Danny is not your typical troubled adolescent. He has been having some girl problems as of late, but that’s the least of his worries. More importantly for him, Danny can’t sleep, afflicted with an insomnia crisis that he just can’t seem to shake off. Enter one mad scientist and his abomination of an invention: Cognitive Regression Utilizing pSychiatric Heuristics; AKA C.R.U.S.H. Dr. Reuben proposes a dotty snooze solution to rid our troubled teen of his predicament. Not one to pass up free treatment, Danny willingly obliges. The aim is to consolidate his wandering psyche so that he can finally have a wholesome piece of mind. How? Why, by crushing it into bits of negotiable platforms and having his self-projected image collect up all of the loose marbles, of course!
Crush is first and foremost a puzzle game. Each level is a small construct of Danny’s mind, a mish-mash comprised of funky-coloured blocks of all shapes and sizes where the goal is to obtain a certain number of loose marbles, snatch a puzzle piece and/or trophy pick-up if you’re shrewd enough, and then make a run for the shining escape hole. However, it’s far from a walk in the park. Danny can jump across platforms and duck under low passageways, but he isn’t Neo, so no flashy Matrix moves here folks. Fortunately for Danny, with some inexplicable help from C.R.U.S.H., he is able to manipulate spatial dimensions with a clap of the hands. We may be able to turn on the lights with some pizzazz by such a gesture, but Danny is able to do many times better by switching instantly from a 3D to 2D perspective, and back.
This ‘crushing’ of his surroundings is the core focus of this game. By running and jumping around the place you can only do so much until you’re left at a dead-end. How will you get atop that towering block? How will you get to that platform all the way in the distance? Crush. If you position the camera overhead and crush, you will merge the high and low platforms into one single plane. Now simply walk across to the next tile, uncrush, and just like that, you’re now on top of the tall column that you couldn’t have possibly reached before! As for the platform that is seemingly out of reach, change the camera angle to a side-on view, align yourself correctly, and do exactly what the title of this clearly innovative game tells you to do.
You can probably already tell that there is going to be quite a learning curve involved here. Crushing and uncrushing is a fine art – do it correctly and you’ll get where you want to go; stuff up and you’ll smash Danny’s thick mug right into a distant solid wall, find that your footing has suddenly gone awol, or worse, hole yourself up in a narrow space where a nightmarish giant bug awaits. Good thing there are checkpoints, lots of them, and they regenerate too! But don’t think that makes Crush a forgiving experience. Time after time, you will be totally stumped. Although it takes well under ten minutes to complete each of the forty levels, there’ll be times when you may spend up to an hour figuring out how to get to the end. And that’s without those tricky-to-reach puzzle pieces and trophies that unlock bonus concept art and trophy challenges, a variant mode where a time limit is imposed and your crushes are too limited for you to screw around with.
However, on your first play through there will no doubt be many, many occasions where you will do just that – screw around. There is a hint system that’s supposed to provide you with some assistance should you need it, but more often than not, it doesn’t work when you want it to. So the only solution is to crush here, crush there, crush everywhere, countless times, until by sheer luck you suddenly find yourself zapped to a block you’ve never rested your feet upon. This trial-and-error approach isn’t that prevalent, but it does cause some frustration when you’ve collected everything there is to find, yet the exit still eludes you. And you’re not going to quit and have all that hard work count for naught, are you now?
When you find yourself spatially spaced out, take a breather.
Despite its crushing lack of leniency, Crush has a wonderful design that has never been seen before, but is sure to be emulated in the years to come. The forty levels are divided into four worlds associated with Danny’s past history: the city, the seaside, the funfair and the nursery. Cosmetically, the vibrant wishy-washy neon colours make the only real difference, but at least we’re not seeing the same scenery over and over again. It’s the level design that’s the star of the show here. It’s all about navigating through the piles of strewn blocks, pushing barrels to use as platforms in your current dimension, or else in the crushed one. Later on, newer devices crop up. A paper thin bridge can be crossed by turning it into a simple 2D one; an oblong-shaped switch can be activated by crushing it into a single-tiled one at a different perspective; even cages may be crushed to ensnare nightmare bugs when they happen to walk in front of them, from ten metres away! Needless to say, it is extremely satisfying once you manage to get it all together.
Still befuddled? It’s a tough concept to grasp, and once you’ve reached the anti-climactic end of the show, even then, you’ll probably be somewhat dazed. You can replay Crush to collect all that you missed the first time through (A LOT!), and test your mental mettle in the restrictive trophy mode, all the while jamming to the dissonant tunes that aren’t as irksome as the title screen’s music alludes to. Or you may just crush it into your videogame stash never to be touched again in the near future. Although highly innovative, Crush could have had even more depth to it, whilst at the same time refraining from alienating players new to the concept (i.e. everyone). The free-control camera could certainly see some improvement, at the very least with some sort of zoom implemented so that it is actually useful. But all in all, Dr. Reuben’s inaugural experiment is no failure, and just like with all well performed experiments, Crush delivers a satisfactory result and serves to enlighten us on what the bright future holds.