Pushy and Pully in Blockland (Review)

Ask twenty retro gamers what 80s/90s game Pushy and Pully in Blockland looks like and you’re just as likely to get twenty different answers. It does mimicry of that early 90s arcade look and sound and feel better than the overwhelming majority of neo-retro games do. The allegory I can come up with is being impressed hearing an impressionist do a ton of different voices that sound like they should be accurate even if you’re not quite sure who exactly is being impersonated. A single player or co-op action-puzzler where you shove three different block types into enemies to kill them. It’s like Bubble Bobble or Dig Dug where the levels end once all the enemies are cleared. There’s fifty levels, five of which are boss fights that range from “extremely satisfying” to “I’m going to tie the developers to a chair and make them watch as I turn their pets into foie gras” maddening. There’s also five “puzzle rooms” though honestly one of them isn’t really a “puzzle” at all and the only four’s puzzle-logic is destroyed completely in the co-op mode.

At this point, we’re used to neo-retro indies looking good. So I think it’s saying something that I was very impressed that there was no “seams” to Pushy and Pully’s appearance. Even the best pixelated games usually have something off about their look and sound that gives away you’re playing a modern game. Not this time, and that’s a good thing.

We sort of figured that, in co-op, one player would push and the other would pull. Because without it, the name “Pully” in Pushy and Pully makes no sense. But if there’s a “pull” mechanic I never figured it out. Perhaps it was part of the game sometime, but was ditched along the way. Sort of like “Micro” part of “Microsoft” which, these days, is actually very big. Either way, Pushy and not-Pulling Pully is all pushing, all the time. The single-screen levels have a variety of blocks scattered about them that you use to take out enemies. You can only push one block at at time, so if you push a block that’s directly next to another, you destroy it. Whatever blocks are on the screen for each stage are what you have to work with. Except for boss battles, you don’t get more, though this only really factored into “puzzle stages” and one level (shown in the tweet below) for me where I actually ran out. There’s a problem: there’s no “suicide” button. So, if you do run out of options, you have to walk into an enemy or their projectiles. That’s of very minor concern, as Pushy & Pully is one of the most polished, professional games of its breed.

It’s absolutely uncanny how well this game is made.. for the most part. The controls are rock-solid. The simple mechanics offer exactly enough variety to never get boring, and the game ends when those ideas we do get are stretched to their fullest potential. It’s a short one. In fact, there’s an achievement for beating the game in under an hour. But that’s actually fine. It contributes to that authentic “previously undiscovered” arcade experience the gang at Resistance Studio was aiming for. It’s not exactly perfect. The variety of enemies leaves a bit to be desired, the difficulty curve spikes violently after a relatively breezy first couple worlds, and I sort of wish there were more blocks. There’s three types, but only two of them create power-ups you can use when you match three-or-more. There’s also no advantage for matching 4 or 5 blocks. It doesn’t make the weapons more powerful, nor do you get more than one weapon. On the plus side, this leaves their options wide-open for potential DLC or a sequels.

These flowers are absolute bastards. Trust me.

The biggest flaws really come down to being married to the era. A lives system is especially pointless. On Xbox One, the game already incentivizes not dying with achievement points, which is absolutely the way to use lives in the modern age. It’s especially annoying in co-op, because if one player game-overs faster than the other player, they have to wait to for their partner to game-over before they get to play again. I played with my sister Angela, who is literally just starting her gaming life. She died quickly getting the hang of things, which left me to pretty-much clear the first world out on my own. That’s not exactly a system set up for harmonious family-fun. It’s at this point she wants to point out she ended up with a higher score than me when we beat the game and struck the final killing blow on the last boss while I was dead. You know, the polite thing would be to not rub it in, Angela.

Co-op is fun, but it also completely negates the challenge of puzzle levels. In co-op, players can act as stoppers for the boxes. This is awesome and, if you work well with your partner (we didn’t), you can probably beat levels easier than we did. But, the consequence is that the elaborate solutions for “puzzle rooms” can be ignored in favor of just having your partner stand in the right place. A solution that requires planning and problem solving can be circumvented completely. And hell, while we’re on the subject, there’s only five such rooms, one of which isn’t even remotely a puzzle at all but rather just a regular level, while the four “true” puzzle levels break the flow of the game horribly. Either do an arcade action-puzzler or a logical puzzler. Don’t mix both together. Not that the puzzles are bad in single-player, but if you’re going to do that, do two different modes where the arcadey stuff and brain bender stuff is kept separately.

Pushy and Pully is actually fantastic and I do recommend it. As I said, the mechanics we’re given feel like they were used to their fullest potential, a rare achievement indeed. But, I also feel that the idea of Pushy and Pully didn’t quite live up to its fullest potential. It seems like you should be able to do more with the shoving and block-matching thing. Plus, the difficulty spike that begins with the 4th boss provided my kid sister with multiple chances to learn proper cussing and controller-throwing-pantomiming. The last boss, especially, took us an hour to beat, has far too-short a time limit, and often instakilled us in ways that we genuinely feel were unavoidable. The polish that carried the game up to this point feels gone and we came very close to rage quitting. Mind you, the blocks (including unpushable X blocks) spawn randomly during boss battles. With a short time limit, we were often presented with situations where the boss wasn’t open for attack, as that short timer counted down. There were also so many cheap deaths that survival often felt random. When Angela got lucky and struck the killing blow, she was barely excited enough to run and tell our parents that she totally pwned me. But, everything up to that point never got boring. In fact, Pushy and Pully is a LOT of fun. I’m not sure I totally buy the “better in co-op.” It’s not better or worse. It’s fun solo or with someone to play with. Even if the last boss can shove it.

See what I did there? Shove it? It’s a game about shoving blocks.

Pushy and Pully in Blockland was developed by Resistance Studio
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Steam, PS4 (Coming Soon), Nintendo Switch (Coming Soon)

$9.99 pushed on a pull door in the making of this review.

Pushy and Pully in Blockland is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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