Blending interesting mechanics from both puzzlers and platformers with a decent storyline, Crush is a refreshing and needed addition to the PSP library. Players assume the role of Danny, an insomniac and generally troubled young man. Forced to deal with your mental illness with the help of hypnosis and a machine called C.R.U.S.H., Danny enters his own mind to destroy the demons of his psyche and regain his mental clarity.
Game play starts with a series of training levels in the sterile environment of C.R.U.S.H.’s virtual brain, led by the mysterious-yet-insightful Dr. Reubens. Danny has the ability to move around at will and jump, as well as engage C.R.U.S.H.’s mechanic to change the layout of the level from 2D to 3D (called ‘crushing’). The D-pad plays a pivotal role in the game by changing the players perspective, which when coupled with crushing allows the player to change the level in such dynamic ways as to circumvent enemies and destroy enemies.
Once into the meat of the game, crushing becomes a way of life. Levels are constructed of differently colored blocks, each with their own properties. Items in the game react differently depending on whether the world is crushed, and are further modified by Danny’s viewpoint perspective. For instance, if Danny needs to cross a gap he cannot jump across, he might simply change to a sideways view and crush the world, bring the 3D platforms together as the world assumes a 2D form. Crushing is also used to line up art and trophies on walls to complete challenges and unlock power-ups.
Dangers abound in the dark realm that is Danny’s psyche. Plagued by whip-like wall tentacles that attack if the player strays too close, and larger than life cockroaches that chase Danny to remote corners of his mind, players will be forced to make quick decisions, crush the world, and perform precise movements to stay alive. Further dangers are expressed in the forms of gaping pits into the inky nothingness of Danny’s subconscious that will instantly snap Danny out of his hypnotic healing state if he falls into them.
What are dangers, however, without a goal to place on the other side of them? Crush handles this neatly with its level advancement system, which not only requires the player to reach the end of the level (a feat in and of itself), but also requires that a number of orbs representing sanity be collected in order to unlock the exit. Orbs come in different colors and point values, and are generally spread throughout the level in difficult to reach areas. Often multiple crushes will be necessary to obtain the minimum number of orbs to proceed. Orbs are also often guarded by many of the game perils, as described above. Solving the puzzling manner in which one must obtain orbs is quite rewarding. One instance that vividly stands out in this reviewers mind included an orb hovering in mid air over a pit that was much to far to overcome with a simple jump. By crushing in the right perspective, a solid 2D floor was created where the pit had once been, and the orb and exit became easily attainable.
On top of these basic goals to advance from level to level, Crush also provides added challenges with its time trial records and trophy rewards. A player’s time, as well as other statistics, such as number of times crush was used, are recorded and calculated together upon completion of each level. An alphabetical grade is assigned based on these statistics. This gives each level replay ability as players attempt to beat the clock, use less crushes, and remember how to defeat the complex levels. Trophy rewards are also available as an added bonus. Hidden in each level is a trophy stencil that is usually split into pieces or only accessible from a certain area or perspective (or both). Upon placing all these pieces together, usually with the aid of crushing, the player unlocks a trophy in the level that can then be collected to unlock memories and extras that weave the story leading up to Danny’s malign sleep issues.
To compound the already puzzling layout of Danny’s mind, players are often forced to interact with large objects, including giant balls, trash cans, and switches in pursuit of orbs and exit. Even hardcore puzzle gamers may find these objects difficult to deal with occasionally, as items can often be moved in such a way as to become useless or inaccessible. Items will often respawn at their start point after they disappear if the player crushes and releases the world. While this may solve some problems, it does take time and can be aggravating on particularly difficult levels.
In addition to the orbs, trophies, bugs, and balls, the player will occasionally encounter other stencils on the walls of levels. Piecing these together with a quick crush will unlock the power-up and allow players to take advantage of its added benefits. In one early level, an impossible jump is required due to block layout coupled with pits. A few quick changes of perspective and an unlocked power-up later, Danny can be found soaring of the impeding blocks with the aid of the super-jump power-up. This is just one rather simple example, and power-up usage becomes more and more pivotal as the game progresses.
Sounds like a lot, eh? Many somewhat unrelated mechanics, “crushed” into one game. Well, developer SEGA manages to combine all these elements into a better than the average puzzle game (if such a thing exists!). The game does offer replay value, as there are many ways each level can be solved, some of which take less time than others. Crush’s record keeping system will have perfectionists playing each level over and over again in an attempt to secure the best time possible. Trophy mode, which can be accessed from the main menu, challenges players to complete levels in the shortest time possible while gathering all the orbs in a level.
Emerging from the dark corridors of Danny’s mind to deliver a conclusion, I have mixed thoughts on Crush. While the game play is definitely innovative, with an average story line and comedic voice acting, this title will not offer much to the action-oriented sector of PSP gamers. Puzzle solving fiends will definitely enjoy this game, and will even find replay ability as they challenge their best times and grades. Crush is definitely worth a play if you are curious, but if you feel the interface and game play would be too much for you, you are probably right. I struggled with the interface, due in large part to a decided lack of spatial interaction and visualization skills. Gamers with similar situations may find that they begin using my patented method of guessing and checking as perspective is constantly changed, and the world crushed and uncrushed.