It took me four months to properly invest in Pullblox after purchasing it on a mostly random raid of Nintendo’s digital shop. Maybe it was the time factor of getting to grips with an unknown and original game that has a tutorial comprised of 18 lessons; it was just easier to say “I don’t have time for this now” and put it off, sticking with known quantities instead.
Finally giving the game some time recently and subsequently falling in love with it, I am amazed that something so genius could have been living under my nose all along while I obliviously bored myself with generic sequels, and cursing a perceived lack of quality games to play.
Pullblox is a puzzler that puts you in the role of a round little creature called Mallo, tasked with climbing retractable towers of blocks in pursuit of a goalpost. Blocks come in different shapes, sizes and colours, and must be pulled out like a chest of drawers in order to be climbed. Pulling one block may deny access to another; one pathway obstructed but another opened. The point, then, is to work out the order in which the blocks must to be pulled to create a path to the top. Like a sliding puzzle or rubik’s cube, sometimes work must be undone in order to progress.
Putting the player in direct control of an avatar gives the game a nice warmth and character that is not found in vanilla puzzles game where the blocks are the characters, existing in their own space. The game of Pullblox is presented as this pastel colour amusement park, with the goalposts at first being children who have become trapped in the attractions.
This set up also introduces some light platforming when navigating gaps between blocks and precision-landing on blocks below, Mallo’s arms flapping as he descends harmlessly. No impact damage is incurred for falling from great heights, and in fact there is no way to fail whatsoever.
The last one or several mistakes can be undone with a handy rewind button, while a lot of mistakes can be erased with a reset switch near the base of the block tower. Additionally there is no time limit, and you are not graded on your performance. Levels are simply completed, or yet to be, but never failed.
Once the basics are out of the way, the game begins to have some fun with stage design, throwing in the ‘murals’ category that sees you climbing pixel-art recreations of animals, fruit and popular Nintendo characters. Then another layer of complexity is laid down with colour-coded ladders and switches that transport you around the stage and auto-extract correlating blocks respectively.
Altogether the generous helping of 200+ pre-made levels from the developer feels like a ‘just right’ number. As I near the last of them, my play time is already in excess of 15 hours. But the real icing on the cake is the studio mode, allowing you to draw and share levels of your own creation, effectively extending the life of the game indefinitely.
Once you are done mapping out a level, you must do a test-run to prove it can be completed, and then you are free to publish. The game generates a JPEG image with a preview of your level accompanied by a QR code which, when scanned by other players, inserts your level into their game. Space for up to 90 community-made levels is provided.
As you might expect, recreations of character sprites from 8 and 16-bit era games are popular on forums. A quick browse yields many community-made Pullblox levels based on Mario, Pokemon, Mega Man and Final Fantasy characters, with penis art being the next most prolific.
Hackers claim to have unlocked the secret to generating Pullblox-compatible QR codes, allowing them to bypass the in-game editor and convert images on the web into levels with a simple application. This time-saving ingenuity comes with the possibility of producing levels that are impossible to solve, since the code is produced without the level passing a test run, but it is easy enough to identify levels that are implausible by sight.
Nintendo like to abstract the data size of downloads into ‘blocks’. Depending on who you believe about the conversion ratio, Pullblox weighs in at less than 50MB and maybe less than 25MB. Either way it is bite size. It’s easy to see how this small footprint is achieved, with economical use of just a few repeating polygonal objects, a background, and just a few music samples. I actually like the music despite the repetition. It is pleasant, and I’ve caught myself humming to it more than once.
This is a simple concept game that gets a whole lot of mileage. I guess this is a quality inherent to the puzzle genre. In a way, Pullblox is to the 3DS what Tetris is to the Game Boy. And in other ways it is not, doomed as it is to be under-exposed while Nintendo figures out how best to handle digital publishing, an area they don’t yet push as expertly as they do packaged physical products.
Pullblox starts with a simple concept and executes perfectly. Is there room for further exploitation? The only idea I could put forth would be a multiplayer mode with 2 or more players beginning at different ends of a level, necessitating teamwork and communication to jointly solve the puzzle. However this would upset the leisurely at-your-own-pace zen the game exhibits in single player, and communication would be crippled across the network if Nintendo continues to disallow voice chat in its games. You can understand why the developer did not include a multiplayer mode, and frankly it doesn’t need one, with level sharing providing the backbone to bring the community together and boost longevity into the infinite beyond.