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Review: Critter Crunch (Capybara Games)
OCTOBER 15, 2009
Originally an award-winning mobile puzzler back in 2007, then ported to the iPhone last year, Capybara Games' Critter Crunch has been given a graphical beefing up, had some new modes thrown in and has headed out for the Playstation Network for the latest iteration of the franchise.
Critter Crunch is one of the those puzzlers which takes minutes to get into, but many hours to master. It's also great fun, incredibly (dare I use the word) cute, full of character and, most importantly, addictive to the highest degree. Because that's what you want from a console puzzle game, right?
Gameplay starts off at snail-pace, with three different types of critter to deal with. Flies can be fed to the medium-sized fuzzies, while the mediums can in turn be nom-nom-ed be the larger ones. Feed two flies to a medium and he'll explode, showering you with points. Similarly, two mediums will cause a large to go boom. There are some other little tricks of the trade too for those wanting to push the tactics - for example, feed a medium critter who has only gobbled on one fly to a large and that counts as feeding two mediums, hence explosion; there's also the 'Food Chain' feeding method involving feeding a fly to a medium who is directly beneath a large for multi-gobbles.
Critters can also be destroyed in same-coloured chains. Pop a red medium who is residing next to a line of other red mediums and watch as they all share a similar fate. Removing 8 or more critters in one go will cause a small baby creature to run to your side, and you'll then have a short amount of time in which to feed him for massive point scoring before he skidaddles off and you continue. All the while, however, critters are climbing down the vines slowly and if any reach the bottom, you've had it.
All this knowledge may sound daunting, but the difficulty curve on the main adventure mode ups the ante so very slowly that for the first few hours, you can simply get by putting flies in mediums and mediums in larges and hope for the best. Along the way, special critters and factors are introduced (critters with diseases, glowing critters, bomb critters to name a few) which can be used to your advantages or otherwise, but Capy have made sure that the gameplay becomes challenging rather than deadly (at least in Adventure mode, anyway!). You'll find that the end will appears to be nigh many times over, but you'll always come back from the brink to win the day yet again.
There are four main single-player game types. The Adventure/Story mode is your main port of call, in which players forge their way across a forgotten island wolfing down anything that looks edible and racking up high scores all the way. Puzzle mode is like the yin to Adventure's yang - rather than being a hectic battle to keep the wrigglies as bay, puzzle mode is far more relaxed. Enemies don't move down the vines - instead, you are given a set number of moves and your task is to clear the board. Initially very simple, you'll be tearing your hair out by the time you discover the final puzzle. Warning: will give your brain a well-needed kick in the frontal lobe.
Challenge mode takes the main story mode, gives you a goal (eat 10 red critters, create 5 Food Chains), sticks a time-limit in the corner of the screen and shouts GO! Some of the later challenge levels nearly resulted in my Playstation control in pieces - they can be frustratingly hard, especially since the initial critter spawn is completely random, therefore sometimes the level may bless you with a useful starting point and other times it will palm you in the face. Finally, Survival mode is pretty much what you're expect - keep going for as long as humanly possible.
On to multiplayer. Two players can play either locally or over the Playstation Network against each other and there are two modes available for gaming consumption - co-op and versus. Co-op is straight forward and involves you and a friend/stranger keeping the critters up the vines over a huge level spanning the entire screen. Sounds easy enough, but it can actually be pretty tricky. If you see your partner having problems shifting his side of the screen, you'll need to go over and help him, leaving your own side to potentially perish. Finding a balance (or just another player who can cope under pressure) is a skill acquired through trial and error.
Versus mode sees the screen split right down the middle. Both you and your opponent play as normal, but eating enough will rain crazy animations and absurdities down on your foe, temporarily slowing them down and potentially giving you the victory. It's fast-paced fun, but as you'd imagine, there are some stupidly good people looking for games who will obliterate you faster than you can say 'Chomp on this'. Still, if you're looking for a challenge, this is where you may spend most of your time.
So gameplay-wise, you're looking at many hours of bug-popping over a few different modes of play - all good so far. It'd be rather silly of me, however, to skim over why Critter Crunch has received so much press - that presentation. It just looks adorable and, in turn, hilarious at the same time. From the explosion animations on each creature to our hero Biggs darting around the bottom of the level, looking for something to chew on, life has been breathed into every aspect so lovingly and it has worked wonders. I mean really, who in their right mind could receive a gameplay video which looks like that and NOT want to post it up on their site?
If I have to find fault somewhere, it would definitely be with how long the concept holds before it begins to go stale. Capy have done a fantastic job of throwing in new critters and ideas along the way so that the gameplay stays fresh, but eventually there is only so far that it can be taken before boredom and that 'just one more go' feeling disappear. Still, for a mere $7 you're getting around 5 hours to complete the main story and then a serious amount of time on top of that if you're planning on going back and destroying every mode.
Critter Crunch was a big hit on the iPhone and the PSN version has come up trumps as well. It's simple, fun and seriously adorable. Grab it from the PSN store via your PS3 now. (Only available in America at time of writing, with plan for European release sometime soon).
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