The era of MS-DOS is something special. While we can easily argue that there have been strange titles for consoles as well, DOS was a bizarre wild card to me. It was never truly about “good or bad“ titles, but more about their creativity. I say this, because I randomly picked up Pushover due to its box art and that it looked like a cute puzzle-title. Starting up the game, you meet Colin Curly who has lost all of his packs of Quavers down an anthill due to sheer spasm. After being saved from falling over by an ant named G.I. Ant, Colin asks him if he is able to recover his lost snack packs. Being a nice guy, G.I. Ant takes on this strange task.
You play as G.I. Ant travelling through 100 stages, each being a single-screen puzzle platformer. The goal of each is simple: knock all of the dominoes over within a limited amount of pushes, make sure one specific domino is the last one to fall, and then get to the exit. As the G.I. Ant, you can pick up and rearrange the dominoes, climb ladders, push dominoes over and jump down from small ledges. Too big of a fall or standing between dominoes when they are falling over will force you to restart the stage.
The game is very forgiving, since despite that you have a timer to take into consideration, it only rewards you with a token and a password if you finish the stage before it runs out. The tokens are used for gaining passwords if the timer runs out before you reach the goal or for restarting from the moment before the last push, giving you some leniency on how to proceed. There are no lives or continues either in this game, making it so you have an infinite amount of retries.
Every step is tile-based, which makes it easy to control G.I. Ant with pinpoint accuracy and place the dominoes wherever it suits you with ease. All the puzzles are short enough to be beatable within a couple of minutes or even seconds if you have the solutions planned out. Only the last couple of stages were longer challenges, as they should be. The reason for why none of the puzzles overstayed their welcome, is because they are usually about tweaking small setups in order to get further on. In my opinion, this is a wonderful design-choice as you do not have to spend hours on one puzzle with plenty of steps to take into consideration or have them become overly complicated.
That is not to say that this game is any pushover though. It even says so on the box, with a strange misspelling in the form of “Push-Over”. There are different bricks that all have specific quirks, and the layout can alter how they behave. One type of bricks will explode upon contact, another stands still and makes other dominoes bounce back, and there is even one kind that has reversed gravitation. The design of the levels also come with some interesting details to take into account, such as how stairs can make dominoes continually move or how they will turn into crumbles if one brick falls on top of another one. If you are ever unsure on what the different types of dominoes did, you can always refer to an in-game menu for references and each type is colour-coded for your convenience.
Though you are not done when you have started the domino effect necessarily. There will be times you have to move bricks while the dominoes are falling, and you must get to the door before it is unavailable. Just to name a few examples, there can be bricks that turn into bridges you cannot pass through or you will have to move around one brick that cannot be knocked over in order to move another domino in a zigzag pattern. The timed aspect of these puzzles is something that I believe could have been more lenient, as I often found myself with just enough time to finish them. It was never enough to make me stuck, but it definitely happened enough to make me restart the stages. There is also one annoyance where if you stand holding a brick for too long, G.I. Ant will automatically put it down, which I found annoying for the timed puzzles.
These are some noticeable issues when the game reaches 100 levels to take on, but it never ruined the entertaining time I had with Pushover. It certainly was long enough as well, and while it can clock in about three hours, it can last longer depending on your skills. It is even smart enough to have the Esc key only being able to restart the stage, as you cannot pause and plan on how to take on the puzzle. Pushover overall provides a solid challenge with a good difficulty curve and is forgiving enough to be lenient, but still expecting you to use your brain to plan the best domino effect.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
What kind of an anthill is this?
One of the most important elements to a game about dominoes is to see the bricks fall over in a satisfying manner, and the developers did a great job at it here. All of the bricks contain smooth animations and physics that makes it always feel satisfying to see a stage finished perfectly, and in turn, makes failures visually displeasing enough that you want to redo the puzzle right away. We can all agree that an unfinished domino effect is a terrible thing to witness, right?
G.I. Ant is also well animated and comes with some adorable motions, like tapping impatiently when not moving or being dizzy after falling from a short height. It is not much and there is little to make him a distinct character, but he and the animations are cute enough to make this little ant appealing. That being said, I am not sure what to think about the levels. You have a good variety of worlds to explore, such as Japanese houses, medieval castles, in the outer space and so on, which definitely adds to the diversity. However, the creativity could be argued is lacking as the stages are not themed from an ant’s perspective. I can get by that this is not a normal anthill you are venturing through, but I love how one of the worlds is inside a printed circuit board. Why not have more to add to this kind of setup, instead of variety that feels forced and uncreative?
If nothing else, the game is still colourful and nice to look at. The cutscenes are a nice addition, but they are rather short spoofs that are more cute than anything else. However, the ending is terrible and feels like a last minute inclusion, which is just shattering. As for the audio, it is severely hard to comment on as it changes depending on what setup you are using. Personally, I used the soundblaster as it provides the best music in my opinion. It contains jazzy bass, tribal with wooden drums, mysterious hang drum and more. All give each area a memorable tune that is catchy, nice, varied and long enough to make them pleasant for the duration of the world you are in.
The sound effects could be better to make the dominoes have more of an appealing sound for when they are falling over on one another than a dark “thump”. The roland version sounds better, but not by much. The visuals can be argued are more important for experiencing the domino effect, but it is hard to not be disturbed by the lack of solid sounds for when they are falling over upon each other. It is all pleasant, but it is not hard to see why Pushover did not become a memorable cult classic, as it has no originality or personality in terms of its presentation.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Pushover is a great puzzle-title that takes a fun and creative spin on the simple concept of dominoes. It never overstays its welcome and strikes a perfect balance between being challenging and forgiving, making it always provide a great time. While it could use better sound effects and visual creativity, it is still pleasant to see the dominoes fall perfectly. For anyone missing to play with these strange bricks, this is a good alternative.