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Published December 16, 2011

You probably wouldn’t expect it out of a 3DS eShop game, but Pushmo is one of the most satisfying and thrilling handheld games I’ve played this year. At times, it’s the puzzle game equivalent of scaling Everest, or this genre’s take on the epic boss fights of Shadow of the Colossus. The simple presentation and mechanics belie Pushmo‘s uncompromising difficulty and a fantastic level editor that has already spawned hundreds of intricate user-created levels. The game begins with your avatar pulling out basic staircases to reach the top of a small wall; by puzzle 100 or so, you’re moving entire towers and leaping along narrow ledges high above the ground.

As the title implies, pushing walls in is a major element of Pushmo, but just as important is pulling them out. Each levels starts off with a flat surface, and the challenge lies in figuring out which colored segments to move in what order, keeping in mind that there are three different planes along which you can move. Early on, this push/pull technique is used to make basic stepping stones leading to the goal (and a random living puffball in need of your aid). It’s fun, but you’ve seen similar block puzzles in games like Catherine and Cuboid, among many others. However, as the puzzles get taller and wider, the stakes become much greater as well. A handy rewind feature ensures that Pushmo is never too frustrating, but you’ll need to be patient and methodical when climbing up a multi-screen Christmas tree.

Though developer Intelligent Systems definitely had a “right way” in mind when creating this game’s puzzles, I was happy that the more expansive levels feature multiple paths to victory. Pushmo is not so rigid that you can’t experiment with different solutions, and because you’re hopping from platform to platform as you would in a standard platformer, you can sometimes finagle your way out of certain traps. That said, when the game introduces switches and manholes, the difficulty quickly spikes. Four-star challenges and beyond are brutal, but conquering them is incredibly rewarding.

Though the game would work just find on the regular ol’ DSi, Pushmo puts the 3D effect to good use by making it easier to differentiate the depth of each part of the wall. Coupled with the game’s very bold colors, it’s much more of a looker than the screenshots scattered throughout this  review suggest. The color palette’s richness greatly benefits the create-a-level portion of the game,  which gives you all of the tools you need to bring your totally appropriate creative vision to pixelated life. It’s too bad that this doesn’t support StreetPass, but overall, Pushmo continues Nintendo’s trend of pushing user-made content.

Maybe that’s how this game will build momentum. Or maybe Pushmo just needs strong word of mouth. Either way, this is the game that the eShop has been waiting for, something around which to rally 3DS owners that have dismissed the service up until now. It’s not the first Nintendo downloadable game worth owning or even necessarily the best, but it’s an absolute crowd-pleaser and one that I hope is destined for  moderate success.

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