Nintendo’s plush sumo returns to push and pull more blocks for your digital bucks, this time attempting to retrieve wayward birds instead of children. After an awkward attempt to greet a visiting girl frightens her birds away, players will need to help Mallo solve the puzzles of Papa Blox’s Crashmo course in order to rescue each and fix the situation.
Papa seems to have been busy since last year, with the most immediate change being the addition of gravity – meaning that pushing one block will cause the others above it to fall, and offering Intelligent Systems a fresh chance to cram the game’s stages full of puzzles that seem rather impossible, until I chill out and realize the solution is rather simple.
That’s usually the way it goes, except for the times it doesn’t. Those are the terrible times. The dark times. The times when I throw myself on the mercy of Papa Blox for advice and he tells me to try moving some blocks, and I want to cry just a little.
Then I remember I can just skip around it and try again later.
With blocks now subject to gravity, pushing and pulling the foundation of a tower brings all supported pieces falling down, sometimes directly onto Mallo, who can then step back and allow them to hit the ground. Blocks fall in straight columns based on the stacking order, and the introductory puzzles task players with carefully building stairways to claim the bird on top of each Crashmo.
Players will often need to cause falling blocks to land on lower ones to accomplish this, which means that it’s very easy to create a situation where the puzzle cannot be solved. Crashmo again provides reset switches Mallo can step on, but also offers a rewind feature. Using the left shoulder button, players can rewind time, providing a more efficient means for taking one or two steps back without losing all their progress.
Building the various stairways necessary to reach the top often involves pushing one block into another in order to cause some piece of it to fall onto a different supporting piece. Blocks within blocks will shift and fall unless they are boxed in from the angle Mallo is pushing their supports, and it quickly becomes necessary to use some blocks to move others in order to block and prevent key pieces from falling prematurely. To accommodate this larger objective, the play area for each puzzle has increased to give Mallo more space to plug and play.
After players clear the first two stages, the game offers the ability to skip difficult puzzles and return to them later – you can jump ahead to the next stage without having rescued every bird. At this point the game also opens up a favorite feature from the original Pushmo, the ability to create your own Crashmo puzzles and share them with QR codes that can be scanned by the 3DS’ camera or read from an SD card – aside from the addictive block pushing nature of the title, this remains a key feature in ensuring longevity. At least, I still know plenty of people making Pushmo puzzles a year later, even as I continue to prove terrible at doing so myself. The Crashmo creator is several shades of friendly, but there’s definitely an art to the process, which convinces me even more this time around that Intelligent Systems has employed a futuristic AI in designing the puzzles offered here.
Eventually players will also unlock a training area, where Papa Blox provides even more puzzles to solve. As mentioned earlier, Papa has been rather busy in the workshop, particularly in creating special Crashmo blocks that add new elements to Mallo’s climbing challenge and change the goal quite a bit as players progress through the stages.
Floating blocks appear first, which will remain in the air even when no block is beneath or connected to them – marked with a cloud image to distinguish their special ability. Further stages will introduce manhole blocks, which allow Mallo to enter one and emerge from another – changing up the play to make for puzzles where players need to line up the exit point to reach the top.
Door blocks offer a similar play style, but require a foothold immediately below each door in order to open for Mallo to pass through them – both manhole and doorway blocks are linked to another block by color, allowing for more than one within a puzzle. The game even introduces blocks with move switches, which will move one space in the direction marked by the arrow whenever Mallo lands on them.
The new blocks allow for a variety in the puzzles of course, which may be an easy out versus a continuing challenge based on the central theme, but mixing and matching does quickly reveal a series of puzzles that will continue demanding quite a bit of time to solve. These special blocks also become available in the creator for your own devious purposes.
As the game progresses, players will again encounter Crashmo puzzles based on real world objects, and Papa even has some prototype Crashmo for Mallo to sample, which offer blocks that are more than one square thick.
The game features as much camera control as you could ask for, with the d-pad used to switch the angle of your view and pan in and out to get a greater perspective of each giant Crashmo encountered. Pressing the right shoulder button will offer a landscape view of each, and pressing the left while holding the right will even allow you to zoom in to further inspect each Crashmo. The 3D effect again proves a valuable means of appreciating and navigating the depth of play, particularly while making jumps with Mallo across single spaces.
What Intelligent Systems continues to do very well is allow me to often feel like I’m cheating the system as I shift blocks around – surely discovering some means for reaching the top they hadn’t intended on. Of course I am always going the way they meant me to. Perhaps I feel this way because of how often I’m convinced the puzzle is impossible, only to discover a solution a few moments later while staring endlessly at the pile of blocks in front of Mallo.
Crashmo’s special blocks change the head scratching formula, requiring more contemplation in the presence of more objectives toward the unchanging goal of reaching the top. And yet, the new challenges keep the spirit of the original game alive, and somehow the solution reveals itself and you briefly feel like the smartest person to ever have clutched a 3DS.
There’s something very special about designs that can impart that feeling, even for a moment. And Intelligent Systems wraps the package in layers of Nintendo charm, from the returning character designs to the strange sounds, and even the ability to visit the birds you have saved, for absolutely no other reason than, why wouldn’t you want to do that?
I’ve tried several times to think of what more I could expect of this title, but I can’t think of anything – Crashmo hits every conceivable angle with laser guided precision. However, some players may find the increased play space offering room for a little too much chaotic block management. But I believe the game increases its gamble without sacrificing the Zen of the original release, so long as you bring a patient attitude toward your puzzle pursuits.
What is certain is that the result is a sequel that would seem out of place anywhere other than on the 3DS eShop, serving as a defining example of the unique nature of Nintendo’s young digital marketplace and an essential reason for paying it a visit.