Is there anything Intelligent Systems can’t do? The creators of Fire Emblem and the Paper Mario games apparently not satisfied with their status as Nintendo’s most reliable and talented creator of RPGs have taken it upon themselves to provide the 3DS eShop with the killer app it needed. Since its release late last year Pullblox (aka Pushmo) has won the universal praise of critics and players and propelled itself to the top of the online store’s ‘most downloaded’ list.
Pullblox is a puzzle game that seems simple on first glance but hides ingenious complexity and is devilishly challenging. You play as tubby little sumo hero Mallo who must rescue children trapped inside Pullblox. These are murals made up of different coloured blocky shapes that can be pulled out to create platforms for Mallo to stand on. Each block can be pulled out to three different depths and must be manipulated strategically to give you room to move higher blocks pulling either from the front or the side. It’s a simple concept and you’ll breeze through the straightforward early stages but before long the level design gets devious giving your brain a very thorough workout.
It’s all about spatial awareness, planning ahead and being able to visualise in three dimensions and it’s seriously stimulating stuff. The 3D nature of the puzzles gives the stereoscopic 3D some clear relevance and keeping it on helps you tell how far you’ve pulled blocks out although smart use of colours make it quite possible to see this if you prefer to have it off. You will find as you play that different levels require different approaches to success, and the designers find plenty of mileage and variety from the basic concept with ingenious level design.
Once you’ve cleared a few dozen challenges a couple of new ideas are introduced to shake things up, including manholes which transport you from one part of the level to another as well as coloured buttons that propel every block in the puzzle out to maximum when pressed. This brings another layer of strategy and complexity to the game just as the idea is starting to get samey and gives the designers license to create more and more elaborate challenges.
It’s tremendously accessible with crucially thoughtful controls. Mallo waddles along at a steady gait and jumps with important precision. If you move close to the edge of a block Mallo will teeter on the edge to give you a chance to move away, only falling if you want him to. Make an irreversible mistake or take a fall and you can rewind time and undo as much as you want. The gameplay has been designed for maximum convenience and it makes it easier to concentrate all your efforts on working out how to crack the puzzle.
The amount of content on offer goes above and beyond the call of duty for a budget title. There are well over two hundred levels, I’ve spent eighteen hours chipping away at them and still have about forty to go and that’s without having even tried the level creator feature which will extend the life even further through the medium of shared user created content.
It’s a triumph of a game and comes about as highly recommended as budget titles ever do but for all its brilliant execution Pullblox is a bit of a one-trick pony that can’t offer anything like the variety of something like Professor Layton. That said there’s joy to be found in the many Nintendo mural levels in which you manipulate retro Nintendo sprites and it’s genuinely hard to imagine how the game could be improved.
Presentation – 8
Rounded and crisp visually with a wonderful depth of content made admirably accessible.
Design – 9
Early levels belie massive complexity later on. The thought that has gone into working out the level design is clear.
Gameplay – 8
Smart and thoughtfully conceived and simple enough to get into and master quickly with tight controls.
Graphics – 7
Typically colourful, bright and appealing but lacking anything special to make the visuals shine.
Sound – 7
Many toe-tapping tunes will entertain you while your brain is at work but the game isn’t about the audio.
Difficulty – 9
Enough simple levels for casuals and younglings to enjoy but a huge wealth of absolutely daunting and brutal challenges later on.
Longevity – 8
The many many levels and high degree of challenge combine to make this a game that will absorb a huge amount of your time.
Brain-bending, intelligent and essential gaming with an unprecedented amount of content. If you own a 3DS you have no excuse not to download this delightful gem of a puzzler.