Pushmo World Wii U Review: Puzzles for the Spatially-Challenged

Pushmo World Wii U Review: Puzzles for the Spatially-Challenged

You don't have to be a master of geometry to get the most out of Intelligent Systems' latest block-pushing puzzler — but it may end up turning you into one.

In my pre-college days, I considered myself a real whiz at standardized tests — and yes, I now realize that's possibly the most boring skill a person can have. While I effortlessly leapt over the low bars set for reading, writing, science, and math, the sections on spatial recognition — which usually involved manipulating an "unfolded" 2D object into three dimensions using only your mind — turned me into a sweaty, frustrated wreck who chewed countless No. 2 pencils to the bone.

This really shouldn't have come as a shock to me, though, since I'd spent years prior witnessing these shortcomings via my utter failure at certain kinds of video games. I can last about five stages into any of the Adventures of Lolo, and whenever Professor Layton dredges up one of those infernal sliding tile puzzles from whatever Hell they come from, I can only be outraged by the injustice of it all. My brain just doesn't work that way, despite how many times I've tried to whip it into shape.

My last attempt at coming to terms with block pushing was the 3DS' Crashmo, but again, I hit a wall after just a few dozen puzzles. And this is where Pushmo World comes in: Maybe I'm on a constant search for self-improvement, or just a glutton for punishment, but I signed up for this review with the sole intention of breaking my bad streak of luck with block-pushing. And I immediately found Pushmo World much more approachable than Crashmo, in that it limited the player's actions, but not necessarily the puzzles' complexity. When your character only has so many options at their disposal, it's much, much easier to narrow down the next step you have to take.

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to any of you who played the original Pushmo, released for the 3DS eShop in late 2011. (For the record, World is my first experience with anything Pushmo-related.) Pushmo World shares the same rules as its predecessor, and, as with any good puzzle game, the challenges are deceptively simple. Your chunky protagonist Mallo is tasked with rescuing one of his fellow whatevers from atop a stack of blocks, which can be pulled from the background in individual segments, according to their respective colors. And that's really all there is to Pushmo; Mallo can jump one block vertically and horizontally, but for the most part your time is spent figuring out how the geometry on the bottom can support your ascent to the top.

While Pushmo World eventually expands on the sheer size of the monstrosities you're asked to climb, the game adds a few wrinkles that serve to complicate but not overcomplicate its central challenge. As you clear the more basic puzzles, Pushmo World drops in switches that fully extend all blocks of a certain color, as well as manholes that act the same way as the portals from Portal. So while the early stages simply ask you to climb, as you encounter some of Pushmo World's more complex features, you'll also have to figure out how to safely retrace your steps, and when to expose and use those special blocks.

The action in Pushmo is hard to articulate through text, and thankfully the game understands this and provides a training area that serves to teach the player valuable techniques without a single line of dialogue — though the tutorial-happy Papa Blox tends to drone on about new types of puzzles when you encounter them in the main mode. None of these techniques are named, mind you, but they're all easy enough to internalize, and do an excellent job of showing off the full application of Mallo's abilities. And, keeping with the 'Mo series' tradition, you can easily rewind to undo a boneheaded move, or reset the puzzle altogether by jumping on an omnipresent switch. Pushmo World understands that it operates on trial and error, and gives you plenty of tools to make testing hypotheses frustration-free.

Included in Pushmo World is the robust "Pushmo Studio," which allows you to craft your own puzzles as devious and complicated as anything you'll find in the game, and share these creations through QR codes. Honestly, the game offers more than enough puzzles to keep you busy, but I'm sure devoted Nintendo fans will be cranking out some amazing creations in the near future. And even if I never dip into this fan content, I'm sure Pushmo World will keep me busy for weeks to come — I've only bested 70 of its puzzles so far, and conquering old levels I skipped in the past has made for some incredibly gratifying moments. Even if this sort of short-burst action feels more at home on a portable system, there's no denying Pushmo World is one of the best games you can download for the Wii U — and we all know that console is in desperate need of your downloads.

Visuals
They're cute, colorful, and communicate the elements of the puzzles well, which is all they really need to do.

Sound
The music is catchy and charming, but there really isn't enough of it — and from my own research, a lot of it seems borrowed from the 3DS Pushmo. Be prepared to listen to some podcasts or catch up on your TV backlog via off-screen play.

Interface
Mallo is a little too floaty for his own good, which can make judging jumps a little more difficult than it needs to be. That rewind button is there for a reason, I guess.

Lasting appeal
Pushmo World contains more than enough puzzles, and because it lets you skip ones you're stumped on, it's always easy to dust yourself off for the next challenge.

The 'Mo series has been one of Nintendo's best new properties in recent years, so it's great to see it take a leap to the Wii U. And even if you don't consider yourself a master of puzzles, the game does an excellent job of slowly breaking you into its increasing complexity. If you're willing to toss some money in Nintendo's direction, Pushmo World offers enough cerebral challenges to keep you busy throughout the summer — or whenever you need some time away from Mario Kart 8.

4.5/5

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