Imagine this: you're trapped inside a strange experiment; the only tool at your disposal is the power to move great distances in an instant. With only this ability and your own wits to help you, you must outsmart a sinister computer program hell-bent on both killing you and romancing you at the same time. Sound familiar? No, this isn’t another entry in the Portal series, but a remake of the generally well-received PSP puzzler, Crush, for the Nintendo 3DS. Does lightning strike twice for this unique take on the puzzle-platformer or is this a title that should be banished from our memories?
You are Danny, a young man with an affinity for house coats who is once again forced into participating in one of his best friends' (the Doc, who may or may not have a slight case of mad scientist-itis) experiments. We are soon introduced to C.R.U.S.H., a machine that has the ability to solve people’s problems by allowing them to venture into their own psyches. But like most crazy experiments, this one soon goes awry and Danny is trapped within his own mind, forced to find his missing marbles so that C.R.U.S.H. will allow him to return to reality.
The basic idea of Crush 3D is to navigate a complex maze-like level, collecting enough marbles to open the exit. Sounds simple enough, right? Well allow me to complicate things a little. Not only can you manipulate the environments like an M.C. Esher drawing to create new platforms out of nothing, you can also ‘crush’ the world from fully rendered 3D landscapes to flat 2D ones. This novel concept gives you a seemingly endless array of options as to how to best approach a puzzle and is both the reason why Crush 3D stands out and falls flat at the same time.
First the good: Crush 3D offers a fresh-take on the puzzle-platformer. Manipulating the environments and challenging yourself to find new ways to complete levels is where most of the fun is had. At its best the game feels like a cross between Super Mario 64 and Qbert, and will stimulate you mentally as you shift dimensions in an effort to find all of the marbles and advance. The levels are even dotted with hidden power-ups to give you even more tools and options to try to reach the goal. Too bad these moments of greatness are surrounded by generic everything else.
Little things, like stiff yet imprecise jumping controls, a camera that is too far away from the action, and a few odd-ball level designs, could all be forgiven if it weren’t for the repetitive game design that follows you from level one onwards. The entire game is built on the concept of ‘crushing’ the levels and collecting your marbles. It never deviates from this formula; never gives you anything else to do except crush and collect. It's a pattern that gets very old as you reach the second world. Minor novel elements are added, like enemies that must be crushed and movable objects, but in the end once you’ve seen the first few levels you've seen all the game has to offer.
There are also random, brutal difficulty spikes. One minute you'll be breezing through levels with ease then, suddenly, you'll hit a wall. The later stages are especially bad for this as even the new hint system is a puzzle in and of itself, offering only vague riddles to help you on your way. In the end, you'll be forced to just keep crushing the stage and rotating the camera endlessly in an effort to find your way. Hardly a fun and stimulating way to play.
Of course, the most striking difference between original on the PSP and the 3DS version is the visual aesthetic of the game. On the PlayStation Portable, Danny’s mind was a dark and bleak place that would have felt right at home in a Tim Burton movie, on the 3DS… not so much. The moody and depressing art style has been replaced with a much more colourful color palette that, while pleasant to look, results in a much more generic look. It takes the edge away from the world and the characters, even making Danny’s misfortunes seem like trivial happenings.
The graphics also appear to have been downgraded in the move from the PSP to the 3DS. The lighting effects are much more subdued this around and the environments seem to be lacking in the finer details (what happened to textures, people?). One bright point, however, is in the 3D effect, which definitely adds a whole new layer of depth (I am the funniest person on Earth) to the experience. The third dimension not only makes things like particle effects and the 3D to 2D transition look great but also helps you judge jumps and distances much more easily.
The game’s soundtrack suffers the same fate as the art style, in that it plays safe. At no point throughout the game does the music even standout, so much so that while writing this review I actually forgot that the game even had music! One thing that did stick out, however, is the game’s very ‘modern’ sense of humour. Crush 3D is a genuinely funny game. Most notable are the conversations between the Doc and Danny. Oftentimes I found that the only thing motivating me to continue was the promise of another hilarious cut-scene; a true testament to the writing staff.
One thing's for sure, you'll definitely be getting good bang for your buck if you do decide to pick up the 3DS game. It features 50 levels in its campaign and another 50 unlockable levels that force you to reach the exit within a strict time frame and with a limited number of crushes. It even features a deep trove of unlockables, an achievement system, extra house coats for Danny, and even concept art for both the PSP original and Crush 3D. You even get an excuse to use those Nintendo 3DS Play Coins here. With Play Coins you can buy gifts and hide them in levels for friends to find via the StreetPass feature. All of this for the low, low price of $19.99!
It’s a real shame that some of the more interesting elements from the original game didn't make the transition to the 3DS. The darker, more original setting would have meshed wonderfully with the unique aspects brought forth by Nintendo’s portable, such as the 3D effect and StreetPass. Alas Crush 3D is a noble attempt to bring an interesting concept to the masses, however this version seems to take a couple of small steps forwards whilst at the same time taking great strides backwards.
* This review is based on a retail copy of Crush 3D for the Nintendo 3DS.