Dematerialisation, some may find, is a good thing for certain types of games. Indeed, the times when a company could ask the same price for a simple puzzle game and a big AAA RPG heavy on cut-scenes, story and music, are decidedly long gone. This is all the more true nowadays on consoles, with the heavy competition from Smartphones and tablets, with their dedicated app-stores offering loads of simplistic games, often available for just a few pennies, when they are not downloadable for free altogether. Puzzle games are, undeniably, best suited to download platforms these days, so seeing a brand new one coming to the Nintendo 3DS eShop was hardly a surprise. Intelligent Systems is best known for working on strategy series Famicom Wars, the Paper Mario line of RPGs, and the Fire Emblem Tactical RPGs, and yet it has touched upon quite a few puzzle games over the years. Pullblox, or Pushmo as it is known to North American readers, just happens to be the latest of those, at time of writing, and Cubed3 shall tell all about what is needed to know about it.
The basic premise of Pullblox is simple enough. Mallo, the red main character, goes to Pullblox Park, where kids of his kind play on big puzzles called Pullblox. Kids can climb on those by pulling and pushing the blocks they are made of. However, Pullblox Park is a dangerous place, and children get stuck inside those puzzles, ending up being flattened inside of them. Therefore, the kind elderly creator of these Pullblox asks Mallo to use his wits to solve all the puzzles by freeing the children stuck in each one of them, which will be easier said than done.
A Pullbox, before any action was performed on it, can be compared to a flat image composed of different shaped and coloured blocks, which Mallo can subsequently pull towards the foreground, and push back towards the background, with the camera facing the scene. The goal is to pull them to turn these blocks into platforms on which Mallo can then hop to climb up the Pullblox, reaching that place up high where the child was stuck. Basically, there is one block inside the Pullblox, marked with a child icon that represents the goal of each of those puzzles that has to be reached.
In order to free a child from the Pullblox, Mallo must reach that specific spot, and make sure that the specific block is pulled forward, revealing the trapped person in question, and Mallo must grab it to complete the stage. The basic concept seems easy enough from the outset, but the more the player goes on in the game, the harder it is to solve these puzzles. Soon enough, Pullbloxes involve opening inside the blocks revealing ladders that can take players to a different part of the Pullblox, provided that both ends of the passage are opened, which means that both ends must be visible on top of a pulled block. And if that wasn't enough, later still switches make their appearance, which allow for the pulling of all the blocks in the Pullblox that bear the same colour as said switch. By then things have started to become quite brain teasing, and that is the core of the Pullblox experience.
In terms of gameplay, blocks may be pulled by three increments at the maximum, and pushed back into position as many times as the player sees fit. This can be done by grabbing them either by the front or from the sides, with the B button. Mallo jumps at a press of the A button. A 2D map is displayed at all times on the bottom screen and can be zoomed in by pressing the X button, which is very handy for figuring out a way on very large Pullbloxes.
Alternatively the action can be frozen and zoomed into directly on the 3D screen and the camera can be moved around with the Circle Pad. Options for thoroughly planning the path ahead certainly aren't lacking. Last, but not least, players can also rewind all of the action that took place in the last 20 or so seconds. This allows for recovery from some unfortunate falls or mistakes without having to step on the reinitialising button at the bottom of the Pullbox, which resets the puzzles to its initial state so as to start from scratch.
The gameplay, though quite simple to grasp, allows for an excellent grip on things, leaving all the necessary room for the intellect to work out the solution to the puzzle, which is absolutely excellent. The tutorial levels spread along the road are also excellently presented, making the learning process of the few ins and outs of Pullblox even more simple. The game holds about 200 puzzles to solve, and the difficulty increases slowly until the end of the game, further ensuring that players progressively learn every possible tip and trick along the way. By the end of the game, it has become very challenging, with some puzzles lasting dozens of minutes. Thankfully, it is possible to skip the current Pullblox after spending quite a while on it.
Another prominent aspect of the game is the Pullblox Studio, where the player can create personalised puzzles. At first, few options are accessible, but as progress is made through Pullblox Park, more options become available, allowing for the making of puzzles as intricate and complicated as those found in the main game, if not even more so. Once a puzzle is created, if the player is capable of clearing its own brainchild, it is then flagged as good to be shared via a QR code. Indeed, it's impossible to export a Pullblox to a QR code unless it has been cleared at least once, ensuring that creations shared online are always possible to beat. It's just a shame that these can't be uploaded to a dedicated online sharing system though, requiring that the player instead to remove the SD card from the handheld and use it with a PC to get them hosted online, on a website of choice. As players will soon find out, most Pullbloxes found online are almost pixel perfect recreations of 8- and 16-bit video game characters, which is highly enticing for fans of old-school games since some can be quite visually stunning.
Speaking of visuals, the whole of Pullblox isn't especially detailed, but this is actually for the better, because too much detail would probably make the whole puzzle harder to read...and solve. That's not to say that the whole thing lacks charm, though.
Simply perfect and clever at all times. If the player can't get something to work, then he or she is just trying to pull off something impossible.
Purposely simplistic, but efficient at all times. The little characters are cute enough and everything moves smoothly. User-created puzzles heavy on small blocks can sometimes cause some slowdown, though.
No ground-breaking compositions or sound effects to be heard here, but music and sounds that always fit the situation without sounding too repetitive or annoying.
The puzzles already on offer should last the most dedicated gamers quite a long while already, but other players' creations make the longevity of Pullblox almost infinite.
If anything, Pullblox proves once again that the most basic of concepts can spark hundreds of ideas for brain teasing levels. A character, with just a couple basic actions, jumping and pushing and pulling blocks, opens a world of possibilities for thousands of possible puzzles, of which the basic package contains nearly 200, with the rest being left for the player to create through the Pullblox Studio, and shared online via QR codes. An online sharing system directly accessible from within the game would have been a better alternative, but the result works quite well nonetheless. An addictive concept if there ever was, right up there with Tetris, Pullblox is perfectly suited to quick fixes of video gaming on the go, and a perfect fit for an eShop release at the asking price. Fans of puzzle games should not pass up this opportunity to get their fix of it, especially the more creative of them who won't resist the appeal of the Pullblox Studio, allowing them to create their own headaches.
If this happens I'll be really pissed off XD. Can't see how they could update it though... any additional levels they would add in a re-release, nothing would prevent gamers from recreating them in Pullblox Studio... Unless they came up with more gameplay ideas, but then Pullbloxes created in the retail version and exported to QR code couldn't be imported in the eShop version, etc... Can't see that working too well, that'd be too confusing IMHO.
I've totalled 18 hours on this game, so far. It's my 7th most played 3DS game, even surpassing Super Mario 3D Land! And I still haven't beaten all the bundled puzzles!
For a cheap game like that, it certainly doesn't lack substance, and the fact that some of the puzzles are old 8-bit sprites from classic NES games, keeps you playing to see whether the next one is going to be from one of your favourite NES titles.
( Edited 03.09.2012 22:38 by RudyC3 )