Developer: Zoe Mode
ESRB: E +10 (animated blood, suggestive themes)
There are a lot of games out there these days that have interesting ideas. The vast majority of these titles however, end up being nothing more than a loose frame work for that idea. For example, this is something that people are worried will happen with the upcoming Fracture. So it was with Crush in the weeks and months before its release. Gaming industry pundits saw this game’s groundbreaking 3D to 2D world altering system and though it stood a chance of being a tech demo. However those fears can now officially be declared unfounded as Crush proves to be not just a tightly woven game, but pretty much a stroke of genius too.
The game starts off with the main character Danny being hospitalized because of his constant fight with insomnia. From there the story takes us through Danny’s experience with a doctor’s miracle cure device C.R.U.S.H. Slowly, over the course of the story the player delves into Danny’s mind through Crush and towards an understanding of what it is that causes his insomnia.
Because the whole story is about how C.R.U.S.H. is helping to get Danny over his issues, each level is themed on a particular traumatic event that is causing him to lose sleep. The story and the set-up combine well together to keep the story and gameplay cohesive, and the story itself is good enough in it’s own right to spur the player on through Crush’s increasingly devious puzzles.
From there the story wisely stops and avoids overstepping its bounds and lets the gameplay take over. While Crush is a solid story and a good idea, the way everything comes together to create some seriously diabolical puzzles. Maybe I’m moving too fast though. For those who haven’t seen Crush in motion, there’s a video below where you can check it out because it’s rather hard to explain. Basically the game starts in a fully 3D world. But, at any time, the player can choose to pull the L trigger on the PSP and condense (or crush) the entire environment down to a 2D form. Crush takes this mechanic and turns it into a strikingly superb way to confound the player, and at all times past the first few tutorial levels there is sufficient challenge that will force you to really work your noodle.
Part of what makes Crush so much better than other puzzle games is that the presentation is at all times so solid that you’ll hardly ever feel like it’s a puzzle game. It feels more like a really hard platformer. Unlike other games in the genre Crush impresses on all fronts technically, and the whole presentation is spot on. The graphics take on a somewhat warped style that many have compared to a scaled down version of the classic Xbox platformer Psychonauts. The comparison is not far off. Since all levels take place inside Danny’s brain, and Danny is a disturbed Insomniac, everything is slightly warped. Even the backgrounds will flex, expand and twist the whole time. If you spend too much time looking at them you may actually start to feel a bit sick, but it’s fine otherwise.
Graphics are small potatoes in Crush though. The real winner is the music. Like the graphics, all the music is slightly warped and a little off key and sounds very clouded like a dream. In some levels, you’ll even hear the same phrase of a catchy song played over and over just like an insomniac. It’s never annoying though, and it always treads the border of being too off key without ever stepping over the line. The rest of the sound is pretty good too, without ever being actually impressive. The voice acting is solid, and accomplishes it’s purpose. There aren’t very many sound effects, but the ones that are there do their job sufficiently.
Crush may not be the type of game that will cause people to run out and buy the PSP just for this one game, but it is definitely a must own for PSP owners (especially at only $29.99) and puzzle gamelovers. It's not the type of blockbuster experience that anyone can get into though, if you hate puzzle games, you wont like this, but for what it is, Crush is a fantastic piece of gaming and as close a thing to genius game design as I've seen in a while.
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