When it was released in June 2007 on the PSP, Zoë Mode’s Crush was pipped to the post by Super Paper Mario in claiming ownership of a genuine innovation – – namely the mechanic whereby three-dimensional worlds can be flattened two dimensions. Though the developer was likely left gnashing its teeth at this turn of events, some solace could be taken in the knowledge that Crush offered a very different experience from that of Nintendo’s paper-thin plumber. Where Super Paper Mario was a bouncy, carefree romp through Mario lore, Crush served up fiendishly mind-bending puzzles capable of challenging even the highest ranking member of MENSA.
Regardless of the cruel blow that was dealt to it by the Big N, Crush was an accomplished title that was certainly deserving of another outing, and thusly it has been repurposed and rereleased as Crush3D for the Nintendo 3DS. We use the term ‘repurposed’ as, aside from the addition of a handful of new levels and a few aesthetic tweaks, this is essentially the same game that launched in 2007.
It is a little disappointing that more hasn’t been done in terms of revamping the original, as Crush’s debut was not without its problems. Aside from its…er…crushing difficulty, a major sticking point was the slightly bland presentation and uncharismatic lead character. For the re-release (once again published by Sega) Zoë Mode has just given it a new lick of paint and slapped on a 3D effect to make use of the host hand-held’s capabilities. Newly redesigned, dressing-gown wearing lead character, Danny, is a blank faced, dewy eyed cartoon straight out of a generic children’s television program. Attempts to spice things up with quips delivered by a suitably-eccentric Professor sadly also fall flat and, on occasions, it’s unclear if lines of dialogue are meant to be funny or if they are just shoddily written.
There is a wafer thin plot of sorts, with our hero Danny finding his mind trapped in the machinations of the C.R.U.S.H (Cognitive Regression Utilizing pSychiatric Heuristics) device. The resulting adventure (and we use the term lightly) follows Danny as he attempts to escape back to reality. Though this may sound like quite an endearing little yarn, the narrative pull of the game is minimal – with the main focus being the puzzling.
Crush 3D demands that you wrap your mind around the central crush mechanic. Although effortless to execute with a quick press of the L-button, the hasty reduction of 3D worlds to 2D has a considerable impact and demands that you look at the levels in a completely different way. Your viewpoint at any given time is also significant as it affects how the 2D version of the world appears. So, crush while looking from overhead to find Danny wandering around a flat plain; crush from the side and the game resembles a more traditional 2D platformer. Crushing can also bring distant platforms to the fore, allow Danny to travel to previously inaccessible areas.
Further complexity is added by different materials acting in different ways when crushed – some walls, for example, become passable, while others will block your path or even squash Danny and immediately force you back to three-dimensions. Additionally, lines painted on walls that appear merely decorative in 3D are transformed into platforms when crushed. The goal on any given level is simply to collect enough glowing orbs – imaginatively titled ‘Marbles’ – to unlock the exit and then to make your way there. Levels are generally very compact, but your path to the exit is rarely as straightforward as it appears.
Visually, it’s clean and colourful and though the use of the 3DS parallax-barrier display is hardly a game-changer, it does help to bring an added degree of solidity to the presentation. Each level is themed around one of Danny’s memories or experiences, and most lean towards slightly demented yet childlike whimsy – be it a sunny and surreal sea-side or neon-lit carnival. Scattered throughout them are various obstacles and items – from moving platforms, to oversized drinks-cans and basketballs, all of which can both hinder and help your journey to the exit and to ultimately find a way out of C.R.U.S.H and back to reality.
In some ways, the game’s vibrant settings are at odds with the puzzling they contain – which swings from being quietly satisfying to fist-chewingly difficult. Though for the first few levels it is easy to be carried along on the novelty of the central crush mechanic, it doesn’t take long for the difficulty to ramp up considerably, placing increasingly exacting demands on the player, with little room for improvisation or experimentation. For each and every puzzle, there is a set solution meaning that crushing, uncrushing, and positioning Danny and in-game items must be carried out in a very regimented order. While this is not particularly unusual for a puzzle game, the sheer number of possible permutations that each level contains can result in a frustrating experience that does put your patience to the test. A hint feature is available that provides increasingly detailed instructions on how to progress (depending on the number of times you access it), but relying too heavily on this greatly reduces the whole point of playing the game in the first place.
Despite its issues, Crush3D offers a slickly presented, quirky and idiosyncratic experience that delivers spatial puzzles that will definitely stretch your grey matter. Unfortunately, it can also test your patience as much as your lateral thinking, a factor that isn’t helped by an annoyingly up-beat soundtrack. So, while its mechanics are wonderfully illusionary, Crush3D’s biggest trick may be in hiding such an exacting and demanding puzzler underneath the breezy, happy-go-lucky presentation.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 3DS version of Crush3D provided by Sega.
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