Simple though it might be, dropping things from a huge height is still pretty entertaining. There's the catharsis of just letting something go, the satisfying sound when gravity takes its hold and an object plummets to its final destination. The plop as a stone reaches the bottom of a well can be deeply gratifying, for example – but have you ever wondered just what happens as the stone descends? We'd venture “probably not”, but Poisoft certainly has.
Splash or Crash (Kersploosh! in North America) takes that simplest of entertainment forms, removes any risk of water contamination, adds some surreal twists and distils it into an addictive, fast-paced video game. It sees the innards of wells re-imagined as gauntlets of foodstuffs, wooden barricades and fans. Reaching the bottom of a well isn't as easy as it seems, apparently – rather than a straightforward drop, you have to dodge obstacles and fly through the middle of floating doughnuts to speed up.
It's a time attack game, so you need to hit those boosts if you want the best score on the leaderboards. The problem is, the faster you go, the tougher it is to control your object and see what's immediately before you. You also have a limited health meter, so you have to balance speed with safety in order to complete your descent. Crash into too many things and there'll be no splash at the bottom. You can hit balloons on the way to bump up your health a little, though.
While each well usually takes just 60 – 90 seconds to zoom down, those moments are often filled with tension. There's too much going on to memorise them completely, so you have to rely on your reactions alone for the most part. We can't count the number of times we started a level feeling relaxed and ended it only to realise that we'd developed a crushing grip around our 3DS; it has a habit of ramping the difficulty up halfway down a well, but it rarely feels frustrating with it.
There are ten wells to play with, and we unlocked them all within an hour – and it only took that long because we played the first couple a lot before we moved on. However, it seems that this is what Poisoft intended, as one of the initial objects on offer is an invincible rubber ball. You're meant to smash through and gain access to all levels, because that's where the game really begins.
Those first runs are about discovery and the test of taking on a new course without prior knowledge; they're hard, but they're not insurmountable. The raw challenge comes in besting times, and here Splash or Crash proves itself extremely compelling. The relatively short length of levels means that it's all too easy to have just one more go – and just because you've completed a stage once, don't expect to beat it every time unless your reactions are consistently perfect.
There are just as many objects as there are wells. Each of the ten has its own properties – different boost speed, size, shape – that drastically change how you play. They're all introduced with ridiculous short story skits that explain how each object got tossed down the well, which are lighthearted and amusing; they can be easily skipped if you want to get right into the action, though.
The standard stone is small, nippy and can be bumped around a bit thanks to its not-too-shabby 100 HP; the rubber ball can survive anything, but its bouncy nature can delay progress if you hit an obstacle. An iron ball takes up a larger portion of the screen, making it more difficult to see upcoming dangers, though its hefty 999 HP practically guarantees that you'll eventually make it to the bottom. On the other end of the scale there are non-circular objects that turn differently and can only take a few hits; there's even one, for the most hardboiled players, that expires with a single hit. Drips need not apply.
The controls are tight, though initially some objects feel slightly flimsy; clipping into things that you didn't expect, for example. This feels intentional though, as Splash or Crash is just as much about learning the objects as it is about working out the courses, and once you've put in the practice things click into place. There's a great variety among the ten: you have to adapt to each one, learning how they twist, how fast they move. You can't transplant your play style 1:1 between them. You can absolutely master one but fail pitifully on another; each has a different feeling, so there's something for every ability level.
Splash or Crash also features some of the best stereoscopic 3D on 3DS. The view stretches far, as if you're looking right down the shaft of a well, and while it's still absolutely playable in 2D we think that the outstanding 3D really adds something. It's easy on the eyes either way, with a fitting cartoon style that's reminiscent of Hydroventure: Spin Cycle's environments. The menus are equally appealing; they're clean and open, all big buttons and bright colours.
There are only a handful of tunes in the soundtrack, but they're all pitched perfectly. There's bouncy, almost comedic music over the absurd story introductions and a frenetic techno piece during levels really fits the pace. The standout, however, is the title track: a sunny ditty that shouts out “spring time!”, filled with lilty drums and bird song. We could happily sit and play it on loop for minutes at a time.
There are definitely some things that could be expanded. There are local leaderboards which store up to 15 times per well, but we would have liked to see online functionality for these as well; you can exchange scores via StreetPass, at least. It might have been interesting to see an endless mode of some description that pushed you to survive the drop as long as possible, too.
Don't let the small number of levels put you off: Splash or Crash is not a game to be played through once and put aside. It's an addictive, well-presented game that's all about honing your abilities with each of the unique objects to score the best times possible. Though we wish its leaderboards extended online as well, Splash or Crash comes well recommended.