-hour or an hour to finally solve. You can skip some of them, but eventually you’ll reach a point where you have to do some actual solving or you simply can’t advance.

Intelligent Systems also hasn’t forgotten the interests of the folks who are most likely to play this game: the Nintendo faithful. Early on, you’ll find yourself scaling a few murals that remind you of classic Nintendo games. When you finally do finish Stage 4, you’ll reach a series of murals that are ripped directly from 8-bit gems like Super Mario Bros. and Excitebike, among others. Scaling Popo from Ice Climber is automatically cooler than ascending a Christmas Tree. Scientists will no doubt prove that much someday. It’s just a matter of time.

While Pushmo is expertly crafted, it does have a few minor flaws. Chief among those flaws is the viewing angle. Out of necessity, you’re looking at everything from a slight angle. Depending on the positioning of blocks, it can sometimes be difficult to spot a block that you need to move because it is obscured. Adjusting the 3D slider can’t fix that issue, either, though it does make puzzles feel properly three-dimensional. You can hold the R button to modify your viewing angle, and pressing the L button from there will zoom. You can also pan the camera using the analog stick in such times, but the whole process can sometimes interrupt your train of thought. As a result, later puzzles are difficult to solve until you’ve put a lot of time into them and perhaps have memorized block positioning.

Pushmo asset

Other “flaws” are largely manufactured by the individual gamer and the manner in which he or she chooses to play. Pushmo can be a lot of fun in short spurts, particularly early on, but the later puzzles are demanding enough that the game loses a lot of appeal if you try to play it for marathon stretches. Gamers who don’t like being required to think a lot may start to feel like they’re cramming for a test, not playing a video game.

Still, despite its potential flaws, Pushmo is a budget-priced download that people would gladly have paid a lot of money to play in previous years. There are plenty of puzzles to keep you busy for hours, and it’s even possible to create your own puzzles and share them with friends. Even as a DS title, the game might well have retailed for $20 and most consumers probably wouldn’t have made a fuss. If you’ve been looking for something special to download from the DSI online store, start with Pushmo.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 31, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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jerec posted January 31, 2012:

Guess I don't need to review it. You've got pretty much the same opinion as me on this one. Glad you're enjoying it.
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honestgamer posted January 31, 2012:

You should still review it! It would be easy to never review anything if we routinely said "I'll only review it if no one else has," or even "I'll only review it if I'm the first to feel this way about a game." That's the path that leads to eventually reviewing nothing, because there's always someone who feels similarly about a game. I'd love to see 2 or 3 reviews on the site for every worthwhile title in existence, really. There's some value in that. So I hope you'll write something up for Pushmo. It's certainly a deserving enough title, despite only being a download. (Also: thanks for reading!)

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