Mallo is one sneaky little freak of a Nintendo mascot. Just look at him: the bemused cartoon cat smile, his spongy red velvet cake body, that adorable sumo wrestler thong, the way he flaps his arms as he jumps around towers of colored blocks. He's almost more unassuming, approachable and sweet than Kirby, the original Nintendo puffball.
While Kirby's presence portends softly challenging platformers, though, Mallo is a harbinger of madness. The spatial challenges in his Pushmo puzzle games always start simple before transforming into flummoxing logic knots. Even the simplest Pushmo can baffle, but that ultimately makes them even more gratifying to conquer, especially when they're as beautiful and bountiful as they are in Pushmo World on Wii U.
It's been two years since the last entry in Intelligent Systems' series, and its first to move onto Nintendo's home console. Crashmo, the last Nintendo 3DS Mallo vehicle, made the game more explicitly Jenga-like by introducing falling blocks to its puzzle solving. Pushmo World returns to the simpler, but ultimately more appealing, block pulling, pushing, and climbing of the 2011 3DS original. Broken into 250 puzzles in the main game, Mallo has one goal in each stage: reach the top of a Pushmo tower to save the little tyke accidentally trapped within.
Getting to the top is the tricky part. The towers are made up of stacked cubic blocks varying in width and height, arranged at the back of a grid that's three blocks deep. Provided he has the footing to do so, either from in front or on the side, Mallo can pull these blocks up to three spaces out, creating little platforms to climb up. For example, a green block staggered under a red block under a third blue block can be pulled out one at a time at varying depths to create a staircase for Mallo, who can only jump up one block high. Easy peasy. At least until you're trying to scale a massive blocky cruise ship built out of five different colors arrayed across a grid that's still only three blocks deep but now stretches out to 34 blocks wide.
Pushmo World switches quickly from fairly simple abstract towers at the beginning to complex pixelated murals of animals, fruit, and all kinds of stuff before switching back to even more brain busting abstract towers. Unlike Pushmo on 3DS, though, World does a much better job of easing you into those tooth-grindingly confusing structures. Rather than dense menus of many puzzles, Pushmo World lets you wander around a world with little areas like Pushmo Park for the main campaign, a training area with more puzzles (which can also be brutally tricky), and the Pushmo Studio for making your own towers. In the Park and Training arenas, the puzzles are separated into circles with just ten puzzles apiece, and each one can be skipped at any time. It's a perfect set up, rolling things out steadily, acclimating you to new challenges at a good pace without pulling its punches on difficulty. Plus, you're forced to at least try a puzzle before moving onto the next one, thus never overwhelming you with multiple choices.
The Pushmo World layout goes a long way to making new spins on the puzzles less overwhelming as well. More than 20 stages will go by before you run into gadgets like ladders that can warp you to different areas of a large Pushmo or switches that fully extend/retract a single color block in the tower. These elements don't appear terribly far into the game, but moving around a map helps you feel psychologically acclimated to tackling new challenges despite the fact that the ones you've already faced can be so tough.
Pushmo World never wants for variety either. Every time it starts to feel like it's found a groove, something new opens up, like Mysterious Pushmo. Get through the first 60 puzzles in Pushmo Park and out come the Mysterious Pushmo, which work totally differently. Move a red block in these, and all red blocks move. Sudden shifts in how you're forced to think make Pushmo World difficult, but also deliciously addictive, easily turning minutes into hours.
Pushmo Studio also lets you scratch your creative itch, and the big screen HD presentation here elevates this version of the tool over that in the 3DS original. Drawing your own Pushmo on the GamePad and then getting a look at it on the big screen lets you more easily get a sense of your creation, especially if it's large. Homemade Pushmo can still be shared via QR code like in previous games, but you can also upload them online to the Pushmo World Fair, where you can download other people's Pushmo (if you're down with OPP, of course). Pushmo World Fair works as smoothly as you'd like, letting you hop on and play any number of user created brain-busters. If you really like that giant, nearly unsolvable pixel drawing of a Fire Emblem character, you can save up to 60 homemade Pushmo, whether they're your own or downloaded from the Fair. It isn't terribly organized, with the puzzles broken into "Newest" and "Most Popular," but it's easy enough to find something new to try.
Even without the creation and sharing tools here, Intelligent Systems' little series continues to tickle the brain just right. Mallo may trick you into thinking a relaxing, smooth time awaits therein, but even when the game gets rough, Pushmo World is well worth visiting.
This review is based on an eShop download Pushmo World, provided by Nintendo. Images: Nintendo.
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