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Critter Crunch

Biggs is a concerned father and his most important duty is feeding his son, Smalls. The problem is the only things they eat are these rare gems found inside the various critters scuttling around Krunchatoa Island. The other catch is to get at these delectable yet jagged treasures, Biggs has to feed his fellow inhabitants until they burst, thus yielding the nourishment that both he and his son need. It’s a bit messed up, but if you were in his shoes you’d do the same.

The basic gameplay of Critter Crunch is deceptively simple; you use Biggs’ freakish, frog-like tongue to grab various critters of three types (small, medium, large) out of trees and then feed them to the next size up. Two smalls stuff a medium and two mediums stuff a large, which then causes the stuffed critter to pop, along with any other critters of the same color and size that are adjacent to it. Of course there are fancier ways of popping critters involving combos and food chains, all of which are necessary to fill out your score, hunger meter and the insatiable hungers of both Biggs and Smalls.

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Over the course of Critter Crunchs’ Adventure mode the game does an excellent but never overbearing job of introducing various new gameplay and critter types, as well as filling you in on the story and eco-system of Krunchatoa Island. This attention to detail is rarely seen in many puzzle games, let alone a downloadable title and it creates some wonderful context for Critter Crunch. Most of the new critter types are easily digested but towards the latter portion of the adventure the game gets a bit too convoluted thanks to poisoned critters, those that won’t eat, power-ups and some nasty rock types that are practically indestructible. It’s certainly a rare complaint, but Critter Crunch might go a little too big for its own good.

In addition to filling the bellies of Biggs and Smalls over the course of the Adventure mode you’ll have Challenge, Puzzle and Survival modes to chomp your way through. Challenge introduces an objective based board that is often accompanied by a time limit, such as complete eight Food Chains in sixty seconds. Puzzle forces you to completely clear a specific board full of critters in an allotted amount of moves, while Survival tests how long you can last before all the critters come crashing down. Each of these separate modes are well designed and fun diversions to the normal Adventure stages.

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Not to be outdone by the excellent single player options, Critter Crunch features some addictive co-op and versus experiences both on and offline. Co-op drops Biggs and Smalls into a single large board and plays out similarly to the Survival mode. Both players work together to clear critters and set up combos for one another while trying to achieve as high a score as possible. Versus on the other hand puts a pair of players against one another, challenging them to fill their hunger meters as often as possible to drown the other in a sea of critters. Both modes are well worth your time and run well locally or online, although it can take a few minutes for the matchmaking to find an online opponent. The only feature multiplayer is sorely missing is a custom match feature. It’d be nice to adjust various parameters to create your own game types, such as what critters are available or set a match with a certain amount of rounds. A novice puzzler can be quickly overwhelmed by the wide variety of critters available, especially if they haven’t fully explored Krunchatoa Island before heading into a versus match. A custom match would go a long way to help ease beginners into the highly intense multiplayer offerings.

It’s hard to emphasize just how beautiful Critter Crunch is. Biggs and company are lovingly hand animated with some of the most colorful and crisp sprites found on any current generation game period, retail included. The various creatures and critters are exceptionally well designed and even the most macho gamer will have a difficult time not succumbing to the adorable antics of this puzzle game. To top it at all off the Adventure mode features a lovable map of Krunchatoa Island for Biggs to traverse that harkens back to the 16-bit era.

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Critter Crunch is an impressive first effort on the PlayStation Network from Capybara. It’s addictive, it’s deep, cute and colorful, all of which are hallmarks of the puzzle genre. It may get a bit overly complex for its own good which makes the game sometimes feel random and it could desperately use a custom match feature but these are easily overlooked based on the abundance of content and the ridiculously cheap price point. It may be hard to swallow, but this former iPhone exclusive is easily the best puzzler found on the PlayStation 3.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

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