Crashmo review: Push some mo'

You might be wondering just what a "crashmo" is. The word is meaningless. It's not even a word. It's just an awkward collection of letters that means nothing to the average person. It might look familiar if you've played last year's 3DS puzzler Pushmo, though, and the similarity isn't a coincidence. This here is a full-blown sequel.

If you didn't play Pushmo, go do so. Now that you have, know that Crashmo isn't just a booster pack of additional puzzles. Crashmo expands on Pushmo's block-pushing dynamic, resulting in a better and more complicated game.

Crashmo is about building stairs. It's a series of single-screen puzzles in which you push, pull and slide blocks of various shapes and sizes around a three-dimensional 9 by 19 square grid, rearranging them into stairs that you can jump up to reach the puzzle's exit. Except the exit isn't an actual exit, but one of the 140 birds that powered the flying balloon that your kindly old neighbor's grand-niece arrives in at the beginning of the game.

If you couldn't tell, this game was made in Japan.

Your character looks like a cross between a manatee, a Teletubby and a sumo wrestler. Apparently he is a cat, and his name is Mallo. You control him as he moves blocks to and fro. Your freedom is limited, although not as much as it is in Pushmo. You can't flip, rotate, pivot or raise the blocks in any way. You can only move them forward or backward across the Y and X axes, never travelling up or down the Z, and always oriented in the same direction. Mallo can only jump the height of one square, and horizontally can only cover two squares with a single jump, so your solutions will sometimes resemble staircases with gaps between each step, like at the end of higher-difficulty Super Mario levels. Push, pull, slide, jump jump jump, grab a bird, repeat.

The first big difference from Pushmo is immediately apparent. In Pushmo you can only push or pull blocks three steps. In Crashmo you scoot them around a much larger grid, grabbing hold from any of the block's four sides and moving it as you see fit, even sliding it from side to side.

The second major change is hinted at by the game's name. If you move a block out from underneath another block, that second block will crash to the ground. You have to balance the different heights, sometimes using a third block to push two blocks that are stacked on top of one another to keep everything at the right level. You have to stay constantly vigilant every time you move a block – if the wrong block falls to a lower level, the puzzle might become unsolvable. Don't worry, though, as you can still rewind by holding down the left shoulder button, or jump on the reset button to send every block back to its starting position.

Crashmo constantly tweaks itself, introducing new mechanics that initially appear to address recurring annoyances from previous puzzles before quickly creating several more complications. The cloud-bedecked floating blocks don't drop if you pull a block out from under them. Their altitude doesn't change. You can basically hang other blocks on them, keeping those blocks in position as you remove the support blocks beneath them. Some blocks have arrows on them, and slide in the direction of that arrow whenever you step on them. Doors move you across the grid just as ladders move you up or down.

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Crashmo is divided up into 140 different puzzles. The first twenty are a tutorial, and once you're done the game immediately stops giving any quarter. Even the earliest puzzles can be extremely hard to figure out. You'll find yourself staring at the screen without making any moves for minutes at a time, mentally going through the repercussions of every step you might consider. Thankfully the camera is easy to maneuver with the directional pad, giving you a clear view of the puzzle from multiple angles.

Some puzzles are very frustrating, though these can be skipped without punishment and returned at any point. That frustration is valuable, though, and only enhances the cathartic satisfaction you feel once you finally think up the solution.

If you'd rather create than solve, you can easily whip up your own puzzles in the Crashmo Studio. It's as simple as drawing your design across a four-quadrant grid. You use colors both to draw an image and to differentiate between the blocks that will appear in your puzzle. Once you encounter floating blocks, doors and the rest in the game, you can use those in your creations. And when you're done with a puzzle, you can save it, turn it into a QR code, and share it with friends. Crashmo Studio adds tremendous value to the overall package, essentially allowing you and your friends to extend Crashmo indefinitely.

Crashmo proves once again that the ideal handheld games are puzzlers. The portability of a 3DS enhances Crashmo's segmentary nature, letting you pop in to tackle an individual puzzle whenever you have a few minutes to kill. With its simple mechanics and unforgiving difficulty, Crashmo is the new standard bearer for Nintendo's legacy of excellent handheld puzzle games.

This review is based on an eShop download of Crashmo for 3DS, provided by Nintendo.

Garrett Martin grabbed a bird once. It was weird. He edits Paste Magazine's videogame section and reviews games for the Boston Herald and other outlets. You can hear his blather at Twitter (@GRMartin) or at a variety of Atlanta-area bars.

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