Now Playing: Critter Crunch (PS3)

Such incredible cutenosity!

I really wanted to get behind Capybara Games’ Critter Crunch when it debuted on the PlayStation Network this past October. The presentation is ultra sharp and HD-ified, the characters and art are painfully adorable, and they even managed to attach a story (as ludicrous as it may be) to a simple puzzle game. But I just couldn’t bring myself to punch the Add to Cart button after I played the demo and put off the purchase until January when Sony slashed the price to a measly $3.49.

It’s not that you don’t get a lot of game for the price, either at $4 or the MSRP of $7. A world map features over a dozen stops with at least four stages each. There’s online leaderboards, co-op and competitive multiplayer, and loads of challenge modes. It’s not for a lack of visual variety either. Irresistably cute creatures fill every pixel of the screen from the rotund Biggs to the critters that come marching down the screen and all the way into the background where wildlife frolics amongst gorgeous and colorful artwork.

For all its pleasant scenery and awww-fully adorable animals, Critter Crunch’s gameplay continues to leave me feeling flat. It plays a bit like AstroPop where you grab pieces (in this case, creatures) that are slowly moving down the screen and fire them back up at bigger, hungrier creatures. It starts out with a simple color-coded food chain that goes like this:

Small Flies > Medium-sized Yellow Critters > Large Pink Critters

You can either feed two smaller critters to a bigger one or feed a fly to a yellow guy and then the yellow guy to a pink critter to clear them all off the screen. Popping a critter next to critters of the same color creates a chain that clears them all. Simple enough, right? But just as you get comfortable with that mechanic the game starts layering on dozens of rules, caveats and stipulations. I feel the overwhelming nature of the way the game evolves is best described by this gigantic, and staggeringly incomplete list:

  • Smalls shows up if you make a big enough chain; feeding him grows your score but also makes the critters scroll down the screen faster
  • Critters start showing up in different colors and can’t be mixed and matched for chains despite being the same “species”
  • Critters randomly start glowing for a few seconds which means they’ll drop Power Food power-ups
  • Poisoned critters appear and suck your score away the longer you hold onto them and drop poisonous goo that momentarily impedes your movement
  • Blockers can only be removed by creating a chain that clears out critters above them
  • More Power Foods, and Power Food management, are introduced
  • Bomber and Wild Card critters appear to help make bigger chains
  • Hatchlings come in two varieties and have to be gingerly moved around to avoid contact with bigger critters or a shattering fall
  • Veggie Critters refuse to eat smaller critters and can only be removed by being included in chains or fed to Bombers

I’m over halfway through the single player Adventure mode and the game continues introducing new stuff so that the screen is now 7 columns wide and full of glowing, oozing, pulsating creatures of every size, shape, and color. All I wanted was to mindlessly slurp up some creatures an spit them at bigger creatures to make them explode in satisfying bursts. What I wound up with is a constantly changing, confusing and frustrating puzzle game with more rules than chess, all set on Fast Forward.

And is a dead simple, endlessly scrolling Arcade Mode too much to ask for? Everything I’ve seen so far either requires you to reach a certain score or make calculated moves to clear strategically laid out puzzle screens to finish. Invariably, just as I get into the groove of whatever new thing the game has thrown at me, it’s over. I just want to keep playing until I lose or get bored but that mode — Survival — remains locked until I finish the main course.

So every now and then, when I find myself gameless as discs cross in the mail or when I’ve got a few minutes to kill, I load up Critter Crunch and keep working through it. Will I ever find the puzzle game I’m looking for in its terribly cute trappings? I’ll post again when I’ve got a better answer but I still recommend you all go grab the demo and check it out for yourself.

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