I’m sure that you have had the experience of anticipating a sequel to a game that, on paper, looks like it will completely change the formula in major ways, only to get your hands on the final product and realize that it is, essentially, the same ol’ game with a new coat of paint. Crashmo (developed by Nintendo’s own Intelligent Systems) is the exact opposite of this. Crashmo’s changes to the formula established by its predecessor Pushmo sound modest enough in theory, and visually it looks very similar to Pushmo as well, so you could not be blamed for thinking that it is a fairly straightforward sequel. The reality, however, is that those seemingly minor changes lead to a fundamentally different puzzle game which requires you to throw out much of what Pushmo taught you and approach things from a completely new viewpoint.
Up to the top, over and over again. Such is life.
Pushmo released in late 2011 and quickly became one of the most critically praised and fan-beloved games on the 3DS eShop. The basic concept of that game was to push and pull blocks to work your way up to a child who needed rescuing, but the sheer amount of content, depth, fan service and extras propelled it from a merely “great” puzzle game into a truly standout experience. In this respect Crashmo is very similar, and between the 200+ puzzles contained in the game, free DLC from Nintendo through SpotPass, and the return of the “studio” mode that lets you create and share your own puzzles and download those that others have created (via QR codes), you won’t run out of things to do very soon in Crashmo.
If you have played Pushmo, you should know not to expect much of a story in Crashmo. In that game you rescued kids; in this game you rescue birds. Papa Blox is back, as well as his niece Poppy (owner of the birds) and his apprentice Corin. You will forget their names soon enough. It’s mostly background noise to the main draw of Crashmo, which is, of course, the puzzles.
I mentioned some changes to the Pushmo formula above. The most notable of these changes is that gravity is now a real thing (albeit with its own rules) and blocks require support underneath them or they will come crashing down; hence the name, Crashmo. In addition to the gravity, blocks can now be pushed and pulled sideways as well as forward and back, and there is no longer a 3 level limit to how far blocks can be moved; if you have the space and a free path, you can move any block anywhere that you want to. This creates a truly 3D environment to manipulate, and the new camera system works accordingly, allowing you to shift your view to different angles and zoom in and out as needed. Many of the “gimmicks” of Pushmo such as manholes and move switches have also returned, and there are a few new gimmicks as well, including warp doors and cloud blocks that float without support.
Doors are the new manholes. Except that there are also manholes.
A lot of these changes may sound like standard sequel fare, but once you start playing the game, you quickly learn how fundamentally different your approach to the puzzles must be than it was in Pushmo. Pushmo was often very much about positioning yourself; determining where you needed to get to next and working your way to that spot. Crashmo, on the other hand, is less about where you are at any given moment, and more about where you can get the blocks to be, which requires a completely different outlook and strategies. This does, however, affect the puzzle design in some ways that I experienced as negative. Whereas in Pushmo the game progressed to the point where you were eventually scaling some pretty large objects, the puzzles in Crashmo tend to be more compact in size, so that sense of scale is never really there to the same degree. Crashmo also tends to eschew the more aesthetically interesting sprite-based puzzle designs that Pushmo contained in larger numbers such as snowmen, dinosaurs, and Nintendo characters for more abstract designs, although it does contain some of the former as well, mostly later in the game. And of course, if you really need your sprite fix, you can always find some user-created puzzles to download online, as the fans have taken on everything from Mario to Earthbound to Fire Emblem and more. I even saw a Wii U GamePad puzzle in there.
All of this is tied up neatly with a simple control scheme. You move, you jump, and you pull. And like Pushmo, when you screw up, you can hold a button to reverse time, which is a pretty necessary feature considering how often it takes some trial and error to figure out what your next step should be.
And the old is made new again. Thus spoke Papa Blox.
Crashmo can be a bit more difficult than Pushmo, and it gets hard pretty fast, with several of the early puzzles leading to head scratching, although once you get used to the new mechanics and the new perspective required, the difficulty tapers off a bit. At least, until some of the later puzzles where things get tough again, including some insanely hard challenge puzzles. I don’t know of anyone who actually finished every puzzle in Pushmo without cheating (I still have four left), and I’m sure that this will hold true for Crashmo as well. Furthermore, when you were stuck on a puzzle in Pushmo you could at least generally get a sense of where you were supposed to be next, even if you didn’t know how to get there, but as Crashmo is more about block placement and you can move blocks all over the place, it’s a bit tougher to determine what exactly your next step should be at times. The game is pretty generous in letting you skip puzzles when you get stuck on them though, and you can also hop back and forth between the various modes, so you should never remain stuck for very long.
Graphically Crashmo is a very clean and pleasant game, although for the most part it is just a few characters, some blocks, and a background that you are looking at, so there isn’t much of anything fancy going on. Still, it looks nice and the 3D effect is not only aesthetically well done, but actually enhances the playability, as determining depth can be very important at times when navigating the puzzles. The soundtrack is also well made and catchy, although it has a limited amount of tracks and can get repetitive fast, especially when you are stuck on a puzzle and listening to the same loop over and over.
In the end, Crashmo is a great game that does not quite live up to the lofty heights of Pushmo. Generally, in a sequel, this would lead me to be a bit more disappointed. However, by utilizing seemingly minor elements that fundamentally change the formula that Pushmo established, Crashmo comes off feeling like a truly unique piece of software that can be admired on its own terms. If you haven’t played Pushmo yet I would highly recommend that you play that game first; it’s not just the superior game in my eyes, but one of the best puzzle games that I have ever played, period. If you have played Pushmo and are hungry for more though, I can definitely recommend Crashmo as a game that will hit the spot. It might not be quite as good as Pushmo, but it forges its own path, and it is one worth traveling.
Congratulations! You saved a bird with a wicked haircut!
@Guillaume Well, that wasn't my goal, but if people read this review and come to that conclusion I'd say they have some slight reading comprehension issues. I think I do a pretty good job (exceptional, really, next to some reviews I've read of the game) in clarifying that it's really a different beast. I just honestly feel like someone who hasn't played either yet should go with Pushmo first. I maybe could have explicitly stated that someone who didn't care much for Pushmo might still like this game, but it seemed kind of obvious to me that this could be the case, considering how obvious I made it that they are different games.