Tuesday, May 28

Review: Crystal Crisis [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Head-to-head competition in puzzlers can always be fun and a challenge. Rather than just trying to play through an endurance match and stay alive against random chance having someone working their own board and throwing garbage blocks at you keeps things interesting. Now take those elements and throw in some personality, a variety of indie darling characters from quite a number of different series, and all sorts of visual flair and you have Crystal Crisis.


If you’re familiar with the classic Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo this will feel familiar but in case you aren’t the basics are this. You’ll be puzzling against an opponent, dealing with pairs of blocks that will fall from the top. The goal is to create chains of the same color blocks, and it’s even better if you’re able to form rectangles with them to form clusters that are worth even more. Periodically colored crystals will then fall as well which you can use to destroy everything in a chain with that matching color. Less often an even more powerful crystal variant will fall that will destroy any block matching the color you choose on the screen, shaking things up significantly.


What Crystal Crisis then does to set itself apart from the likes of Puyo Puyo is throw in characters that lend everything some personality and an added layer of strategy. As you break blocks you’ll fill your character’s gauge, and once you have enough power you can choose to use it to either attack your opponent or for defence. In order to make things more interesting each character has their own flair with this both visually and mechanically. Strategically you’ll need to find which character’s attack and counter suit you best and one big difference between combatants is that with some your gauge is broken into thirds, allowing you some versatility to use your power incrementally, which with others you’ll have to have a full gauge to make use of it. There’s one additional small but substantial change from the norm and that’s the fact that you’re able to wrap your blocks around from one side to the other, increasing your options when dealing with the problem of where to put things.


Where the game absolutely shines is in the amount of content it delivers for a pretty reasonable price. While the core gameplay remains the same across the board there’s the Story Mode which is the key to unlocking some powerful characters and which will force you to choose which characters you’ll work with through a moderately long campaign. This can be challenging since you’ll need to experiment with their special attacks as you go but it allows you to see what multiple characters bring to the table pretty quickly. There’s also an Arcade mode where you’ll work with a single character trying to defeat all comers, a Tag Team mode where you’ll pick a duo to work with that you’re able to swap between on the fly, and a Versus mode for playing against an opponent locally. Online play is also available, supporting ranked and unranked play, plus the ability to set up custom rules or host a private lobby to play against friends.


Probably the biggest complaint I can find is simply that the load times between stages seems unusually long, and that always stinks since it interrupts your flow. Hopefully this is something that can be addressed with a patch. It isn’t so bad that you can go grab a snack while you wait but considering the relative simplicity of the game’s presentation it feels longer than it should be. Getting the hang of how some characters specials can take some work, though some more than others, since in some cases there’s an interactive element to them and it may not be intuitively clear what you’re trying to do. Of course you could hit the Training mode to get better acquainted but if you’re playing in the Story mode this can be a challenge. Perhaps if you’re stretching you could argue the gameplay is roughly always the same but if you’re a fan of this style of puzzle game that comes with the territory and predictability lends itself to building your base of strategies you’ll use to defeat your opponents.


All in all Crystal Crisis is a game laser-focused on a specific style of play that absolutely delivers a great value with various modes, characters, and quite a bit of personality as well. While it is always more fun to match up against human competitors the mode variants at least make playing solo feel a bit different as you work to unlock everything. Online play is exciting and works well enough, but the biggest wild card with indie games in this area is whether there’ll be a sustained community past the first month or so. To what degree it’s successful will remain to be seen but the support in this area is always an appreciated plus. If you’re looking to get your puzzle on in style Crystal Crisis serves up an eclectic group of characters to choose from, plenty of visual flair, and all for a reasonable price. Puzzle fans should definitely give it a look.

Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • Plenty of characters, including some surprises, who all have their own specials and personality
  • A variety of modes that change up the rules and flow, including reasonably complete online support as well
  • Smart play that keeps you on your toes with an element of strategy layered on with how you make use of your burst gauge
  • The voice of Optimus Prime as narrator FTW!

Cons:
  • The load times are a bit of a bummer
  • Not all character specials are intuitively clear in terms of mechanics if you’re just trying characters out without hitting the Training mode first
  • As always the caveat for indie game online support is that unless the community provides sustained support, which can vary wildly and unpredictably, it may not be viable in the long-term