Tokyo Crash Mobs (3DS) review
"I just want you to remember one important thing: Nintendo published this game."
Ask me what genre has the most difficult time creating sequels with notable improvements, and I'll likely say the puzzle genre. More times than not, the first or second games in a puzzle franchise pretty much presents everything there needs to be in its design, resulting in the following sequels usually being nothing but rehashes. A wonderful example has to be the Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble series, which has seen constant releases on an annual basis for a good ten years (the streak broke in 2012), yet rarely offered anything excitingly new with each passing successor. There's also the danger of being gimmicky when trying something fresh, which the Tetris franchise has shamelessly done on numerous occasions.
The Mitchell Corporation supposedly understood this when they made Puzz Loop/Ballistic in the late 90s, a variation of Bust-A-Move's concept of matching balls with the right color by aiming and shooting, except now the turret contraption is in the center as balls converge towards it in circular track patterns. After only two releases, the devs moved on to other creations (anyone remember Polarium?), but that didn't stop other companies from borrowing the idea, like with Zuma and Luxor. Mitchell rarely returned to the series since, only coming back with such games as Magnetica and the 3DS download-only game known as Tokyo Crash Mobs.
I can forgive you for thinking the latter title belongs to a weird action game about a criminal organization, since I came to a similar conclusion on first sight. No, instead TCM is about surviving a couple weeks between two protagonists, and you do this by... throwing people with colored suits into lines of citizens. Even stranger, the game incorporates sprites of real people into the scenery, as well as live-action cutscenes, for a very odd look in an attempt to recreate that awkward, 90s digital phase. This could've made for a humorous, abstract take on the Puzz Loop formula, especially with the originators at the helm, but it's unnecessarily the most irritating rendition I've experienced, not to mention one of the worst downloadable games I've played on the 3DS.
For a concept that requires gamers to be precise and quick, TCM's ultimate failing is that it seems to do everything in its power to deny you that benefit. First off, you can only use the stylus/touch screen to aim, which isn't really that bad by itself, since there's still a guiding marker on screen. However, the action occurs on the top screen, so it's kinda like blind contour drawing, except you can't fully commit because there's a lot at stake if you goof. Another annoyance is how the "next ball" status is placed on the bottom screen, meaning you still have to look down to plan, making me wonder why everything is split in the first place. And unlike the other games, which has a sensible, overhead perspective, you're graced here with an obnoxious, slanted viewpoint; it's really easy to miss, something you don't want happening during crucial shots.
As you make your way through each stage, you think the live-action cutscenes would help ease the pain, but they instead leave you in a severe state of confusion. A typical starting cutscene involves one protagonist walking around when, suddenly, a group of color-suited people show up, then the stage starts. Your reward cutscene at the end of the stage? One literal second of two suited people on the ground having seizures. Another starts with a protagonist staring at a mountain, but the very next scene has her standing in a grey void where a random person hits a button, which sends your character falling through the universe. The stage then starts, where she's now standing in a grassy field. Cue end stage cutscene, with her face flat on the ground, in the grey void. There's no explanation for any of these, and they're not even "so bad, they're good" cutscenes, either. If I wanna reach, I'd say this game's "plot" is a commentary on repelling Japanese society's rules and traditions... but it's likely the director was just high.
With any usual game, the difficulty mounts as one gets closer to the end, and TCM is no exception. This is a problem, because those previously stated issues magnify in later stages, causing some infuriating, needless complications. Along with having to contend with a timer, multiple lines, and the increasing speeds of said lines, ridiculous things get introduced, like obstacles right in front of your protagonists that immediately block throws, or entire lines hopping at random intervals. Also, some stages require you to knock away potential line cutters, but the stupid part is how, sometimes, this happens off screen at a different section of the line. There were times late in the game where every issue was happening in a single stage, that I was so close to just turning off TCM, deleting it from my 3DS, and pretending it never existed.
Eventually, I did erase the game from my portable (1,311 blocks of memory, mind you), because I was reminded of something scary: whenever I tried restarting a stage after losing, there was a 50% chance the screen would freeze, sending me back to the Home page with an error message, and then an auto-restart of the 3DS. Every aspect of TCM just blows my mind. I am awestruck that Mitchell Corporation was capable of making such uncanny garbage, when they not only released a perfectly fine version of the same concept 14 years prior, but two competent successors with Puzz Loop 2 and Magnetica. Like, imagine if a developer forgot how to make Tetris, releasing a game that features a fixed, isometric camera angle, has the I Tetrimino missing, and the British national anthem plays when you select Type A.
Interestingly, a few months after the Japanese release of Tokyo Crash Mobs, Mitchell Corporation stated on their website (bottom right), that they suspended activity. Now I wonder what could've been responsible for that decision?
June 2015 Note: the website no longer exists. That's way more distressing...
Community review by pickhut (December 30, 2014)
Alternative tagline: Hit the Road, Jack.
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