Pushmo / Pullblox / Hikuosu is one of those confusing games that changed names in too many regions to keep track and will probably end up becoming a @hellomrkearns thread within the next six weeks. I’ll call the game Pushmo as an olive branch held towards the US audience still basking in their Independence Day’s celebration.
Pushmo is now a game that has seemingly fallen out of pretty much everyone’s mind. But it was kinda the first cool game of the 3DS.
2011 became, to put it kindly, a rough year for Japan following the tsunami in March. It understandably sapped the entire country’s morale, economy, and many industries. The 3DS launched right around then, with a rather subdued lineup, and it did not feel like the best time to enjoy video games? There were some good games, of course, but the mood wasn’t there.
Things turned around in September, with a hefty price cut and a really energizing September conference that featured tons of soon-to-be iconic games, and more importantly the 3DS killed off the PS Vita before its release when it was announced at the very end that portable Monster Hunter would move to Nintendo 3DS. So the mood around the handheld got much better from that point, and you could feel and see the console really lift off, both in sales and mindshare, with the consecutive releases of Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7 and Monster Hunter 3G in the space of five weeks.
However, just before these three big games, Intelligent Systems released Pushmo in October 2011. (It came out in December in the US and Europe.) And that was the perfect bitesize game to coincide with the renewed energy surrounding the hardware. It was a new IP, it had an offbeat sense of humor, a lovely soundtrack, a cool but simple concept, it made great use of the stereoscopic screen, user generated levels could be shared with autogenerated QR codes i.e. organically using both the screenshot feature and the camera feature of the console… So it was kinda also the first cool tech demo of the console, really. But almost unassumingly, a bit like what Astro Bot does now for Sony. Pushmo was not trying very hard to be cool. It was just there, and that was pretty cool.
Pushmo also kickstarted the belief in the Nintendo eShop’s catalogue. Full packaged games were not available yet on the eShop and the service had a lot to prove regarding what the digital games could bring to the console and whether they could find an audience, compared to what the XBLA was offering at the time. Pushmo became this sort of viral hit that showed there would be cool stuff on there too, and that users might find them.
Also, it’s crazy to think about it now that Fire Emblem is a super successful IP with a popular gatcha on mobile and tons of teenage Tumbler fangirls but, until Fire Emblem Awakening came out in Japan in April 2012 (and a whole year later in the West), things were looking dire for Intelligent Systems. So it was pretty cool that this developer released this tiny, clever, charming game out of nowhere, just before Fire Emblem Awakening tabularasa-d their destiny.
So we are now ten years later. The 3DS ended up selling over 70+ million units, it got five Monster Hunter games ( and two spin-offs), it got a full-fledged Smash Bros, somehow Fire Emblem and Tomodachi have become big franchises worldwide, Animal Crossing unprobably outgrew its popularity from the DS era and introduced the megapopular Isabelle who is probably the breakout character and unofficial mascot of the 3DS. We also got tons of excellent Atlus games, and the best Final Fantasy game ever made (Curtain Call). And StreetPass games got better, and people got into StreetPass, and StreetPass Plaza took over that role of the weird, charming offbeat game that will forever be associated with the 3DS. Also, several Pushmo releases followed in quick succession, diluting the impact of the original game a little bit.
And so Mallo the little sumo… Walrus ? Doughboy ? Sentient chickpea? I am not sure what Mallo is supposed to be, but Mallo has kinda faded away from everyone’s mind when we talk about amazing 3DS games, right? Yet, that lil’buddy really gave the console a crucial first push.