It is getting harder and harder to find innovative games that aren't simply new and improved re-hashes of older ones. It's just too enticing for a gaming company to play it safe and try and mooch off the success of a competitor's title. Fortunately, when the proper stars and planets are in alignment, a clever developer will pour some greatness into a new title, the publisher will take the necessary risks, and the end result is an exciting new game which breathes fresh air back into a tiring genre ... until it is copied by a competitor, that is.
In Crush, you play a hospitalized insomniac named Danny, who is assisted by a strange psychologist/mad scientist named Dr. Reubens. The doctor offers Danny a chance of having his problems solved using a new psychotherapeutic invention called the C.R.U.S.H. Machine (Cognitive Regression Utilizing pSychiatric Heuristics). Dr. Reubens claims that while under hypnosis, C.R.U.S.H. will allow Danny to come to terms with his various neuroses, which will give him the ability to transverse his own mind by switching between 2D and 3D space. This premise equates to a challenging platform game with 40 levels where you must solve spatial puzzles in both 2D and 3D while you collect marbles, trophies and puzzle pieces. Crush includes a brief set of walk-through tutorial levels to help new players understand the unique mechanics of the game. Crush is single-player only and does not offer a multiplayer mode; it comes on a single UMD and includes a 15-page reference manual.
Crush utilizes comic-book style art for its cut scenes to tell the story, with the graphics styles changing between 2D and 3D modes. In 2D mode, you'll find flat, well-lit graphics similar to something in a first-generation 2D platformer, whereas in 3D mode, you will find an overall darker scene with low lighting, shadows, and an interesting slow wobbling effect that's used on the gloomy backgrounds to add a more convincing dream-like quality to the gameplay. The control usage for Crush is comfortable, intuitive and easily mastered in a very short period of time. Likewise, selecting preset views and manipulating the free-roaming camera is also easy to learn and operate.
A variety of Jazzy & Techno music tracks will keep your toes tapping as you negotiate the platforms on each level of Crush. The game's sound effects work well for the visual design, and I especially like the stereotypical voice of the mad scientist and Danny's long, drawn-out scream when he falls off of a platform into the dark nothingness.
So how does it all work? You basically begin a level in 3D with a textured and shaded environment, as you run around collecting Danny's marbles. You'll soon notice that you are unable to get to some of them, so with a press of your left button, the 3D environment is literally squashed into 2D. The concept is similar to Super Paper Mario, but instead of the playable character changing from 3D to 2D, it's the environment that collapses.
It is a bit difficult to explain this change with words, but as an example, consider this: Off in the distance, you see another platform with a marble on it, but there is no way to get to it because the platform on which you stand ends one square away. When you switch over to 2D, everything flattens out so that the far-away marble is right next to you because you are now in a 2D world, with no depth. If you are still with me, also consider this: Since 3D is just that, you have top, left, right, front and back views of yourself in 3D mode. Now, depending on what you have your camera view set to at the moment, when you Crush to 2D, you will experience a completely different flattening of your environment. I can imagine how maddening it would be to design levels for this game. Hats off to the developers for pulling it off!
Your goal in Crush is to navigate Danny through his own mind and assist him with dealing with his neuroses by collecting marbles. Additionally, by collecting trophies and puzzle pieces, you are able to unlock gallery images and levels for replay in trophy mode. After completing the in-game tutorial and working your way through the first few levels, you may begin to feel like Crush won't be too difficult to master, but don't let the initial levels fool you. Crush introduces new "nightmares" and block types in stages, so just as you start to feel comfortable with the elements in the game, they are expanded upon, and the level of complexity quickly increases. When you feel the need to crush, you need to remember where you are positioned because if you are in the wrong position, you will either be prevented from crushing, or you will fall into oblivion.
Since Crush is a platform game, you will need to take into consideration the obstacles and enemies (nightmares) that you might face on any given level. Some blocks will be hollow and allow Danny to crush when in front of them, while others are solid and will prevent crushing. Also, some blocks in later levels are really not blocks at all; these blocks are called "sheets," and depending on whether you are crushed or not, you may or may not see them in the environment. Fairly early in the game, you will begin to have to deal with boulders, which come in two varieties: continuously rolling or single space. Boulders add a serious level of difficulty to the puzzles because you may be required to move boulders to specific locations to climb onto other blocks, destroy nightmares, or even access locations or bonuses. If all of this were not enough, you will have to contend with four different "nightmares," which are the creatures you will want to avoid on a level — cockroaches, block-walkers, slugs and hazard blocks. The best way to deal with the various nightmares is to squash them using a well-placed crush.
Another unique feature of Crush is the ability to build "Thoughts," which enable or disable various changes to gameplay during a level. Thoughts are usually activated and deactivated by performing a crush, and there are five types available during gameplay. The Trophy Thought allows you to release a trophy which, when captured, unlocks the level for play in Trophy Mode; and the Lightheaded Thought will reduce gravity and allow Danny to jump much farther. While they are active, the Dimensional Thought will prevent crushing, and the Temporal Thought stops time but allows Danny to move around. Finally, the Alarm Clock Thought will wake Danny if it counts down to zero; Danny must shut it off before it goes off, or else it will reset the level.
I found Crush to be an innovative twist on the platform/puzzle genre. The game is suitable for all ages and includes a hint feature which you can enable or disable in the options menu. My only complaint with the game is that it feels a bit short with only 40 levels. You still have some replay value left after completing the story by replaying levels in Trophy Mode and trying to beat your best times. If you are a fan of platform and/or puzzle titles, check out Crush. It's definitely worth adding to your collection.
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