Vertex Pop, developer of Graceful Explosion Machine, is back - and it has shifted from 2D shooter to a brawler with impressive results. If you’re a pet owner, you’ll know the very unique bond you have with your animal. They’re your best friend, your pride and joy, and you’d do anything for them – just look at John Wick. Thankfully, Super Crush KO isn’t quite as grisly – this brawler trades Keanu for Karen, owner of adorable (if arguably overfed) cat Chubbz (and no, it’s not the Karen from the original Switch trailer, before you ask).
One day, Chubbz is abducted by a mysterious assailant, and it’s up to Karen to save her feline friend by battling through waves of robots. If all of this sounds strange, you ain't seen nothing yet. Karen brawls from left to right in true old school fashion, handily laying waste to dozens of enemies at once. Things start off nice and simple, with our heroine pummelling robots with her fists before drawing her blaster to deal ranged damage.
Before long, Karen is equipped with the “Twister Drill”, which, when combined with the ability to target enemies in mid-air, allows her to leap from enemy to enemy – before using a Ground Pound to mop up the rest. Each upgrade is earned by finding confectionery and food products in your journey – like a slice of pizza that unlocks the ability to dish out an uppercut, for example.
Most of these upgrades are earned within the first hour – and that’s a good thing. These abilities give Super Crush KO feel empowering sense of rhythm to combat, and the sooner players understand the innate language of each battle, the sooner Karen is pummelling, shooting, and uppercutting her way to Chubbz. Dodging provides a brief window of invulnerability, and as things escalate it becomes invaluable. The pièce de résistance is a devastating super beam which can deal big damage, even to boss battles.
These larger fights bookend each chapter and steadily increase in challenge. They’re a test of both movement and offensive abilities, and with the game feeling similar to Guacemelee (but without the Metroidvania elements), controls are wonderfully responsive. Platforming is fairly minimal in Super Crush KO; it's usually there to add a little extra spice to combat arenas, but spike traps and dissolving platforms can certainly wreak havoc on the more frantic combat levels – especially for those chasing an S-Rank.
Each of the game’s twenty levels offers leaderboard functionality, and the chance to earn the highest commendation. Points are earned for varied offence and multipliers are lost by taking damage – making aggressive, smart play the best way course of action.
Wherever you play, whether on the Switch itself or docked, Super Crush KO is a sumptuous-looking game. Each locale is similar in terms of function, but each has its own distinct flavouring, pulled together by a pastel art style that looks so cool in motion. Add to that great animations for Karen and clearly telegraphed enemy types (of which there are plenty), and you’ve got a great visual package that feels refreshingly laid back (helped by a story that’s the best kind of nonsense).
It can take time to adjust to Super Crush KO’s art-style, as many of the solid platforms can actually be shot-through by Karen’s blaster while others can’t. It’s a design language that takes a handful of levels to learn, but before long you’ll know exactly who and what you can hit from any given angle.
A special mention to the sound, too – combat mixes the satisfying thud of landing punches with the rat-a-tat-tat of a blaster to create almost a second soundtrack over the shimmering synths that sit low in the mix. If you’re playing on the go, try Super Crush KO with headphones and thank us later.
The biggest negative about the whole experience is its brevity. Like so many examples of the genre, Super Crush KO is over all too quickly, and while it's a real blast while it lasts, it's a shame that a little more content couldn't have been included to keep you glued to your screen.
Whichever way you play, Vertex Pop has done it again. Not unlike Karen’s various food treats that power-up her move set, Super Crush KO offers short-term satisfaction but it's very sweet while it lasts. Despite the compactness of the experience, it looks great and plays even better – so what are you waiting for? Go forth and save your kitty.