Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Intelligent Systems / Played on: Nintendo 3DS / Price: $8.99 / ESRB: Everyone
I loved Pushmo, the 3DS-exclusive puzzler that this title, Crashmo, follows up. Pushmo had a very simple mechanic—altering the depth of a flat puzzle to create a path from the bottom to the top—and used it to its fullest advantage to create maddeningly deep puzzles and an immensely satisfying gaming experience. While the sequel is pretty great and flexes many of those same innovative muscles, I didn’t feel quite as warm towards Crashmo as I would’ve liked.
Last time around, the little sumo-wrestler protagonist gamers steer to solve puzzles, Mallo, was climbing Pushmo-puzzles to save little kids who’d gotten stuck at the top. This time around, he’s climbing Crashmo-puzzles to retrieve birds so a young lady who’s visited the village can fly home in her basket. So, what I mean to say is that there really isn’t any story, but as far as conceits to climb weird geometric puzzles go, this one isn’t bad. And at least the game’s creators didn’t simply stick a bunch of little kids in drawers at the top of the puzzles again.
Gameplay & Controls
Like Pushmo, Crashmo features vertical puzzles that need to be climbed through by pushing and pulling. Unlike Pushmo, however, this game allows you to manipulate the whole puzzle in three dimensions. Each course seems deceptively simple, but can often lead to many minutes (or maybe hours) of trial-and-error until you have a breakthrough and get to the top. Controlling the action is copied straight from the last game: A jumps, B grabs a hold of puzzle pieces, and L rewinds time, letting you undo recent mistakes easily.
Often times understanding the deceptive role of depth is the key to mastering a puzzle whose solution remains elusive. Having trouble figuring out how to climb those steps? Why not shift a part of the puzzle to the side and make a little platform? The game’s solutions are rarely quite as simple as that, but rearranging my thought process to think more three-dimensionally often helped me along.
Another change from the previous game’s formula is the role of gravity. When you pull one section out from another, the top portion will fall if it’s completely unsupported. That means that a big, top-heavy puzzle piece might rest on a single block underneath it, therefore you’ll have to do some mental gymnastics to accept that its weight isn’t what will make it fall, but rather its placement. The mechanic is simple, but in many ways much more complex than the one in Pushmo. Here, the effect of gravity and the positions you can and can’t shift blocks from is tough to sort out, whereas in the previous game the rules seemed fairly cut and dried.
Some gadgets from the old game have come back, along with some new ones: manholes and doors transport you to and from different sections of the puzzles, while movement switches have evolved from simply opening up blocks to actually moving whole sections of the board. Cloud blocks add a new wrinkle, in that they’re immune to the effects of gravity and might help or hinder your journey to the top depending on where they’re placed or want them to be placed.
As to whether or not these are improvements, I’m honestly not sure; I think it really depends on what you like. Crashmo is much more open, more free-seeming than Pushmo, and it seemed to me as though that freedom made solutions much harder—and less satisfying—to find. But I also understand that’s largely a matter of preference.
You may enjoy the opened, three-dimensional puzzle solving. I did, but it’s tough not to make the comparison to the game that came before it. I felt as though the simplicity of Pushmo made the challenge of finding solutions to its maddening puzzles elegant and engaging. Crashmo is no less challenging and intriguing, but to me it seemed as though all the new gadgets and the gravity mechanics were a case of “gilding the lily.” The game just seemed a little too complicated, too busy, for its own good.But even with these complaints, Crashmo is an absolutely solid, challenging puzzle game. It remains one of the more unique and interesting offerings on the 3DS eShop.
Visuals & Sound
Crashmo’s visuals is cribbed from Pushmo, featuring bright colors, cartoony characters, and blocky puzzles designed for ease of play. The new three-dimensional playing field is accompanied with a rotating and zooming camera, controlled via the D-pad. Once again, the 3D visuals (in which objects appear at different relative depths) aid the three-dimensional gameplay. This is one of the few titles on the 3DS that is definitely much better with the 3D slider on, since getting a good handle on the depth of different portions of the game world is crucial to success. That said, it’s not much of a leap forward in any other respect. In fact, the puzzles have the same look to them, as the environments and backgrounds never seemed different puzzle to puzzle. That’s not a huge deal, but it would’ve been nice to have some variety.
There are a whole slew of new songs here though, even if they all do tend to get lodged in your brain after they’ve repeated so often. They’re catchy, toe-tapping songs that’ll make you keep going, even long after you want to call it quits. The sound effects are fun as well, with satisfying “clicks” or “thunks” for when switches activate or blocks fall.
Crashmo is a really good game, but I didn’t like it quite as much as Pushmo. I’m not sure if the reason for that lies within me, or the game itself, but I felt far less compelled to go back to each puzzle this time around. The freedom to move more pieces at 360-degrees seemed like too much. Instead of feeling like there was a solution just around the corner, it felt more daunting at the prospect of the huge field of play, and all the options at hand. But Crashmo is still a hell of a puzzle game, and if you’re more inspired than intimidated by a challenge, I can see no reason why you shouldn’t snap this game up now.