Platformers have always been my jam. To me there is nothing quite like running and jumping through a game. When your first memories are of playing Super Mario Bros. this makes complete sense. As I get older and I game less, the Puzzle Platformer has gained a special place in my heart. They are easier to pick and play in shorter bursts. I also like the emphasis on thinking over speed. The Puzzle Platformer genre is not an overly prevalent one but this Spring, Nintendo blessed us with two solid entries available in the eShop. Both games kept me occupied on the weekends and up late at night until they were completed to my satisfaction.
A black and white side-scrolling platformer, where you play as a box named Qbby, and make other boxes, using them to get to the end of a level. While it may not sound like the most exciting premiss for a game ever; it is executed very well. The game also has more going on for it than you would expect from it’s minimalistic presentation. There are multiple characters to meet, a light plot shown through more than a few silent cut scenes, and many unexpected gameplay elements used throughout.
Controlling Qbby feel great, something to be expected from the pros at Hal Laboratory. You can spawn boxes out of your body. These boxes you make can be used in a few primary ways. When first created, the boxes will stick to your body. By creating a box over your body you can use that to protect yourself from lasers point down across your path. By creating a box in front of your body you can use that as a way to connect yourself to the opposite ledge of a jump that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to make. As the box you created makes contact with a surface on the other side of the gap you just leaped across you can pull your body into that position. This move can be used in several unique ways. An other primary use for the created box structure is to create platforms. Once a set of boxes is created you can throw throw them. You can use them to bridge a gap. You can set them on a switch to open a door. You can set them on top of spikes to protect you from them.
There are many obstacles in your way and boxes are you way to bypass them. The catch is you can’t use them unlimitedly. You are limited per level on how many boxes can be created at one time and each time you create a new set it destroys the previous. There are also collectible crowns sprinkled through the levels. Usually the last crown in the level will disappear after you create a certain number of boxes. This basically creates a par to fully complete each level.
BOXBOY! is fun and it draws out a lot of charm from it’s minimalism. From the adorable characters, solid plat forming and puzzles that sometimes stop you in your path to think; it’s a solid experience. Beyond the main story levels, there are extra levels after the credits. There are also costumes to buy in the shop. There are even Score Attack and Time Attack challenges for added gameplay. By the time I had beaten the game I had played it 5 times, with 12 hours and 44 minutes of pay time. I didn’t play through all of the challenges but that was because I suck at them. I would love to play more BOXBOY! in the future but I’m not sure how they could expand upon what already exists. Then again I said the same thing about another 3DS game, Pushmo.
This the forth game in the Pushmo series and the third one on the 3DS. What I like about these games so far is that they really change how the games function making them feel similar but at the same time completely different. The first game Pushmo had you playing as Mallo, pulling blocks out of flat, blocky structures to reach the top and rescue kids that were trapped in them when they were flattened. In this game the structures could only be pulled in one direction. Pushmo in ways reminded me of Super Paper Mario for its play on something flat changing into something 3D . The second game, Crashmo, had Mallo pulling apart blocked structures that were fixed in size and shape. By pulling one part of the structure the other parts would fall to the ground if nothing else was holding them up. This really changed things up. I highly recommend both of these games as well as the Wii U exclusive, Pushmo Worlds.
In Stretchmo you can now expand structures similar to in Pushmo but this time they can be pulled in all for directions. Once again, what you have come to expect by Pushmo is completely flipped on its head. Not only is the gameplay different as usual, Stretchmo also changes the payment structure of the games. Rather than buying the whole game up front for a fixed price this game is free to download and stage packs are available to purchase within the game. My one complaint about this game is not in this new payment structure but rather the effectiveness of it.
While the game is free to download, there are only 7 stages available without purchasing additional level packs. This doesn’t really effect me since I am already a fan of the series and I was going to buy all of the level packs in the discounted bundle anyway. These 7 stages are not enough content to justify a free to play moniker. I understand Nintendo’s concern that providing too much content could keep people from wanting to invest in adding new stages. The first game, Pushmo, starts off slowly; so slowly that there are more than 108 stages before the difficulty starts to really pick up. I feel like in the first game it does a great job of easing a player into fully understand every facet of the gameplay, giving you the tools to get through every challenge the game has to offer. I think that providing 50 free stages that solely give a foundation for Stretchmo would have been a perfect balance of free content without giving away the cow. I also think the game should be up front before any purchase about the fact that after completely every stage in the available 4 packs, a fifth area unlocks in the game.
What Stretchmo does right is the same things done right in every game in the Pushmo series. Cute characters, lots of content, with a comfortable learning curve, and real rewarding challenges. Each of the 4 packs has you playing as a different character, Mallo, Poppy, Corin, and Papa Blox. It would have been a nice touch to have you able to play as any character in any stage if you had purchased the corresponding pack.
For the most part, all the packs really do is segment the difficulty. Mallo’s Playtime Plaza offers the most stages and greatest range of difficulty. Poppy’s Sculpture Square offers a little more overall challenge in stages called murals which look like animals, food, and other blocky pictures. Papa Blox’s NES Expo has the most challenge of the purchasable packs and it is all stages based on NES sprites. Corin’s Fortress of Fun offers the greatest change in gameplay. In this area, for the first time there are gizmos that are functionally enemies in the game. They can move around, shoot at you, and can cause your character’s position to be reset in the stage. They create quite the challenge, especially in the fifth area of the game.
There is a lot to do in Stretchmo. Beating every stage built into the game took me 11 plays, in 28 hours and 39 minutes. By purchasing any pack you also unlock Stretchmo Studios where you can create your own Stretchmo or download other’s. Stretchmo provided me with hour after hour of saying “just one more,” like I had done with the previous 3 games. Upon completion of Stretchmo it convinced me to go back and finish the last 5 stages in Crashmo that I never got to. Crashmo is the hardest of all of them in my opinion but I finally did it. I may never get over looking up how to complete the Maui Statue stage of the first Pushmo but I am proud that I have completed every other in the series and look forward to any future installments we may get.