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15:0910/02/2012Posted by Charles Etheridge-Nunn3 Comments

It’s a nice day. You’re one of the two adults in a land of rotund, oddly-feline-looking people. Everyone’s out for a picnic in a world filled with strange patterns and murals sticking up of the ground like mystical obelisks which – all at once – ensnare the children of this strange place. It falls to you to get them out.

Damn kids.

There’s not much backstory to Pullblox (or Pushmo in America) and at it’s core lies a simple platforming puzzle game. Your mission? Go up. That’s it. The kids are trapped at the top of each structure, be it a simple pattern or a giant mural of Mario’s face. Complexity comes in a fiendishly realised mechanic – though these murals are flat, you can pull segment out – say, Mario’s chin – and jump up on it. Then you can pull his fat mouth out and get on that, then the nose, and so on. It’s incredibly simple and doesn’t sound engaging, but Pullblox is a game that gets more strange and complex as it progresses and, as you go on, you find yourself more and more on the edge of throwing your 3DS against the wall. That’s okay, put the 3DS down, get a cup of tea. Then try again.

Everything pushes and pulls. There’s a depth of three ‘blocks’ in the world, so you can only go so far without having to push blocks back in. This means you end up creating little vertical mazes as you go, getting trapped part way up and having to start again. It’s brilliant, it’s frustrating. If you’ve liked any old school platformers, this is a great way to scratch that itch and toy with your brain.

The game gradually introduces new mechanics which add to the complexity, such as ladders which allow you to go inside the puzzle and pop out the other side. With ladders paired by colour, you end up not only stuck in bizarre upwards mazes, but on and in them, teleporting from location to location. There are buttons which push all the coloured blocks of that button’s type out as far as they’ll go. That can help or hinder, and the twisted monster who designed these puzzles often puts red herrings in just to screw with you. As well as these extra gizmos, the frames the puzzles are in get bigger and bigger as you play, allowing for larger, more elaborate challenges.

There are well over 200 levels in Pullblox, going from simple tutorial levels where you pull one thing out to massive mazes which will take 20 minutes to do if you’re not thinking it through right. Like Professor Layton, a lot of the levels make you feel like an idiot for not figuring them out at first. As the game progresses, more make you elated with having outsmarted those multicoloured blocks. At having shown them who’s boss.

If the sheer quantity of levels in the game weren’t enough or weren’t challenging for you, then there’s also a level creation tool, that allows you to craft your own puzzles and upload them to be shared via QR codes. There are already several forum threads which have codes as well as a Daily Pushmo twitter feed. (As a personal recommendation, try the Platforming or Scrooge McDuck levels for some interesting uses of the system.) People have made maps of old school dungeons as puzzles, or even QR codes of QR codes. If you’re done with a level, you can delete it and get a new one. Infinite levels for your £5.40? Not too shabby, eh?

The only limitation placed on budding designers is that puzzles of certain sizes, with the buttons or the ladders, are only downloadable if you’ve encountered them in-game. Fortunately these additions will be encountered early on in the normal levels, so it really isn’t much of a hurdle.

Pullblox’s biggest failing is the sound; more specifically the music. There are only a handful of tracks which loop like they’re from an old-school video game, and not a good one. Fortunately you can turn the music off and only have the sound effects, which are great. The ‘pop’ of a ladder opening when you can access it from both sides, the unfurling tremble of the blocks when you push or pull them, and the Prince of the Cosmos-sounding footsteps that your character makes are all adorable.

Mario 3D Land had a great use of 3D in a mostly 2D-looking platform game, and Pullblox is the same. Sure you can play it in 2D, but to judge the depth of some jumps, and position of objects, you’ll really want the 3D turned on. If you press the R button just before you complete a level, you can see just what you’ve done and how odd it looks now that you’ve pulled the blocks out, pushed in part of Mario or Batman or a T-Rex’s face. It’s nice knowing how much work you’ve put into it and how much it has paid off. This is definitely a game to play with the 3D switched on.

Pullblox is one of the finest titles currently available for the 3DS and even in a world where iOS games can cost under a pound there’s no questioning the value for money that it provides. The pretty-yet-simple aesthetics disguise a considerable level of challenge before you even factor in the near-endless customisability. Though you might have to leave it from it a few times in sheer frustration (yelling at the blocks or your little fat sumo man!), in reality this is one of the game’s main strengths, proving just how invested you can become in trying to beat the puzzles is sends your way. Just don’t throw that 3DS at a wall.

This review is based on a downloaded version of Pullblox purchased by D+PAD.

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