Push things forward
I think it’s safe to say that the Wii U needed Pushmo World more than Pushmo World needed the Wii U.
The original Pushmo, with its deceptively simple puzzle-platformer gameplay, was a perfect fit for the 3DS. Leading the rotund, sumo-thonged Mallo through each level played superbly to the strengths of handheld gaming, with the sort of bite-sized challenges you could whittle away at on the train or in bed every night. And because the game centered so heavily on depth—requiring you to build makeshift staircases to your objectives by pushing and pulling colored blocks between three different positions along the Z-axis—it benefited enormously from the system’s 3D capabilities. Rather than feeling like a gimmick, the stereoscopic visuals allowed you to grasp the current state of the course almost immediately, allowing you to nail any jump with confidence.
The Wii U, of course, isn’t a portable, nor does it offer 3D functionality. That makes Pushmo World something of an odd fit. Like its predecessors, it’s most enjoyable when tackled in relatively small snippets—a puzzle or two here and there—but booting up an entire console for 10 or 15 minutes of playtime feels like a bit too much of a production, and it’s harder to squeeze in sessions throughout the day.
The more concrete problem is that the simple visual style hasn’t changed to accommodate for the lack of 3D, so it’s far easier to misjudge which platforms are lined up at a glance, leading to a lot of missed jumps. You can use the right stick to wiggle the camera back and forth to give a better sense of depth, and the always-convenient rewind feature still lets you undo an accidental fall with no consequence, but both of these solutions require active focus on something that was once immediate and intuitive. The one clear benefit of being on a home console, HD graphics, counts for little here, since you’re spending most of your time staring at enormous, flatly colored blocks.
Thanks to the shift in console, then, Pushmo World comes across as a little less streamlined and a lot less bespoke than its predecessors. This is a clear case of Nintendo pushing a successful franchise onto the Wii U for the sole purpose of giving their struggling console another first-party feather in its cap.
But you know what? I’m completely OK with that. Minor annoyances aside, it’s nice to see more Pushmo delivered with the same expert craftsmanship of the original. As much as I appreciated Crashmo‘s unconventional choice to invent a new core mechanic for the sequel, I’m even happier to see the gameplay of the first installment return more or less unchanged—it’s far and away the stronger of the two.
What’s truly wonderful about the Pushmo concept is that, as a puzzler, it feels uncommonly pure. You might be running, hopping, and jumping into warp pipes like some fat, pink Mario impersonator, but the gradual unravelling of each solution plays out more like sudoku or kakuro than Braid or Portal. Those games made platforming-style navigation a familiar layer on which to strap on other, much more complicated contrivances. Pushmo, by contrast, treats the act of movement as the primary focus, training you to trace a route through its spaces piece by piece, looping back, trying all of your options, correcting mistakes. This is a puzzle-platformer where the platforming is the puzzle. In Pushmo, there’s only the climb.
The few new embellishments in Pushmo World stick closely to that philosophy. A handful of puzzles throw new block types into the mix: linked blocks, which move all blocks of the same color when you move them, and yin-yang blocks, which are monochrome and cause every push or pull to have the opposite effect on the other color. They’re very slight tweaks to the formula, but it’s sufficient enough to cause you to stretch some new muscles. It’s a shame that they’re sequestered in their own set of challenges and not integrated into the main flow of the game, but I suppose it’s better to segregate than to run the risk of making late-game puzzles too bloated and confusing.
As with prior entries, Pushmo World allows you to design your own puzzles with a simple touchscreen interface, but there’s been one vast improvement. Instead of sharing levels with a QR code, you can now just head to a special section of the game called Pushmo World Fair. Here you can upload your own creations and check out other players’ in one central location, complete with the ability to sort by popularity to help separate the wheat from the chaff.
But even if you never take Pushmo World online, you’ll still have a robust, satisfying experience to keep you entertained for a good many hours, with 250 of the most tautly designed puzzles you’ll find in any game today. There’s no question that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have delivered another excellent addition to the Wii U’s increasingly sturdy library of exclusives—but it’s hard not to wish that the franchise had done a little more to embrace its new home.
|Developer: Intelligent Systems • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 6.19.2014|
Pushmo’s Wii U debut maintains the franchise’s exceptional standard of fun, deep puzzles, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself occasionally missing the portability and 3D functionality of the first two games.
|The Good||The Pushmo formula is strong as ever…|
|The Bad||…but the Wii U hardware just isn’t as good a fit as the 3DS was.|
|The Ugly||Papa Blox built a theme park where every single attraction has imprisoned a child by accident. Is the world of Pushmo some kind of unregulated Randian hellscape?|
|Pushmo World is a Wii U exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.|