Everyone has dabbled in some form of a falling block puzzle game at some point in their life. For most people, it’s probably some form of Tetris. For others, it may be Dr. Mario, or Puyo Puyo, maybe even Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. Years upon years of formula tweaking and innovative twists on the simple premise of blocks falling from the sky has led to so many different versions of the addictive core concept that no system is ever starved for choice when it comes to the genre.
On Nintendo Switch we already have a smattering of falling block puzzles to choose from: the phenomenal free-to-play Tetris 99, Puyo Puyo Tetris, Puyo Puyo Champions, Lumines Remastered and even Tricky Towers to name a few. While none of the Tetris alternatives have become as synonymous with the genre as the big T itself, they’re all fantastic options in a surprisingly crowded genre on Switch.
Cue Crystal Crisis, a Nicalis-themed crossover puzzle game that adds its own spin on the biblical apocalypse of blocks falling from the heavens. It’s a well-presented affair: not only does the game open with a foreboding introduction by Optimus Prime voice actor Peter Cullen, but it also features a lavishly animated opening movie complete with an anime-style theme song. Upon booting it up, it’s clear that a lot of love has been poured into this one.
As far as puzzle mechanics go, Crystal Crisis is a strong contender for the Switch’s swelling library of puzzle games. Every match you play will be of the versus variety, one character against another in a tense tussle of colour-matching gusto.
Unlike the deceptively simple act of sliding together Tetris’ tetrominoes, moment-to-moment gameplay is more complex despite masquerading as something much simpler. Instead of shapes like in Tetris, blocks are instead presented in a duo of two conjoined squares. Each square can be one of four colours: red, yellow, blue or green. Occasionally, one or both squares may take the form of a coloured crystal, the game’s traditional way of clearing away the chains of coloured blocks you’ll build in your grid.
Upon smashing these blocks, you’ll throw timed blocks onto your opponent's field; timed blocks are unusable and take numerous turns before they’ll revert back into normal blocks. However, hard-dropping a crystal onto a cluster of timed blocks can also clear a small cluster… still with us?
These mechanics are just the tip of the iceberg: Crystal Crisis throws a lot of mechanics into what would otherwise be a simple puzzle game. On top of normal crystals, there are large poly-crystals which remove all blocks of a single colour from the board. Then there are burst moves which are governed by a fighting game styled super meter—each character has both an attack and defence burst which have their own unique effects on the game board.
If you really want to get good, you’ll also have to learn each character’s attack pattern which dictates how they drop blocks onto your field, just like in the bubble-popping puzzle game Bust-a-Move. While some characters, such as Isaac from The Binding of Isaac, have patterns that can easily be countered, other foes throw blocks in such a disarranged mess that it almost feels impossible to accurately counter.
Crystal Crisis’ biggest bewildering blunder is in how it handles the all-important titular crystals mechanic. While countering your opponent’s attacks, balancing the use of your burst moves and simply manipulating the game’s blocks into forming suitable chains all feel skilful, relying on the appearance of a crystal is the singular mechanic that feels rooted in blind luck.
Getting to the top of your grid is a tense situation, especially once your block placements become direr and direr, but a lot of the time you’ll be waiting on the appearance of a crystal that may not ever appear. It feels rather cheap: outside of crystals, only defensive bursts can remove blocks from the field but gaining burst meter is intrinsically tied to using crystals. It’s a cyclical issue, but it’s one that could easily be solved by telling you when to expect your next crystal. Thankfully, each match is structured as a best-of-three fight, so you’ll still have a chance to win if you feel like you’ve been cheated.
If that issue doesn’t both you, then you’ll likely enjoy the surprisingly large number of modes this game has to offer. While it’s main story mode is unfortunately very weak—consisting of just nine missions with slight alterations for reruns—there’s a bountiful library of extra modes and options to play with.
Memory Mode, Inline Mode, Arcade Mode, Online Play and Tag Battles all add to what would otherwise be a rather flimsy package. Memory Mode is a particular highlight; upon placing blocks in this mode, they’ll turn into black blocks. You’ll have to remember where you placed which block if you wish to succeed—it’s very difficult.
Outside of this, the game’s Nicalis theme also helps. Characters ranging from Cave Story’s Quote and Curly all the way to iconic anime robot Astro Boy all make an appearance. On top of being lavishly presented, you’ll be able to find gorgeous art and music for every character within the Extras menu. While it may not be as polished as Nicalis’ other crossover game Blade Strangers, it certainly has more content to toy with. If you’re a fan of Nicalis properties, then you’ll definitely get a kick out of this.
Crystal Crisis isn’t going to dethrone the kings of the falling block genre anytime soon. It’s a solid puzzler with a heart of gold, but it doesn’t have the decades of improvements that its peers have. With a solid amount of content, an amazing cast of characters and fantastic presentation, though, we recommend this as a fun alternative if you tire of Tetris 99.
I'm sure this was listed as $19.99 on the US eShop all the way to going live today, when its now gone up to $29.99. Was going to buy at around that £15 mark, but definitely not seemingly worth £25+.
Might pick it up in a sale at some point.
I think super puzzle fighter 2 turbo is the greatest puzzle game ever made. I’ve been waiting for this one as soon as I saw the trailer showing that it’s an imitation of that game. Can’t wait!!
I feel like the competitive puzzle game thing has getting overdone lately but this does have a lot of charm. I love how Johnny Turbo is a character!
Weird there's no mention of Super Puzzle Fighter in this review, given that this game is heavily based on it.
Johnny Turbo is back? AND YOU CAN SHOOT A DEPRESSED ABUSED CHILD IN THE NAME OF PUZZLES? SIGN ME UP!
Cave Story and Super Puzzle Fighters in one package?!
Well... I think I can stomach a bit of loading now and then...
This game is a huge improvement on the puzzle fighter series. More than this article gives it due deference for...
It is however, ultimately stymied by those loading times. I've spent as much time in loading screens as I have playing the game, 2 hours in.. 6/10 if that is never fixed. Probably 9/10 for puzzle fighter fans if they get that straightened out though.
Easily the longest loading times I've encountered on the system.
Nicalis still overpricing I see...
@gcunit It did a weird pricejump after launch.... Prior to release, straight through like 11am eastern time us, it was 19.99... almost like they had a pre launch sale but didn't list it as such.
I'd say it's worth 20 bucks easily.
@dorksoul Thank you for making the loading times clear. I'll hold off on buying until they hopefully patch the game to have quick loading! It sounds like a great game overall.
Great price, and Ive been waiting for awhile for this. Cant wait for friday.
Helps to know in puzzle/color matching games like this if there are accessibility options/color blind modes.
Are there accessibility options/color blind modes?
The retail release/box for this is pretty cool.
This game would work on the N64
@60frames-please To be honest the loading issue on the Switch is making me consider the PS4 version instead.
Have had this pre-ordered for a good five or six months (snapped it up on Amazon when it was cheap). Look forward to finally getting my copy.
@mister_magnus Yes; there is. Giantbomb did a quick look video at the game back on may 20th and it shows that there is an accessibility options (with a lot of option for color blind to change up the colours for the gems/block/crystal or whatever you want to call it)
To be clear, I would highly recommend this one to die hard Puzzle Fighter fans without a second thought. The loading times aren't enough of a barrier to keep me from a 3.5 hour marathon. There is enough meat on the bone that I'd probably recommend it with or without Nintendo Online as well.
For anyone on the fence because you aren't sure what to expect: find a way to play Puzzle Fighter... Any means necessary. That will give you the basic formula. Crystal Crisis is to Puzzle Fighter what Street Fighter 4 is to Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo.
If you are on the fence because of the post launch price, and the loading times, I'd easily recommend waiting for a sale.
$30 for a blocks game?!... Im in the wrong business 🤔
I had a copy preodered but wasn't sure if I wanted to keep it at that price and then forgot and it showed up today. I'm currently glad I didn't cancel because I am hooked. This game is stupidly addictive and satisfying to play. No idea this was exactly what I wanted in my life at the moment.
Only played versus so far but this is an excellent puzzle game. Each character has their own defense/offense specials, so I am figuring out which I like best
I pre-ordered it because i love the presentation of the Nicalis games and have all the others but the character sprites in this do not look good. There is something odd and coarse about the way they fit over the backgrounds just like in Blade Strangers.
@Agramonte What business are you in?
I've been waiting for a new Super Puzzle Fighter, but the presentation is a bit meh (it looks really dark for a game about breaking crystals, shouldn't it be brighter and more colorful?), I care only about a few of the characters and Nicalis has a bad rap...
I fully intended to buy this game but then the price shot up $10 when it launched, despite the pre-order price not being advertised as a sale, so I probably won't bother even when it goes on sale. That was the last straw for Nicalis for me.
appreciate the info, @AntiHero
@mister_magnus Can also confirm color blind options. In fact, very often during loading screens, they remind that "hey are you having trouble telling the difference between crystals? Check out the options menu..."
@CrimsonMoonMist The loading times are not a deal breaker at all. They're pretty annoying more than SHUT THE GAME OFF FRUSTRATING. But that's only when the match first loads up. The rematching is instant (plays 2 out of 3).
@SmaggTheSmug Doesn't feel dark while playing it (in either theme or palette). Haven't played it docked yet, but in portable I thought the game looked a lot nicer than it was previewing.
@YANDMAN Thought that about the characters plus background too...I've only been playing it portable but it just feels and looks better than it's previewing everywhere else. Maybe it's because when you're playing your eyes aren't focused on the background at all.
For anyone buying this, I'd recommend turning the perspective grid off. Game instantly felt "right" after that.
@Dang69 The crystals themselves seem flat and dull in the screenshots, just flat cubes. Even Tetris blocks usually aren't just flat shapes or flat squares, they often have a bit of texture to them. Here it looks like they accidentally shipped the game with placeholders.
The game that inspired it is much more visually appealing, even if a lot more busy.
@SmaggTheSmug well sure if you're going to compare it to Capcom at the peak of the pixel art artist powers, yeah it doesn't look as good! These pieces feel a little more Dr. Mario. After playing it 2 days in a row I can say it absolutely does not look AS flat as it does in those screencaps. It is not as bright as Puzzle Fighter. The music in this is perfect for summer though. If you do like Puzzle Fighter I'd totally recommend this. I've been really bored on Switch lately so maybe I'm more excited about playing this than I would be normally.
@Dang69 The characters in this game are from games with peak pixel art as well: Solange, Curly and Quote or Isaac. And it doesn't need to be anything fancy, just make the crystals shiny. And maybe make the UI a bit less barebones.
That said I will probably get this game at some point, as there's no peep about porting Puzzle Fighter to Switch. And Curly Brace may just be enough.
@SmaggTheSmug You could prob run out and find a Playstation Classic for $30 and get Puzzle Fighter on that...kind of been considering it for that game.
Your point about the games the characters came from (pixel art) doesn't totally work here because those creators and developers aren't working on this. It could have been cool to just see their styles retained (Astro Boy could have been based off the Gameboy Advance version).
Still playing the game and haven't burned out over my initial hype like I do a lot...but I can't find any matches online yet
@dorksoul that maybe but looking at the blocks they are kinda ugly and. Puzzle Fighter did a better job and that on a weaker system. They could've used gem like graphics. You know graphics can make a difference too. This one looks bland and don't want to play it even the gameplay is good. Something is missing in this game and it's not charming. Would be easily forgotten. Puzzle Fighter still keeps up
@mister_magnus I found my old login just to tell you that, Yes. There is a colorblind mode. However I didnt find it much help. I'm a strong protan (red-green) and found it awful to use. However the customize option works the best. You can choose 4 distinct colors to choose from for the colors.
@Pie7 cheers. Definitely appreciate the thought, effort and heads-up.
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