Review by discoinferno84

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

Mallo should've known better. After rescuing his friends in Pushmo, you'd think he would steer clear of danger. He'd suffered enough. Yet he accepted an invitation to meet Papa Blox – the mastermind behind the whole affair – and his granddaughter, Poppy. Why? He didn't owe the old man anything…Well, aside from teaching him the block-pushing techniques that saved his life. Was it the prospect of romancing Poppy? Was Mallo that desperate for attention after Pushmo's hype died down? Even if he knew, he never got the chance to explain. Seconds after greeting each other, the party was struck with disaster. Due to an ill-timed stomp – Mallo moonlights as a sumo wrestler, after all – the birds that powered Poppy's balloon scattered into the puzzle-ridden depths of Crashmo Park. Thrust into an all-too familiar situation, Mallo must draw upon his skills and experiences to survive Crashmo's grueling challenges.

The premise is simple: reach the bird on top of each level. Getting that far is something else entirely. Like its predecessor, Crashmo is all about climbing giant three-dimensional puzzles. Every structure is comprised of blocks of varying shapes and sizes; you grab the lowermost section, pull or push it out, jump to the next section, and repeat the process until you reach the summit. A lengthy row on the bottom might be connected to a column higher up. Smaller pieces hidden within the walls can be used as stepping stones. While creating makeshift stairs and paths seems easy at first, the layouts become more complex with each passing level. Since Mallo can jump only a single block's height and length, you have to plan moves long before they're made. It's easy to be within sight of the goal, only to be stopped because you forgot to pull a brick out a dozen steps ago. Thanks to the rewind function, it's possible to fix any misstep if it's noticed quickly enough. But if your puzzle is beyond solving, you'll have jump all the way down and hit the reset button on the ground. Since there's no time limit, you're free to relax and tackle a puzzle at whatever pace is needed. A little trial and error (and a lot of patience) can get you through anything.

If you've played Pushmo, it's easy to assume this is the same thing all over again. However, Crashmo quickly stands out by taking the gameplay mechanics a step further. Rather than pushing or pulling blocks over a tiny, three block-deep grid, it allows you to grab objects from any side and move them accordingly. You don't just move in or out, but slide them to either side. The ground underneath each stage has been drastically increased, giving you the chance to spread out and experiment. Thanks to the revamped camera controls, you can now swing the view around the entire stage and examine it from any necessary angle. Puzzles that used to be limited to huge chunks now have multiple sections of walls and platforms. The routes up to the top aren't as obvious or straightforward as the used to be; rather than tackling a structure head-on, you'll have to peel back and rearrange its layers. As the game's title implies, anything resting on top of a moving piece will come crashing down. If you push one little brick the wrong way, you'll get pummeled by all the extra blocks connected higher up. Such things are typically indicative of a mistake and render your goal unreachable, but occasionally it'll be exactly what you need to get further into the stage. It's just a matter of figuring out how.

It's harder than it sounds, though. While the first twenty tutorial stages are fairly easy, the game quickly ratchets up the difficulty with its new obstacles. Pushmo's ladders and manholes are still built into the ceilings and floors of certain puzzle pieces, but you'll frequently find doors carefully positioned in the side surfaces. For example, you might enter a door on the ground level, only to step out of a door ten stories up. Since you failed to assemble other puzzle pieces into a walkway, you'll likely plummet back to the starting point. Then there are the cloud blocks, which stay floating in midair regardless if there's something underneath. Depending on how they're positioned, they can make or break your carefully-crafted solution. Some blocks also have arrow-shaped switches that let you move in whatever direction they're pointing. Aside from being reminiscent of certain Mario platformers, they're also capable of moving huge sections of a puzzle with just the push of a button. All of these obstacles and features might not seem like much on their own, but creative level design often results in mind-bendingly complex challenges. With 140 puzzles – and another 90 in the training mode – it'll take you countless hours to figure everything out.

But if that isn't enough, the Crashmo Studios lets you craft, solve, and share your own puzzles. Even the most nerve-wrackingly difficult puzzle starts with a few quick taps on the touch screen. It operates like a stripped-down version of MS Paint; you can doodle with the stylus, color in the individual blocks with the surprisingly varied palette, and erase any extra stuff. All of the obstacles and features seen in the regular gameplay are available as well. Considering the variety of puzzles in the main game (gigantic cheeseburgers, floating castles, and Mario Piranha Plants come to mind), the amount of freedom is staggering. Thanks to the increased scale of the stages and improved camera controls, it's easy to build and fine-tune everything. You'll need to pay attention to the details, too; before you can unleash your unholy monstrosities upon the world, you have to make sure they can actually be solved. Not only does it keep things balanced – no one likes an impossible puzzle – but it tests your ability to create around the few imposed limits. Once your creation is playable, it'll be converted into a QR code that anyone else can download. Unfortunately, Crashmo's multiplayer doesn't go any deeper. Larger, co-op based stages would be really interesting. Even an easier way to interact with other designers would be a small step in the right direction. Instead, the most you can hope for is the steady stream of Nintendo's DLC puzzles. It's something, but there's a lot of room to expand.

Considering how much content is already available, you probably won't even notice. Crashmo is such a great sequel that it makes Pushmo obsolete. Yes, the first killer app of the 3DS's eShop has been replaced. All of the gameplay mechanics it established have been expanded upon, creating a far more complex and difficult experience. It's amazing how drastically the implementation of gravity changes things. It's no longer just about pushing or pulling blocks; it's about slowly, carefully manipulating every part of a level, from the largest chunk all the way down to the tiniest brick. Now that you can grab and view a block from any of its sides, the ways to approach and solve puzzles are more varied and nuanced. Thanks to some deviously clever designs and new obstacles, reaching the top has never been more challenge. Lacking online features aside, the ability to create and share your own levels is one of the best uses of the 3DS's technology. Regardless if Nintendo continues with this series, Crashmo may be an impossible act to follow.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/03/13

Game Release: Crashmo (US, 11/22/12)

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