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.