Thursday, 13 May 2010

Critter Crunch (now £2.39!)

One of the PSN games on special offer from this week until 26th May is a great little puzzler called Critter Crunch. Read on for my review of the game.

At first glance it's a simple Puzzle Bobble-style game. Slow-falling rows of creatures called critters need to be matched in colours and popped by the protagonist "Bigs" - a small and cute furry creature with a huge mouth and a long tongue! Bigs slurps up critters with his tongue and spits them back out again. He does this either to shuffle critters around the screen or to feed smaller critters to larger ones. Once a critter has been fed two smaller ones it pops, dropping a gem in the process. The size of the gem dropped varies according to how many critters are destroyed in one go. Bigs collects the gems in order to fill a "hunger metre". When this is completely filled he's completed the stage. If he doesn't stay on top of things however, then the critters reach him at the bottom of the screen and he gets buried alive underneath them!

The last element in the basic gameplay is getting Bigs to feed his son "Smalls". When you pop 8 or more critters in one go, not only do you get a good sized gem (filling a large part of your "hunger metre") but your son Smalls turns up for his afternoon snack (of course!). Take time out to feed him but beware the critters seem to drop more quickly when he's at the sidelines. In most stages there's an opportunity to feed your son and if you do so, this feat is marked clearly on the map. It's purely a bonus thing for extra points, plus there's a trophy to complete 25 stages in which you've been able to do it.

The graphics and presentation are extremely good. It's all in 2D so nothing too fancy, but what's there is colourful, cartoony and crisp - just how I want it in a puzzle game. Bigs lives on a mythical island together with his son and each of the different stages are shown to take place in different parts of this island. Between stages you can navigate around a large map (think PixelJunk Monsters). Bigs has to complete certain stages in order to unlock different parts of this map and to unlock different types of gameplay.

In the introduction to the game and between certain stages, there are short cut scenes where a whacky scientist-type character explains that he's researching the island where Bigs lives. He attempts to offer scientific explanations for things that happen in this strange place, for example, how bigs is able to consume so many gems. It's an attempt at comedy in the game. I have to admit I don't find any of it in the least bit funny and after a while it actually starts to grate a little - luckily you can skip through it. This and the excruciatingly-bad jokes displayed on the screen at the end of each stage are the two things I don't like about the game. Maybe it's there more for the younger audience. It's nice to see a family game anyway, it offers a refreshing change from the mature-audience-aimed games like Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2 that we're all playing at the moment.

The online multiplayer element is done very well. I've played against random people online. It seems to be very quick to find an opponent and I haven't experienced any network problems whatsoever. The only problem I've had is that I've won only one online match so far. If you just select to quick join against a random opponent there's no way to specify that you want to play against a beginner. Nevertheless I'm learning techniques from watching how other people play. Multiplayer is organised in split-screen with one player on the left and one on the right. It's possible to play against each other in versus mode or together in cooperative.

Offline multiplayer is also available. That's actually the main reason I bought the game - it looks to be girlfriend / wife friendly. Well, it's got small and cute characters! plus it's easy to jump into. I say it looks that way because there's more to it than meets the eye. The initial stages are very easy. As you progress to what the game is really all about you'll realise that it's quite complicated. There are many different types of critters - not just different colours and sizes, but they're different in the way they behave. Some can't be fed and popped directly, some can't be moved elsewhere. There's variation in the play area as well. Sometimes you have just 3 columns of critters meaning less space to work in shuffling them around in order to match up the colours. Sometimes you'll have a few more columns, sometimes quite a lot more. This means you'll have to learn different styles of play and tactics for different types of levels. On top of this you can collect power foods, or power-ups of which you can hold three different types at one time. These do various things from frightening the critters one row up (with garlic - buuuurp!) buying you some time, to allowing you to easily take a few out one at a time by shooting pips from a watermelon at them. Finally you can pull off combo moves and "food chains" where you can kill of large numbers of critters at one time. Both of these techniques need to be used in the later stages of the game in order to get through. All of this variation is great and it's what keeps me interested in the game. It does take a bit of patience though as you'll find yourself needing many attempts at some of the stages. The game also has a steep learning curve if you just dive into an online match where all of these different elements might be on display in your very first game.

I recommend playing through a fair chunk of the adventure mode first, before venturing out online, as at key points there are tutorials which introduce you to new elements of gameplay. This is again presented in the tongue-in-cheek style but is explained clearly and the tutorials come at just the right time. In addition to the standard gameplay which I have described, there's also the following game modes: puzzles; challenges and survival. Puzzle stages usually involve you having to solve the stage in a set number of moves (or less) and represent some of the most difficult stages. You have to think carefully and logically. Challenges offers an interesting slant on the gameplay as you're asked to attempt things you wouldn't normally do in the standard mode. For example, you might have to complete a stage without destroying certain types of critters. All of the stages in all of the different categories are actually accessible from the island map that you navigate through when starting in adventure mode. However, having the categories selectable from the main home screen enables you to jump straight in to the category you fancy attempting - plus is easier to see which ones you've completed and which you haven't (great for trophy collectors). Survival mode I still need to unlock - like me I expect you can guess what that's likely to involve!

Because of all the variations in gameplay, the trickiness of some of the later stages and the multiplayer and online elements I would say the longevity of the game is excellent and bearing in mind it's an inexpensive download from the PSN Store I feel I got great value for money. Now if only I could win some more of those online matches!


  1. By the way this was originally written before Christmas and destined for E-ROLE's printed magazine project but I'm publishing it now before it becomes too irrelevant (sorry Rob).

  2. As always, great write up Rich!

    Sure you dont want to go for a job at Edge?

  3. how many widgets out of ten Reakt?

    I'm obsessed with Peggle, play it loads chipping away at the challenges, great single player and pass the controller stylee, we all shout 'AwwwwwwwWWWWW' a lot.

  4. If I was an Edge journalist it would get a 6. I would give it an 8!

  5. There is a demo in the store - just tried it, wow really frantic. The 'stache on the journalist is awesome!