In December 2011, the eShop for the Nintendo 3DS got its killer app, Pushmo. The game had a simple enough premise, but like all good puzzle titles, the simplicity showed its brilliance. Armed with 200 puzzles and the ability to create and share puzzles with others, it was the perfect title to complement the big hits like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. Almost a year later, the developer Intelligent Systems is back for a second round with the series in the form of Crashmo, another must-have title for the portable console.
The premise for Crashmo is similar to the previous title. When we last saw the hero Mallo, he was rescuing kids who had gotten stuck at the top of and inside a playground apparatus known as the Pushmo. This time around, the hero is enthralled by a girl named Poppy, who happens to be the grandniece of Papa Blox, the creator of the original Pushmo Park. Upon trying to impress her with his strength, Mallo accidentally scares off the birds that comprised Poppy's bird balloon. Feeling responsible for the accident, Mallo makes it his mission to search the newly christened Crashmo Park for the birds so Poppy can make it back home.
The core of Crashmo is similar to its predecessor. Each level consists of blocks that can be pushed or pulled toward or away from the camera to create a stairwell, which comes in handy for climbing the structures since Mallo can only jump up one block. Blocks can only be moved one space at a time, and the blocks can only move along the given space. If the space is three blocks deep, for example, then that's how far a block can be pulled before it can go no further, forcing you to plan your moves carefully if you want to create the perfect path to reach the birds.
For those who think that the sequel is merely more of the same puzzles with a different objective, think again. There are plenty of changes to the formula. Unlike the first game, this title allows for sliding in all directions except diagonally. Instead of only worrying about depth, positioning now comes into play when trying to solve each puzzle because stairways may exist in one angle but not another. The freedom in block dragging also means that gravity plays a big part in puzzle solutions, since blocks without support will fall until they land on another block or on solid ground. Finally, friction also plays a big part in puzzle-solving, as it doesn't exist in this world. A block that is on top of another manipulated block won't move unless it's getting pushed or pulled against its will.
Like the first game, power-ups also play a part in solving puzzles. Manholes return from the first game and give you the ability to warp from the top or bottom of one block to another, provided that the hatch to each manhole is open. Doors, a new tool this time around, act in a similar manner but are placed on the sides of blocks instead. The other new mechanic is the cloud block, which acts just like any other block except that it floats in the air and can suspend other normal blocks. The only power-up that doesn't isn't helpful is the pull-out switch, which automatically moves forward all of the blocks of one color. While some crafty puzzle-solvers can use this to their advantage, it is more likely to hinder your progress instead.
Together, all of these new additions to the formula create some fiendish puzzles. The ability to move a piece in more than two directions, along with the extra space for your movements, gives you plenty of room to make mistakes and find multiple solutions. That alone gave the designers some free reign in making lots of puzzles that seem to have really apparent solutions but become much more complicated once you make a move. This is something you'd expect when you get to the second half of the story's 100 levels, but you'll be surprised to see some brain-teasing stuff in the initial 20 levels. From there, you can't trust the rating system applied to each puzzle because some two-star puzzles seem much more difficult than the three-star puzzle that immediately follows. That doesn't make the puzzles less enjoyable, as the satisfaction is amplified greatly, but you can expect more frustration to creep in earlier.
All of this sounds like Crashmo is much more difficult, possibly to the point of alienating Pushmo fans. However, there are a few things that make it inviting to more casual fans. For starters, the game has a rewind system that lets you take back moves at the touch of a button. Make any mistake, even one that renders the puzzle unsolvable, and all you need is to hold down the L button until the mistake is gone. Thanks to a near-limitless time bar, you can use the mechanic as many times as you want, though there is a full reset button in case you want to start over completely. Should you find a puzzle to be too complicated, you can skip it in favor of going back later to solve it, essentially giving you no roadblocks. Most importantly, the game doesn't tempt you with reaching difficult goals or penalize you for using everything at your disposal to solve a puzzle. You don't have to worry about how quickly you solve a puzzle or getting a bad letter grade for taking too long or taking more steps to complete the puzzle. Difficulty of each puzzle notwithstanding, this is one of the more inviting and relaxing puzzle experiences.
One of the big hooks from the first title was the ability to create and share puzzles with others online, and that feature returns in Crashmo with a few improvements. From the creation side, the process is relatively unchanged. You're given a grid with a basic pencil tool, painting tool, and the ability to erase any mistakes. Puzzles can consist of up to 10 colors, but the size of the piece doesn't have much of a limit. You can add gadgets like doors and manholes if you want, but only if you encounter them in the game first, and you can test the puzzles to see if they can be solved. Distribution is also pretty similar to before, as you can pass around puzzles via QR codes locally or online, giving your creations the widest possible audience. Getting new puzzles is where the system shows off improvements. You now have 100 slots for these custom puzzles, up from the 90 in Pushmo. Furthermore, you can grab puzzles of all types at any time once the Crashmo Studio opens up. Even if they have elements you haven't encountered before, motivate people to grab them even if they haven't gotten far in the game.
Graphically, the game looks exactly like its predecessor did. The bright colors are out in full force, though they're slightly muted this time since there aren't any defining borders, with the exception of the blocks. The frame rates are solid, and the few particle effects are done well. With Nintendo's recent reduced emphasis on 3-D, it is good to know that the title is enhanced significantly when it gets activated. There's a better sense of depth while it is on, and even though you don't get any real advantages using it compared to the standard 2-D mode, the game does look prettier with the extra dimension.
The general description used for the game's graphics can also be applied to the sound category. The typical bouncy soundtrack boasts an upbeat vibe that permeates every screen and situation. The effects are equally as bouncy, and the voices, while relegated to bird calls and Papa Blox's laugh, are equally adorable. They have no real effect on gameplay, so playing the game in silence is no different than playing at full volume, but the sound is welcoming when you hear it.
Crashmo, like Pushmo before it, is a near-perfect title for the 3DS. The new mechanics feel like a natural evolution for the series and provide some depth to even the simplest of levels. Though some of the puzzles are almost impossible to solve at first, each resolution amplifies your satisfaction even more. The creation system, while providing more creative freedom, is also more inviting for players of all skill types, not just those who've gone a long way into the solo game. With a nice presentation to back it all up, Crashmo ends up being another very solid reason to check out the Nintendo eShop if you haven't done so already.
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