The first thing I remember from Push Me Pull You isn’t even the game itself. It’s laughter. I’d heard about it all week during GDC, and I finally witnessed people playing it projected on a ceiling at the Unwinnable House. They couldn’t stop giggling. It came in bone-shivering writhes and ribcage-pounding bursts. Upon witnessing the game itself and noting that the whole thing was centered around wriggly sausage tubes with people for ends, I immediately felt two things: 1) revulsion, 2) the truest love I’ve known in all my life.
And then I played it.
Push Me Pull You is so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so silly.
It’s actually a four-player game, with two players controlling each, um, thing. The goal is simple: to drag a ball to your side of the court and keep it there long enough to score a point. But it is much, much more difficult than it seems, because people.
Inevitably, partners disagree on where exactly their frantically clambering centipede wiener dog abomination should end up, so everybody gets tangled in a hurry. And then the real fun begins. Pushing. Pulling. Shoving. Encircling one body with your own and constricting in a manner that’s halfway between giant killer snake and giant killer hug.
I honestly, unironically adore the fact that this is a game about friendship. I mean, read this advice from developer House House: “Love each other, work together, communicate and coordinate, and prove that a good friendship can overcome anything (unless you find yourself up against an even better friendship!)” That’s just so warm and nice, like I imagine being crushed and having all my bones broken by an ever-sloughing sports monster would be.
Strategies emerge quickly, especially if you’re playing with a partner who’s on your same wavelength. Maybe you shrink your body down to be quick and nimble – cannon-balling into your hyper-extended opponents’ paper-thin abdomens and dragging them away – or maybe you become as large and unwieldy as possible to serve as an obstacle for both the other team and the ball. Maybe you move in a perfect “U” formation, catch the ball, and then extend at the same time to slingshot it to your side of the court.
And all the while, you shout. You shout a lot, because communication is pretty important when one half of your body is somebody else. “No, that way! No, I meant the other one! Curl counter-clockwise! Argh, you are the worst Catdog.”
Push Me Pull You is a very simple, goofy game, but it isn’t stupid. There is an elegance in its simplicity, and yes I did just use the word “elegant” to describe a game about conjoined man-snakes grinding each other into sweaty flesh piles. It all makes a strange sort of almost immediately intuitive sense. You pick up a controller, move a bit, and – bam – it all kinda sinks in. Like, instinctively. Maybe there’s a little (wo)manaconda in all of us, somewhere. But the core of this game really does, in theory, have the local multiplayer-centric appeal of a Nidhogg or a Towerfall, or perhaps even something in the Sportsfriends collection – just, you know, with even more laughter.
(And oh goodness, the way their little arms move. It’s so creepy crawly, yet weirdly believable at the same time. If these things were real, I think that’s actually how they’d move. The arms humanize them. Or whatever-on-planet-Wormulon-XII-they-are-izes them, anyway. And when they get dragged away, it’s just so… I don’t even know. Cute, I guess. Like a listless puppy dog being tugged along on its leash. That is also a tube monster. I can’t wait to try and explain this game to people in real life.)
Push Me Pull You is, then, this massive rubbery skin pile of contradictions. Grotesque yet adorable, simple yet complex, smart yet dumb as a little kid’s smile. Also, let’s face it, slightly sexy. There’s only one way to play it right now (and that’s not even available to the public yet), but I can’t wait to see what else developer House House does with the concept.
Lasting appeal will be the real challenge here. The basic mode is great fun on its own, but it’s not like House House could just stitch online multiplayer into this thing’s rubbery DNA and call it a day. Push Me Pull You would lose so much of what makes it special without the face-to-face element (not to mention with an added helping of lag). Lasting value will, hypothetically speaking, come in the form of modes, more outlandish arenas, and perhaps even custom rulesets.
It’s a brilliant little concept as is, but I’m interested to see how far House House can stretch it – if they even decide that’s the right direction to take it in at all. There is something to be said for purity, even if a lot of people these days seem to think it’s, “What? That’s it? I want my [very little money in the grand scheme of things] back!” It is, however, possible to demand too much from a game. It’s possible to stretch it too far. Is Push Me Pull You that kind of game? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Push Me Pull You will be out sometime in 2014. I’m writhing, wriggling, and growing a face from my backside in anticipation.