Developer: Zoe Mode
There aren't many 3DS games out there that really feel made for the system just yet, nor those that are even particular enhanced or improved by the handheld console's main gimmick. 3D has been more of a hindrance, a brave commentator might observe, with controversy and migraines around every corner and even this writer would admit to playing most things on the system with the slider down right at the bottom.
Crush3D won't change that, but it does try its damned best.
The original Crush was a moody PSP title that provided a platform-puzzler setting for a teenager's introspective ruminations upon the nature of his own insomnia. The 3DS version actually sticks to the basic premise, but it cheers things up a bit with brighter colours and light, comic banter between our two leads: Danny and Dr. Reuben. The former has agreed to be a guinea pig for the latter's experimental explorations into the unconscious mind, a science facilitated by a machine dubbed C.R.U.S.H. which happens to turn the problems of the mind into physical puzzles.
These puzzles typically involve the collection of lost marbles (geddit?!) that, from a 3D perspective, can seem to be frustratingly out of reach. You need to collect a set number to open up the exit portal, but several swift platforming failures quickly reveal that deft jumping isn't going to get Danny and the Doc anywhere. The levels are constructed from floating platforms seemingly scattered at random with vast chasm in between. Progress appears impossible.
Enter the game's central mechanic: tapping the 'L' button 'crushes' the landscape into 2D and a free roaming platformer becomes a 2D side-scroller. It's all a matter of perspective - swing the camera overhead before you crush, for example, and suddenly those dazzling heights that were previously unattainable are now within reach. At the tap of a button far-flung platforms are brought within easy reach, unassailable walls can simply be walked around and what was once impossible is now a laughing matter.
With the likes of Fez bringing original puzzle-platform mechanics 3D world rotation to the fore this year, it's good to see a return for the somewhat initially unloved crushing ability - a simple premise, but an original one, with mindblowing potential - on a platform that is almost perfectly suited to its unique stylings. Jaws will drop as players begin to 'get it', and soon you'll be expanding and crushing levels to your hearts' content.
But not for long. You see Crush3D, much like the original, doesn't exactly give you a long time to revel in this newly discovered ability, preferring instead to present you with something of a baptism of fire. Don't get me wrong, interminable swathes of introductory dross are not good, and there's no mucking about here. But it would seem, in spite of the humorous and good-natured banter between the boy and the scientist, that Danny's pretty damn messed up in the head. Which might explain why he's taken a leaf out of the Arthur Dent Guide to Casual Attire and is wandering about in a dressing-gown...that or, you know, the insomnia thing.
It also explains just how quickly things escalate. Just when you think you might have your head wrapped around crushing, Zoe Mode start throwing new elements of gameplay at you as quickly as they possibly can including different kinds of blocks (immobile and unreliable sorts), enemies guard wayward marbles, there are rolling balls and switch puzzles to navigate. It's easy to get overwhelmed fairly quickly and, indeed, often these extra elements serve to rather neglect and undermine the core mechanic rather than enhancing and complimenting it.
But there's also some serious satisfaction to be found in navigating and solving a particularly fiendishly stacked level. But you'll almost certainly get stuck at some point and, thankfully, there's a generous hint system to help out that's actually fairly perfectly balanced. It always points you towards the next step, but never goes the whole hog, it does however decrease your end score rather significantly.
Crush3D is a quality puzzler with a compelling core premise, it's just a shame that the final third of the game's array of levels don't look to make the most of that mechanic with some inventive level design, instead chucking everything but the kitchen sink at the player to try and complicate things. The 3DS is a better fit for the game, and with the slider turned up it forces you to bend your mind in weird and wonderful ways, but there'll be plenty of head-scratching moments, and the game should probably come with warnings that it might indirectly cause violence upon the objects around you.
- Well constructed puzzles
- Compelling, original crushing mechanic
- Plenty of puzzles to work through
- Presentation not up to much
- May prove too tricky for some
- Extra elements can dilute core enjoyment
The Short Version: Crush3D is a clever little puzzler with plenty of originality that really forces the player to engage the grey matter thanks to its unique core feature. It might not be up to`much in the beauty department, but it certainly packs some serious brains.