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Ever used a chest of drawers? If so, you’ll be at home with Pullblox – a handy state of affairs that makes the game’s 15-minute opening tutorial feel rather redundant. Intelligent Systems’ 3DS debut is a spatial puzzler built from stacks of colourful, retractable shapes that’s both ingeniously simple and engagingly malleable. With a goal at the top of each stack of ‘blox’, your job is to tug out the steps you’ll need in order to reach it and then help your character scale the results. Shapes can be pushed as well as pulled, and each can be dragged out up to three spaces in total. This latter point may initially seem insignificant, but it’s responsible for almost all of the game’s challenge, given that complications tend to arise only when you run out of room to edge backwards on the tier that you’re currently standing on.
Once the ponderous introduction is behind you, Pullblox makes up for lost time fast, with each new stage revealing another manoeuvre for you to use, or throwing a fresh obstacle in your path. Clever level design keeps things moving, and the stacks you’re faced with grow in size and complexity, but proceedings get intriguing with the introduction of special blocks featuring a manhole that enables you to warp between positions, and a switch that pulls out any blox of a specific colour.
It’s a game where you often have to go backwards to move forwards, and at its hardest it feels like a series of feisty little programming challenges as you nip up and down changing the landscape incrementally, each pass taking you a little closer to your target. Beneath the pastel shades and the perky muzak loops, it could all be rather clinical, in fact, but one of the game’s smartest ideas is to layer analogue platforming onto its digital puzzles. So while you must build your levels with quiet precision, you can scamper over them as quickly and loosely as you dare. In its later stages, Pullblox rewards twitch skills almost as much as forward planning.
The 3D effect is lightly handled but proves nearly fundamental, making Pullblox’s primitive landscapes feel tangible. Meanwhile, a separate creation mode enables you to chisel out your own stages and share them as QR codes. Intelligent Systems hasn’t crafted the most obvious type of system seller, then, but it has displayed signs of the kind of thinking that’s helped define Nintendo’s previous portables. Economical and clever, Pullblox is full of leftfield ideas that turn odd congregations of technology into quiet magic. At last, 3DS has a puzzle game with real depth.