Posted by James Newton
The original Crush on PSP was a commercial failure, despite very positive reviews and praise for its ingenious concept. Developer Zoë Mode's returned for a second attempt with CRUSH3D, out now in Europe and heading Stateside in February.
CRUSH's central concept is simple: its 3D stages can be "crushed" to become two dimensional. Can't reach the platform in the background? Flatten the stage and it lands next to you. Need to get higher? Crush from top-down and the newly flattened landscape becomes a cinch to walk across. The aim of each stage is to collect at least half the marbles — which hero Danny has lost, of course — and head to the exit. It's all easier said than done of course, but is explained through a straightforward tutorial that gets you up to speed in no time.
Once you've got the basics down, CRUSH introduces new layers: "ghost" blocks disappear when crushed, switches must be stood on and giant boulders pushed into place. It doesn't sound vastly original, but it's the way things are put together that holds your attention: having five points of view and two dimensions keeps puzzles concise, with new rules introduced along the way.
That progression is both CRUSH's strength and its undoing: no two puzzles are the same, but the rate at which puzzles advance can be disconcerting. With such a unique premise, if you're not prepared to take on its later challenges you just end up crushing to see what happens, rather than as part of a considered solution: experimentation in a puzzler is welcome, but not at the expense of logic. Should you get truly stuck you can use a hint, though it means that the chance of a perfect rating is lost.
Repeat play of early stages is recommended to reinforce CRUSH's rules, with hidden trophies and art in every level the rewards for exploration. Collecting every marble also unlocks a new dressing gown design — perhaps the single most incredible piece of unlockable content any game has ever seen. Mundane by comparison, grabbing a cup unlocks Trophy mode, a Challenge mode of sorts, containing harder versions of levels and key restrictions: you have a limited number of crushes, and must collect every marble within a time limit to succeed. Experts will savour its sadism and marvel at the intricacies; those who find the main game hard enough to grasp will wither under Trophy mode's difficulty.
There are other neat asides here too: you can leave an in-game gift via StreetPass for other players to pick up. The more marbles you've grabbed, the better the gift; a clever idea, though naturally your mileage may vary depending on your area's StreetPass potential.
With 40 regular levels and 40 Trophy mode stages you wouldn't call CRUSH3D an enormous game, but it's hard enough to last and rewarding enough to make you persevere; while it doesn't offer Pullblox-like levels of "eureka!", there's some satisfaction to be gained from figuring out a tricky teaser.
Graphically the game won't win many awards, with a slightly dull style that rounds off the PSP's original darker edges: while that game was a twisted lunacy, its 3DS cousin is a brighter affair, with a big-eyed protagonist and chunky graphical style. The 3D adds notable depth when uncrushed, though naturally when squashed flat it does little, but you're not losing out if you play with the slider set to off.
CRUSH3D is enjoyable, challenging and unique among the 3DS's current library. Its central idea never quite ignites into genius-level design and it sometimes descends into trial and error, but it's worth a look for puzzle fans.