Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pushmo Review for the Nintendo 3DS

As the followup to Pushmo - the game that introduced one of Nintendo's strongest new IPs in years and single-handedly validated the 3DS eShop as a destination for must-have exclusives - Crashmo has an awful lot to live up to. With a visual style and premise that’s nearly identical to its predecessor, can this possibly be anything other than a quick cash-in on a newly established brand? Does Pushmo even need a sequel, when fans continue to pump out user-generated content that’s just as good, if not better, than developer Intelligent Systems' own stages? And with the 3DS set to host one of the most incredible (and incredibly crowded) end-of-year lineups any handheld has ever seen, should gamers even consider fitting Crashmo into their holiday schedules?

The answer to all three of these questions is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ If you have a 3DS, you simply must play this game.

Cloud Blocks: just one of many updates to the now-classic Pushmo formula.

Crashmo will be instantly familiar to anyone who's spent time in Pushmo's puzzle-platforming, candy-colored dreamland, but players shouldn't come into this sequel expecting more of the same, because the rules have changed. Whereas Pushmo tasked players with expanding, contracting, and hopping across rigidly arranged block structures in just the right order to rescue the helpless child stranded at the top, Crashmo actually lets you rearrange individual components of its structures independently of one another, in pursuit of a similar goal: retrieving the 100 birds who've flown out of reach and are needed to fly Papa Blox's grandniece Poppy home. Structures cannot be rotated, and as before, can only be moved horizontally - that is, unless you remove the supporting pieces below them, in which case they'll come crashing to the ground. Luckily, Pushmo's popular rewind and reset functions have returned, because with Crashmo's newfound freedom of movement comes the ability to mess things up beyond repair.

To support the aforementioned gameplay tweaks, Crashmo's engine - technically the same one used in Pushmo - has gone through some fine-tuning. The most obvious change comes in the form of several new block types. Cloud Blocks aren't affected by gravity and will continue to float even with nothing beneath them; Door Blocks act similarly to Manhole Blocks, with Mallo passing between them from the front, rather than the top and bottom. Switch Blocks, while technically returning from Pushmo, might as well be new, because they act completely differently this time: rather than expanding the width of a block as in the previous game, switches now make blocks move one space in whichever direction they're pointing.

Crashmo's swanky new adjustable camera, checking things out from the side.

In addition to the new block types, one small but considerable change has been made to the way Mallo interacts with the world around him. In the previous game, moving a block while standing on the edge of another one was impossible; now, Mallo can fall off platforms while moving blocks, meaning this kind of move is no longer rejected by the game.  This change might be counter-intuitive to Pushmo veterans, but it quickly becomes second nature as it's required to complete many of the later stages. The final tweak Crashmo introduces is the addition of camera control, which allows the view to be rotated in 90 degree increments, giving a clearer view of the game's more dimensional puzzles and making it infinitely more playable for users who can't (or don't want to) use the 3DS's stereoscopic effect.

As with its predecessor, the difficulty in Crashmo ramps up nicely, at least until a sudden difficulty spike around the 70th of the game's 100 main stages turns the game into an exercise in patience. I'm not the kind of person to physically externalize anger, but I came close to smashing my 3DS after I spent forty-five minutes working through one of the later stages, only to have the solution hit me on the head one minute, then slip out of my mind the next while I was using the game's rewind function to retrace my steps and take screenshots for a walkthrough.

YOU solve it. Go ahead. I'll wait.

As difficult as Crashmo can be, the solution is always there in front of you - you just have to puzzle it out. For those who simply can't, the game offers a couple of olive branches to keep players from getting frustrated to the point of no return. First: any of the game's 100 main stages can be skipped at any time, though you won't unlock any hidden content until you solve all of them. Second: in the training stages that make up the other half of Crashmo's nearly 200 challenges, talking to Papa Blox at any point activates a SuperGuide-style video that shows you exactly how to solve a puzzle. As has been the case since this feature was introduced in New Super Mario Bros Wii, the existence of an in-game walkthrough might be frustrating to seasoned players, but as before, the feature is completely optional and shouldn't be a nuisance to players who choose to ignore it.  More significantly, SuperGuides are an invaluable teaching tool for less-experienced players, with concepts learned while watching them being directly applicable to the main stages, which offer no such assistance. It's a great way for players of all skill levels to get into a game they might otherwise be intimidated by, and certainly one of the most under-appreciated of Nintendo's recent innovations.

As I alluded to earlier, one of Pushmo's strongest selling points is its potential for expansion through user-generated levels, and Crashmo is no different in this regard. With a fully-featured level editor that will no doubt be the genesis of countless outrageous, nostalgia-inducing, or downright maddening stages, the game is likely to sit atop the eShop charts for months to come. One subtle, but useful upgrade to the game's Studio mode that will likely prove incredibly popular is the ability to import levels directly from the system's built in Internet browser. Admittedly, the sluggishness of the browser actually makes this slower in practice than taking a picture of a QR code on a separate device as in Pushmo, but for players whose only connected device is a 3DS, it's an invaluable addition that will extend the game's life indefinitely.  One quick thing to note: QR codes generated by Pushmo are not compatible with Crashmo.

Well, it waaaaaas a chicken, at one point...

Crashmo is that rare followup that improves on its predecessor in almost every way, but doesn't invalidate the appeal of the game it follows. Tweaks to the gameplay, both sweeping and subtle, make this more of a companion to Pushmo than a sequel, and enhancements to usability and user friendliness should help push the game into the hands of more players than ever before. If I have one thing against Crashmo, it's that the game's story mode contains only half the stages that Pushmo had, though the extreme difficulty of the latter third of the game, plentiful tutorial stages, and proliferation of user-generated content will likely make this a non-issue for most players.

In short: Crashmo is everything you could have hoped for from the followup to IGN's highest-rated eShop exclusive. Go get it, already!*


A surprise followup that's every bit as good as its predecessor. A 3DS must-buy.

+ Delightful aesthetic presentation that will be instantly familiar to Pushmo fans

+ Completely new style of play keeps the game distinct from its predecessor

+ Robust support for user-generated content

+ More palatable to inexperienced and 3D-challenged players

- Fewer main stages than Pushmo

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