By Jason Cipriano
The 3DS has had quite a year. From its launch in March, to a price drop in August, to its holiday releases staring Mario an Link, the first (almost) 365 days of this portable's life have been a rollercoaster ride. As Nintendo closes out the first calendar year for the seemingly successful device there is still one outstanding bright spot for system owners hidden in the 3DS' eShop. While the virtual marketplace spent most of the year supplying remakes and the occasional subpar quality game, with 2011 drawing to a close, it has one more surprise left up its sleeve, and possibly the best game on the platform, "Pushmo."
An addictive little platform puzzler, "Pushmo" takes a simple concept, pushing and pulling blocks, and uses it to construct over 250 mind-bending levels. Each puzzle is constructed of a series of different pieces that can be moved in or out, depending on the size and depth of the design. The game's key challenging is that you have to work within the confines of the layout to slide each piece, meaning it's usually up to the player to create space to allow for movement. Once you have constructed a suitable path, you can scale the puzzle with Mallo, your adorable quasi-sumo character, to help save the day by saving the child trapped inside the puzzle at the top.
Pushing The Limits Of Gameplay
Following the "easy to understand, difficult to master" school of game design, "Pushmo" offers a genuinely amazing pick-up-and-play experience, with both simple concepts and controls. Moving the blocks in an out is as basic as puzzle games go, but the game builds on those concepts in later levels by adding additional features, like manholes and Pullout Switches, which helps keep the gameplay fresh and challenging as the story progresses. In "Pushmo" its commonplace to find yourself scratching your head over even the most simplistically laid out puzzles.
Create/Share Your Heart Out
Unlocked after completing the first series of challenges in the game, "Pushmo" includes a mode that lets you create and share puzzles. Using the stylus players can draw out new entirely levels or clone existing ones. Once you have a suitable creation, all you need to do is place a goal, and you're ready to share your new stage with all of your friends, and the internet via an exportable QR code. Because the levels are so easy to create and distribute, "Pushmo" fans should have an almost infinite amount of levels to explore.
A Lack Of StreetPass
"Pushmo" is an all around solid title, but the one thing that it is missing is StreetPass functionality. While it is easy to share levels over the internet, using StreetPass to distribute levels would have been a great use of one of the 3DS' best features. Had StreetPass been included, sharing and receiving new "Pushmo" levels would have been more of an automatic push, instead of a user-initiated pull.
Intelligent Systems have succeeded in creating an entirely unique and creative portable puzzle experience that ranks among some of the best titles on the 3DS. The level design is expertly crafted and paced, teaching you the basic mechanics, and slowly layering on the difficulty, so that by the second or third series of challenges you feel a genuine sense of satisfaction after completing a puzzle. "Pushmo" is not only a highlight of the eShop, but of the 3DS as a whole, and at $6.99 may be one of gaming's best values of 2011.