Pushcat

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Zut for PC and Mac, originally released in 2012.
Pushcat is primarily a puzzler, mixing elements of Boulder Dash and match 3 puzzle games. Here, the player takes on the role of a purple cat with a love for silver. In order to acquire said silver, he must plumb the depths of multiple caves and find ways to line up gems of the same color, which then magically transform into silver coins. Once he grabs enough silver, a cat door opens, allowing him to leave the area and move on to the next cave.


The game begins with a handful of tutorial levels designed to outline the basic mechanics. At the outset, there are only 4 object varieties: solid rock, stones, dirt, and gems. Solid rock is immovable and cannot be manipulated. Stones may be pushed to the left or right and will fall if pushed off a ledge. Dirt may be tunneled through Dig Dug-style, and digging under stones or gems causes them to fall, although you can’t be killed by falling objects (you can, however, become trapped by them). Gems can be pushed to the left or right just like stones, and lining up 3 gems of the same color horizontally or vertically causes them to turn into silver coins, which may then be collected. Every level has a minimum number of coins that must be collected in order to open up the exit.


There are many ways to manipulate gems in order to bring them together. The most direct path, of course, is to simply push them into one another to line them up, but things are rarely that straightforward beyond the first few levels. As mentioned, digging under a gem will cause it to fall, but in order to push it, you need to clear out the dirt behind it (so you have a place to stand), and clear out the dirt ahead of it since dirt cannot be pushed. Gravity will pull the gems downward when there is open space below them, and you must be careful not to drop gems into areas where they cannot be lined up and cleared. Many levels add to the challenge by providing bottomless pits which may cause you to lose your gems forever. Lose too many gems and it may not be possible to complete the level.


Once you complete the first few tutorial levels, you’ll be dropped out onto a 3x3 grid with 3 proper levels available to choose from. Completing any of these levels opens up the level(s) immediately adjacent above, below, or to the right. In this way, the player is able to skip some troublesome levels and vary the level order. Each world is designed in a similar fashion, with tutorial levels introducing new mechanics, followed by a 3x3 grid of proper levels. Completing any levels in the rightmost column allows access to the final level… provided you have enough stars.


At the top of the screen are 3 indicators, one showing the number of silver coins you have collected, another showing how many you must collect in order to move to the next level, and a third showing the number required to earn a star. At first, earning a star in each level seems to be a way for the player to give himself a bit of extra challenge by not wasting coin-earning opportunities. In actuality, earning stars is required to complete the game.

The final level in each world is locked until the requisite number of stars is achieved. In the first world, this doesn’t add tremendously to the challenge, since many stars are no more difficult to earn than simply clearing the level. However, the player may be surprised at the end of World 2 when he discovers that the final level won’t open without at least 15 stars, fully 75% of the possible stars that may be collected to that point. Ultimately, opening up the last level in each world requires that you have collected all but 5 of the stars in the preceding levels. That means you’ll have to be very diligent during your level playthroughs, or you’ll need to backtrack in order to earn a sufficient number of stars.


The challenge continues to grow across the game’s 50 levels as each room presents its own challenging configuration, and each world introduces new mechanics. You’ll also need to learn a number of advanced techniques in order to succeed. For instance, early on, you’ll simply collect any coins as they appear, but later you’ll be stacking stones and gems on them. Then you’ll encounter levels with hundreds of coins which must be carefully collected lest the stack of blocks above them fall down and leave you trapped.

The second world introduces rainbow colored blocks that, when lined up, cause all of the nearby stones to turn into gems. The world also has numerous levels featuring rows of generators along the top of the screen that drop random combinations of stones and gems. This adds a bit of action to the proceedings as the player scrambles to collect coins before they are buried and to avoid being buried himself. Also, more complicated block-pushing puzzles appear, forcing the player to consider the environment when pushing around long rows of blocks, which can be used strategically go scoot gems into areas that they could not reach on their own.


The second world also introduces the game’s only enemy character, which appears in the form of a ghost that can travel through walls, pursuing you relentlessly like Evil Otto from Berzerk. He first appears in a Pac-Man inspired level which features silver coins instead of dots and colored gems instead of power pellets. The player must collect the coins while avoiding the ghost and must push all of the gems together to collect the last 4 coins. The level also introduces Pac-Man-style warps where you can move off of one side of the screen and appear on the other, allowing you to distract the ghost and collect more coins.


World 3 introduces exploding Aztec skulls. These work similarly to the rainbow gems, except instead of exploding in an array of coins, these simply explode, potentially killing you in the process. On the other hand, they can – and must – be used to blow holes in solid rock to reach new sections of the level. Things get even more complicated on the levels with generators on the top of the screen, since the player must not only avoid being trapped, but also avoid being caught in an explosion should 3 skulls line up. Also, exploding skulls destroy coins as well.


World 4 changes things up again by adding ice blocks. These function similarly to solid rock in that they cannot be moved, but there is one important difference: dropping a solid object on them (such as snowballs or gems) causes them to break. And, if there are multiple blocks adjacent to each other, this will cause a chain reaction, slowly breaking through each block in the line. This creates a sort of fuse/timer effect where the player must dash through the level before becoming trapped or cut off from gems, coins, or even the level exit.


The final world changes things up completely with the addition of slime globules which follow their own set of rules. First off, slime is not affected by gravity, so globs can only be pushed to the left or right. Secondly, any stone sitting adjacent to a slime glob will turn into a slime glob itself, potentially leading to a chain reaction of slime conversion. Once all of the stones in the cave are transformed into slime, they will transform again into gems and coins. This makes many slime-based levels multi-phase affairs where the player spends the first half getting stones and slime lined up and the second half manipulating blocks to collect coins.


But there’s more to the slime than this. If a slime globule is sitting adjacent to an ice block, it will be turned into ice. Many levels revolve around the race between stone-to-slime conversions versus slime-to-ice conversions. Of course, you can also drop a stone onto a series of ice blocks which will slowly destroy the whole thing. Also, Aztec skulls explode when sitting adjacent to slime. Once again, mayhem ensues in slime filled rooms equipped with generators that are dropping gems, ice blocks, and Aztec skulls. Oh, and did we mention that silver coins also get turned into slime when they’re touching a slime glob? Hurry and grab them before they become useless!


The ghost makes a return in several of the levels, usually appearing after a certain number of coins have been collected. Often, the ghost is simply there to make the level more challenging, but because of how the ghost affects certain blocks, some of the levels actually require that the player use the ghost in order to proceed. When a ghost touches a rainbow block, it turns into a coin, and when a ghost touches an Aztec skull, the skull explodes, temporarily disabling the ghost. In certain levels, the only way to get all of the coins is to get the ghost to chase you in such a way that it crosses rainbow blocks or skulls, allowing you to go back and reap the rewards.


Some levels follow very strict gem combo rules, since lining up sets of 3 gems is required in order to harvest the number of coins needed to exit the level and/or earn a star. These rooms tend to be created with strict configurations when it comes to the placement of gems and stones. Often, there is only one way to get all of the silver coins in the level.

However, there are many levels where the room configuration changes slightly when reloading or replaying the level. Here, the placement of dirt, stones, gems, Aztec skulls, etc. may be slightly different, meaning that these levels don’t have just one solution. An understanding of the mechanics learned to that point is required in order to complete the level, but the player is free to approach it from many angles. Levels with generators on the ceiling are generally focused around quickly grabbing coins while avoiding becoming trapped or caught in an explosion.


Pushcat has a slow but steady difficulty curve that builds upon existing strategies while slowly requiring new ones. Formal tutorial levels are present when completely new mechanics are introduced, but the rest of the learning occurs organically as players are placed in situations where block movement or coin collection must be achieved in a specific fashion. Many levels can be completed with patience, planning, and strategy, but these are mixed in with levels where the player must constantly stay on his toes to avoid being killed.



2D CRED
Pushcat was developed by Zut, a studio founded by Fritz Solares in 2011 and based in Brighton, UK. Fritz worked for many years developing online titles for British television stations before moving on to found his own studio. Pixel art for the game was provided by Gary J. Lucken (Army of Trolls), who has worked on a number of games and is also the guy behind those cool game-inspired isometric cityscapes. Pushcat was the first release under the Zut label.



2 comments

  1. i really love your reviews, they are long and informative, they make me wanna buy the games you reviewed.

    there's one thing you could make better.
    it would be nice, if i could see a link to the games (download/buy) and an information, on which consoles/machines this games work... this should be on first sight
    just sayin :-)

    Posted on November 19, 2012 at 5:20 AM

     
  2. Thank you for your feedback.

    I understand and agree with your feeling that purchase information should be readily available, but we do not have the resources to audit and update external links to keep them current. We feel that providing information on the game and its developer will allow readers to locate the title for purchase.

    Currently, available consoles are included at the bottom of each article in the tag list (also below the title on article listings), along with the name of the developer and publisher, and the year of the game's release.

    Posted on November 19, 2012 at 7:01 PM