Dashing its way onto the PlayStation Network, Critter Crunch is the latest 2D puzzle game to hit the downloadable space. By developer Capybara Games, Critter Crunch combines cute art and thorough animation with a noticeably different take on the sometimes bland puzzle genre. When this is combined with a quirky world and increasingly complex gameplay, Critter Crunch becomes a lot more than just a charming game.
Critter Crunch is a unique puzzle game, to say the least. Players take up the role of a fictional animal called Biggs, and Biggs is set on eating an enormous amount of crystals. Biggs is a friendly looking creature, furry, with a no arms, just legs, and a big belly with the appetite to match. Bug-like creatures, called Critters, have crystals in them, but instead of simply eating Critters, as Biggs can't, Biggs feeds Critters to each other to the point of overstuffing and exploding them. Once Critters are blown apart, Biggs consumes all of the crystals that fall out.
How the puzzle aspect and gameplay fit in with the setting is mildly similar to other puzzle games. Rows of Critters descend from the top of the screen periodically, row by row, downward between vines that divide the Critters into columns. During regular levels, if a Critter reaches the ground at the bottom of the screen, it's game over for Biggs, with all the Critters descending to pummel the poor guy. To keep this from happening, Biggs uses his very long tongue, standing below the Critters while shuffling left and right under the columns, grabbing smaller Critters to feed to larger Critters, overstuffing them to blow them apart. Critters come in multiple sizes, so to overstuff a medium Critter, Biggs must feed it two small Critters. To overstuff a large Critter, Biggs must feed it two medium Critters. Biggs can also mix things up by feeding a medium Critter one small Critter, making it stuffed, then feeding that stuffed medium Critter to a large Critter, in-turn overstuffing and blowing apart the large Critter. Once Biggs has consumed enough crystals the level ends. That is the basic premise of gameplay, and it certainly works well at the beginning of the game, however, the gameplay thickens.
With feeding Critters to one another, Biggs is essentially putting the food chain in high-gear. To up the ante, while progressing through the Adventure mode, the game introduces new Critters and other creatures to make life much more treacherous for Biggs. Gameplay starts ramping up in difficulty with the introduction of assortments of different coloured Critters, special creatures-like monster bombs, rock-men, electro bombs, as well as special one-use abilities. While the number of columns increases, along with speed at which Critters descend, the one aspect that really switches up gameplay is how each level mixes up the frequency at which different Critters and special creatures appear.Setting a level to descend rapidly, while having a high amount of monster bombs, or electro bombs - which both blow up a large number of Critters - makes things go at a ridiculously fast pace, but it remains doable with enough skill. Specifically limiting the amount of small and medium Critters in a stage emphasizes strategy, as Critters of the same size and colour will blow apart in chains if they are beside, above or below one another. A high frequency of rocks, which can't be eaten and require blowing apart by the Critter above them with the use of a chain explosion, can really make things frustratingly hard. Once again however, with a balance of special dolphin-like creatures that create rapid chain explosions, Biggs can take down rocks left, right, and centre. For each unique set of Critters and special creatures, certain play styles enable success, and fill Biggs' belly with those tasty, tasty crystals.
Biggs won't always succeed though; he actually fails far more frequently than he completes levels while progressing through the Adventure mode. The wrong choice of moves can really screw Biggs over and quickly overwhelm players. The difficulty curve is more or less a straight line at a moderate angle, but it literally keeps on going up and up as the game introduces more complex gameplay mechanics. Like any good puzzle game, ploughing through the game is like trying to run up a never ending flight of stairs, it's just mind numbingly not doable. The game requires a fair bit of practice, more practice and then even more practice to truly master. It's honestly a feat in itself to make it to the last level in Adventure mode.
As tricky as the game gets, the core gameplay almost never stops being addictive, exciting, and immersive. There are few faults, as for the most part if the player concentrates hard enough, to the point that they're 'in-the-zone', gameplay can move at a ridiculous pace and still be an enjoyable challenge. The harder it gets and the deeper it goes, the more rewarding the wins. One stickling complaint is that at times it can really feel like the frequency of necessary Critters or special creatures is luck of the draw, where simply restarting a level can improve your chances of winning substantially.
As centralized as the game is around its gameplay, Critter Crunch is actually an all-around solid package. The art style of the game is very family and kid friendly, with cute 2D art and well animated creatures and Critters. Levels take place in various locales, which in-turn ring in a change of background, and sometimes a change of atmospheric background sound. Critter Crunch's sound design is crystal clear, with some really great use of music and sound effects. The choice of creatures, story and setting are also all very well devised, and fit with the gameplay mechanics quite nicely.
In terms of replayability, its almost limitless. Truly mastering the game in every way, so to achieve the highest possible scores, is potentially a life's pursuit in magnitude. Adventure mode consists of a large island with dozens of different stages, puzzles and challenges, and unless players are some kind of puzzle genius, will take in the ballpark of 7-10 hours to complete, depending on how quickly players increase in skill. Puzzle Mode and Challenges Mode are also available separately, as well as a never-ending Survival Mode. If players conquer the game, Survival Mode is likely where they'll find the most replayability. The game also features local and online multiplayer, including versus and co-op play. With the game being all-around fun, it's great to play with another person, especially locally.
Critter Crunch is a game that appeals to a wide audience at the beginning, but as it gets more difficult, it narrows its appeal. For those willing and able to take on all the challenge the game has to offer, Critter Crunch will repay with a good amount of longevity. For those who aren't looking to master the art of critter crunching, you're more likely to abandon the game much earlier on, as there is certainly a point when things can get too frustrating to try again, and again. Overall the game delivers a solid, very enjoyable experience, in a package that just exclaims that the developers behind Critter Crunch not only put some really care into the game, but they likely love it themselves too. If puzzles are your thing, you can't miss this, if they're not, but the cute Biggs catches your eye, certainly give it a try.