You have to respect puzzle game developers that use the entire environment as the puzzle board. It takes skill and intricate planning, and when it works, that attention to detail pays off—as it does with Crush 3D, a remake of the 2007 PSP game Crush. At least most of the time.
The setup is quick and easy: you are Danny, an partly unwilling and totally unwitting guinea pig for an eccentric (and possibly a bit insane) professor that is a cross between Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Professor Farnsworth from Futurama.
Danny finds himself connected to a machine named C.R.U.S.H. that turns a person’s mindscape into a digital construct. The mind is represented by floating platforms, which each contain a set number of marbles (Get it? You’re in a digital representation of your brain collecting the marbles you lost? That’s gold right there) that you need to open each exit. There is also a hidden memory and a trophy in each level that aren’t required, but when collected unlock things like character art and new outfits.
The hook of the game is in the ability to “crush,” which is how you manipulate the environment. Each platform has five angles to focus on: four sides of a virtual square, as well as an overhead view. Turning the camera to each side lines up new platforms, and then with a touch of a button you “crush” the map and turn the three dimensional construct into two.
The dynamic then changes. Platforms that were obstructing you can become steps to reach higher areas, and divides that seemed impassable become smooth surfaces you can walk over. You can’t be pushed off your death by uncrushing, so experimenting with the different types of platforms and their different functions is key.
As you progress, new elements and obstacles are introduced. Lots and lots of them. Enemies soon show up, as do switches. Rolling obstacles come into play, thin sheets that are only available when crushed, graffiti that prevents you from uncrushing, and much more. It feels like it never really ends, and late into the game you will still be learning new techniques. In theory it sounds great and should keep the game fresh, but in practice it is overwhelming, and just when you are feeling comfortable with all the other elements new ones are introduced and old ones are forgotten. By the end of the 40 or so levels, there are so many elements, that rather than feeling intricate, it begins to feel unfocused.
In general, solving the puzzles is satisfying, which is where puzzle games live or die. There are a few nagging problems though. Sometimes the puzzles–especially when you are going after the optional things like the trophy and the memory–require trial and error more than problem solving. There is usually a logic to the way the levels fold in, but now and then there will be a platform that you cannot know how it will work until you crush it. A block that isn’t in the visible line of sight will suddenly come out of nowhere, or an overhead view will crush some things, but not others. There is also an issue with the responsiveness of the jump command that will occasionally send you falling to your death (which restarts you at the nearest checkpoint).
Separately, neither of these issues is a major problem, but together they can cause you to second guess your thought process in some of the more complicated puzzles, which runs counter to what a puzzle game should be. Many of the later levels feel like a grind, as you spin the camera around to see what each crush looks like and you hope your positioning is correct.
The levels are set up so that if you simply wish to grind through, you can collect half the marbles in a level to unlock the exit. But for the more obsessive types, which the game will certainly appeal to in its nature, collecting everything in the level can be challenging. By the end of the game it can be outright aggravating.
In terms of visuals, the 3D of the 3DS is right at home here. You don’t need the 3D, and it really doesn’t make solving the puzzles any easier, but it is a natural fit for a game that is all about aligning platforms between 2D and 3D views. Those that played the PSP version will recognize the techno jazz music, but probably appreciate the cleaner and more colorful cartoon-like settings. The graphics themselves aren’t amazing, but they don’t need to be for this type of game. They do the job.
Crush 3D is a solid offering in a growing, but still often neglected genre. There are plenty of puzzle games out there in the vein of Tetris, but only a few have begun to go the Portal-route and offer a full puzzle experience. Crush 3D isn’t on the same level as Valve’s puzzle masterpiece, but it has earned a spot in the same category.
There are a several moments where the level design overtakes the logic of the puzzles, but for the most part, Crush 3D is a smart and intelligent game that is as challenging as it is fresh and inventive.
Score 7.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS on a copy provided by Sega)