In 2007, Sega released Crush for the Sony PSP. It was a nice little puzzle/platforming game where the 3-D environments could be compressed into 2-D and back again in order to navigate through the world. The mechanic was inventive enough that the critics loved it and so did gamers, though the game didn't do well enough to warrant a sequel. Instead, almost five years later, we get the game's re-release on a new system — and a slightly new title. For old players, Crush3d on the Nintendo 3DS isn't anything new. For those seeing it for the first time, though, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Strangely, the plot differs a great deal from the PSP original, as it is more lighthearted. You play the role of Danny, a friend of Dr. Doccerson who's agreed to test out his latest invention, C.R.U.S.H. While things seem to be going fine, it all goes haywire and Danny finds himself stuck in the dream world in which the machine has placed him. It's up to Danny to find his way out of his subconscious and get back into the waking world.
The move toward a more lighthearted story line may be better for younger gamers, but it robs the player of the original's more interesting story. Instead of better understanding what makes Danny an insomniac, we get a simpler one where he's just stuck in a machine. Darker themes either get glossed over or aren't mentioned at all, making the story feel like it has no real weight. Even though puzzle games aren't known for their plots, watering down an interesting one isn't exactly the best step to take.
At its heart, Crush3d is a puzzle platformer. Scattered throughout each level are marbles, with each color representing a point value. Picking up marbles equal to half of the total point value spread throughout a level opens up the exit, and getting there finishes off the level. For the completionists, there are also other items to collect in each level. Trophies unlock challenge levels that can be tackled later, and picture books can be collected to open up a gallery of concept art. Your performance in terms of how many times you've died or used hints also determines whether or not you can unlock new colors for your sleeping robe.
The hook for the game is the crush technique. The dream world you inhabit is presented in 3-D, but with the simple press of a button, you can crush the world into a 2-D plane as well as revert things back to 3-D. Depending on the angle you decide to crush from, you'll be able to merge platforms to reach marbles or skip long gaps and be teleported to an otherwise unreachable part of the level. Each transformation takes angles into account, so looking at the level from the top, for example, presses all of the vertical platforms into one plane while doing it from any of the four sides produces the same effect.
There are a base set of rules to be followed when crushing, however, and this is where the game gets tricky. No matter what type of environment you're in, there are three types of walls and platforms you'll encounter that all act normally in 3-D but gain new properties in 2-D. There's the normal wall, complete with platforms on which you can stand. There's the solid wall, which you can stand on top of but can't stand inside when the environment gets crushed. Then there's the ghost wall, which is like a normal wall but with no platforms, thus preventing you from doing anything but go through the wall. Manipulating the properties of each surface as well as the angle at which you crush is where the magic of the game lies; the early levels really show off imaginative solutions.
Get past those early levels, and the game begins to throw in a plethora of mechanics designed to make things much more difficult. Enemies like giant slugs and roaches appear to impede your progress, though each can easily be dealt with by crushing the level. There are objects you can roll around and power-ups that can only be activated when visible in the 2-D world. Switches and timers are there to move platforms, and objects can be used to stop effects from happening. Most games decide to dole these out slowly, but in Crush3d, each new mechanic comes in rather quickly, forcing you to learn everything all at once. Timers force you to get out of the leisurely pace of earlier levels and treat new ones like a race. That may be fine for those who want to play the Challenge levels, but gamers who are looking for a leisurely challenge will hate this.
After a five-year hiatus, fans of the PSP original will wonder if there's anything new here. Unfortunately, the answer is: not really. The additions either feel superficial or ease up on the difficulty significantly. The StreetPass feature comes into play, and depending on your performance at that point, you can choose to leave a gift for other players, such as new robe colors. You can also leave behind flags with messages on them, including personal hints. Speaking of hints, the big addition here is a progressive hint system, which helps you figure out your next step in a level at the price of a few marbles and the inability to get a perfect rank for the stage. The hints become more direct once you use the system more and more in a level, but even the early ones feel like they're giving you step-by-step instructions on how to correctly complete the stage. Frustrated players will be fine with this while purists will not only scoff at this but also wonder why the stats, like time spent in the level and graded performance, are missing.
Like the plot, the graphics move away from the darker look of the PSP and toward a much friendlier look for the 3DS. Colors for each of the four worlds are brighter, and environments have completely changed their look. Your dream worlds, for example, are all set during the day, and the dreary elements, like constant rain and surreal billboards in the city landscape, are no more. Danny may still be sporting a robe, but he stands upright and has a cheerful look as opposed to the hunched-over, defeated look he had in the PSP original. Aesthetic preferences aside, the game runs at a good frame rate and with little to no visual glitchesl.
For a game that relies on a dimension shifting gimmick, the use of 3-D feels nice, but not essential. Seeing a level in 2-D this way makes that plane stand out more from the background, and 3-D does the same. The effect isn't profound, though, so those hoping to be wowed like they were in more recent 3DS titles like Super Mario 3D Land and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D will be disappointed to see that the 3-D here doesn't inspire awe. With no adverse effects for turning it on, the game performs well when the stereoscopic ability is utilized.
Despite the cheery look, the music remains mostly the same as its original incarnation. The otherworldly vibe of the score still manages to fit with the new surroundings, and though it ultimately becomes forgettable, you won't be turning down the volume. Voices, however, have gone missing. The voice work in the original was quite good, so it's a shame to see it gone this time around, leaving you with text boxes and lines that feel soulless. With many games on the system capable of full-blown vocal performances, one has to wonder why this decision was made.
Five years after its initial debut, Crush3d is still a good puzzle game. The crush mechanic is interesting and ingenious, and the level layout makes good use of it despite throwing in more mechanics that might turn off players who weren't expecting something radically difficult quite so soon. It looks and sounds fine, but the little things missing here and there certainly hurt, and the change in theme might or might not be acceptable depending on your preferences. If you're coming into this fresh, you'll be fine with the game as long as you understand that it gets really hard, really quickly. If you're coming from the PSP version, you've already seen everything here, and the best thing you can do is hope that this sells well enough to warrant a well-deserved sequel.
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