Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 02/20/12

All in all, you're just another brick in the wall...

Pushmo Park is a deathtrap. At a glance, it doesn’t look like much; just a field of grass, with occasional decorative tree or bush. The sun never sets, giving the locals an endless amount of time to have fun…and die horribly. It’s because of the playground equipment. It looks simple enough; just a pile of 2D blocks than can be pulled out to create stairs. Children ascend makeshift jungle gyms, taking in the view and reveling in being able to climb so high. But once the excitement fades, they come to a terrifying revelation: There’s no way back down. No emergency ladder. Jumping would be suicide. As the victims shudder in fear, they see a lone speck of a person far below. They scream for help, and the stranger gazes at up at them. With a malicious grin, he presses the reset button on the ground, sending the blocks crashing back into their original dimensions and crushing the helpless kids into paste.

It’s happened hundreds of times, and Mallo can’t stand it anymore. He’s on a one-man crusade to save the few remaining survivors of Pushmo Park. The journey begins with a simple, flat image of multicolored blocks standing over an open space. By grabbing onto the individual blocks, he can drag them out of their 2D realm and create three-dimensional structures. The process basically boils down to nabbing the lowermost blocks first and pulling them out as far as possible, jumping on top of the makeshift platform, and repeating until you reach the child trapped at the top. Few of the puzzles are straightforward climbs, however. The blocks come in a wide variety of shapes and positions; a lengthy bar at the base of the puzzle might be attached to some distant column near the top, or tiny squares could hide deep within the nooks and crannies of some massive slab of color. Since it’s impossible to fully extend blocks without falling off of edges, you have to constantly look for ways to grab pieces and drag them out or push them back by the sides. Solutions are further complicated with strategically-placed ladders and switches that automatically expand certain blocks. It’s not so bad early on – only the last few dozen puzzles are brutal – but one false move can screw you over. Imagine being within a couple of spaces from reaching the summit…only to realize that the platform is unreachable because you forgot to pull out one of its support blocks twenty moves ago. Thus you’ll have to restart, hopefully with the mistake acknowledged and lesson learned.

The trial and error-based gameplay is one of Pushmo’s most appealing aspects. Rather than trying to rush you through stages in an attempt to bolster high scores, it lets you look at each puzzle in its entirety and figure out your approach beforehand. Randomly moving blocks around only gets you so far. There’s no time limit or penalties for resetting a level; it’s possible to spend half an hour or more looking over details with the zooming camera and building strategies accordingly. There’s even a rewind button, which is a godsend when you accidentally pull or push a platform too far and render the entire stage impassible. It’s even handier when you fall victim to the game’s questionable jumping mechanics. Mallo can only jump over the equivalent of a single block, and there’s no way to accelerate or fine-tune the direction of his leaps. It works fine when he’s hopping up a flight of stairs, but it can be disastrous when you’re jumping from a tiny niche to an extended walkway. There’s nothing game-breaking about it, but the sluggish handling is annoying. Had the controls been a little tighter, the puzzle solving wouldn’t be nearly as tedious.

The Pushmo Studio makes for up for it, though. As the name implies, you can design and edit your own puzzles from scratch. Lines and shapes can be drawn all over an on-screen grid, creating multicolored platforms and obstacles along the way. It’s surprisingly easy to pick up; not only does the system allow the stylus to be used as a paintbrush, but it can fill entire sections with specific colors to save time. Speaking of which, the variety of tints and shades is astounding; there are two hundred options at your disposal. Ladders, switches, and flags can be positioned wherever you want. That doesn’t mean you can get away with making unbeatable puzzles, however. Before you can finish a creation, you have to solve it yourself. If there are any flaws, the editor is only a button press away. It’s a great way to keep things balanced and test the limits of your creativity. If you think a puzzle is worth sharing, the game can convert it into a QR code and upload for anyone to see online. Unfortunately, that’s the limit of the multiplayer functionality; it would have been interesting to be able to trade puzzles directly, share messages, or have more customization features. But with so many options already at your fingertips, you probably won’t care.

The depth of the level editor becomes especially apparent when you start delving into latter half of the game. While most of the puzzles are complex labyrinths of shapes and platforms, some stages are designed around specific images. You’ll climb into the bricked branches of an apple tree, explore the inner workings of a giant sandwich, and leap around the limbs of cats, insects, dinosaurs, and a slew of other animals. There are also several Nintendo-based murals depicting pixilated characters from the Mario, Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, and Excitebike series. They offer a hefty dose of nostalgia for gamers that grew up on the original NES. They also serve as a distraction from the repetitive nature of some of the other stages. A considerable amount of puzzles ditch the imagery in favor of intricate and challenging layouts. There’s nothing wrong with that – some of those puzzles are amongst the most satisfyingly difficult in the game – but they tend to return over and over again with only slightly different obstacles and positions. With over two hundred puzzles to solve, however, a lack of variety is hardly an issue.

That’s what makes Pushmo so awesome. Unlike the countless other mediocre titles in the 3DS’s online shop, it offers a ton of variety and depth. The mechanics are easy enough to understand, but changing a flat image into a three-dimensional labyrinth can be a complex and challenging task. The game doesn’t rush you; you’ve got all the time in the world to explore every inch of the puzzles, scouring every little block for a way to make a path up to the top. Given how one wrong move can finish you, the reset button and rewind feature are godsends. Given how sluggish the jumping controls are, you’re going to need them. If the hundreds of puzzles aren’t good enough for you, the level editor boasts plenty of options and freedom. You could spend hours doodling random lines and shapes, testing to see if everything works, and perfecting everything before unleashing it upon the Internet. Few games offer that kind of accessibility. So do yourself a favor and download Pushmo. In an otherwise bland gaming library, it stands tall among the rest.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Pushmo (US, 12/08/11)

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