For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Zoe Mode/Sega
ESRB rating: Everyone 10-plus (animated blood, mild cartoon violence)
There's been a lot of buzz lately about "Fez," an upcoming, long-in-development puzzle/platforming game that literally turns the 2D platformer on its side.
But five years ago, an unheralded game named "Crush" did it first - and incredibly well - on the Playstation Portable. "Crush3d" takes steps forward and backward in remaking that game for a new system and (hopefully) new audience. But everything it did so brilliantly is preserved and, five years on, as clever and malevolent as ever.
(As a sidebar, the original "Crush" is available for $10 on the Playstation Network for the Vita and PSP. The more you know.)
The object of "Crush3d's" 40 levels, as explained by a surprisingly chatty storyline, is to collect enough marbles to open a portal to the exit and then reach that exit. But accessing the marbles and the portal isn't a simple matter of running and jumping over to them, because they typically sit impossibly out of reach.
Instead, you must rotate the level itself, turning it on its side or even vertically so that you're viewing it from above. And after doing that, you have to "crush" it and flatten the 3D arrangement into a 2D one. Flattening the perspective connects platforms that exist nowhere near each other in the 3D space, and once they're in close proximity according to your new perspective, you can hop from one to the next like they were next to each other the whole time. Uncrush the level, and suddenly you're on a completely different plane.
All of that perspective manipulation transforms a completely pedestrian platformer into a beastly mental challenge, and "Crush3d" very quickly makes you work for it if you want to perfect a level (all marbles collected, the optional trophy and concept art piece discovered, and no hints used). Before long, the difficulty curve sharpens with the addition of pushable obstacles, moving platforms, giant cockroaches and blocks that behave differently based on color and dimension.
If that sounds intimidating, mission accomplished. But "Crush3d," to its credit, doesn't antagonize unnecessarily by throwing up a time limit or penalizing your score if you take your time solving a level. You might resort to some trial and error just for the sake of doing so when things really get elaborate and you reach your wits' end, but unless that cockroach is giving chase, you're free to take your time exploring a level without the nagging sensation that "Crush3d" is rushing you through the problem-solving process.
With that said, if time and crush limits appeal to your masochistic side, a 40-level Trophy Mode - wherein you must complete a level using only so many crushes, and within a par time - is available as a complement to the main story. Finding a trophy in the campaign unlocks the corresponding level in this mode, so keep your eyes peeled.)
"Crush3d's" gameplay and puzzle design will look wholly familiar to those familiar with "Crush" on the PSP. Stylistically, though, it's another story.
The game's use of stereoscopic 3D is excellent - no surprise given the emphasis on perspective perception, but worth noting all the same. But "Crush's" unique visual style - dystopian but also colorful and silly, with some likably weird graphic novel panels bringing a grouchy but whimsical story to life - has been shelved in favor of something a little less exciting. "Crush3d's" presentation is pleasant, with brighter backdrops and a friendlier (though not saccharine) makeover for the characters, but it doesn't stand out the way "Crush's" look does even to this day.