"Critter Crunch is a heck of a bargain at $6.99. With a solo adventure that should easily take 5 or more hours to complete, multi-player and several other modes, you'll be puzzling it out for quite awhile. Addictive and endearing gameplay and offbeat humor make this puzzler one worth watching. If you're looking for the latest brain teaser to add to your game library, Critter Crunch is a fantastic choice."
While many of us gravitate to our consoles for frenetic FPS action and explosive adventure, we often forget just what a fantastic haven the systems are for games that don't require an itchy trigger finger. Even if you happen to consider yourself the hardest of the hardcore, it's a great idea to broaden your horizons occasionally, to play the field a little bit and to see exactly what you may otherwise be missing. Perhaps the best way to do that is by exploring the realm of the almighty puzzle game.
You needn't look far to find one. In fact, some of the best puzzlers in existence can be found via the confines of console-specific marketplaces such as Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network. Though you may need to sift through piles of garbage to locate any diamonds in the rough, you'll often come away with surprisingly well-crafted and enjoyable gems that deserve just as much time in your rotation as the heavy-hitters crowding store shelves.
Case in point: Critter Crunch. Originally released as a mobile puzzle title, the mayhem has finally found a home on the PlayStation Network. For a mere $6.99, you're welcome to explore the whimsical island of Krunchatoa, home to several happy little critters who survive via very peculiar food chains. Biggs, your virtual tour guide, is more than happy to share several secrets in the form of a pseudo-nature documentary that sets the stage for the game. It's a very creative touch, in my opinion, one that serves as an indicator for the amount of heart that this endearing puzzler possesses. After a brief explanation of the critters' back story, you'll be ready to dive headfirst into Adventure mode, a storyline that unfolds as you complete new levels.
From the onset, everything is explained to you with crystal clarity. For vets of the mobile version, this means sitting through exhaustive mandatory tutorials that do a fantastic job of teaching you game basics you've already learned. Critter Crunch isn't an inherently difficult title, but it does require the basic amount of strategic planning that you might expect from games such as Bejeweled or Tetris.
The way the game works is that you'll be faced with rows of colorful creatures staring down at you from sets of vines. As a rotund, Pokťmon-like creature, you'll need to utilize your long, sticky tongue in order to gobble up different types of smaller critters. Even though those animals are going straight into your belly, you're not eating them! Instead, your next step after snagging one animal is to feed it to another one that is hanging from a different vine. Feed a smaller creature to a larger one and the larger one will burst. You can create several chains utilizing this strategy, which then causes gold coins to drop to the forest floor so that you can increase your score. Essentially, that's all that you'll need to learn to play the game. The main challenge lies in memorizing which animals eat others so that you can more easily set up chain reactions for maximum points and bonuses. Yes, it's essentially the same gameplay we've seen in several other grid-based puzzlers, but the clever approach is a welcome change from multi-colored blocks or other geometric shapes.
As if the fact that you're essentially regurgitating animals into other animals' mouths to earn points weren't enough, the appearance of nature guide Biggs' son is a... well, it's a unique one. Chain eight critters together without error and Smalls will appear on the screen. You'll need to hustle over to the side of the screen, hold down the circle button and regurgitate rainbows into his (likely quivering) mouth. Yes, you read that correctly. That should be a selling point all on its own.
Even if the barfing of rainbows and recycling of critters as sustenance doesn't win you over, the hand-drawn animations and vibrant backgrounds surely will. Critter Crunch employs a beautiful, crisp graphic filter that looks absolutely splendid on HD televisions. The chubby and colorful animals are so endearing that it feels like a waste to make the poor little buggers explode! Couple with sprightly and encouraging background tunes and Critter Crunch is absolutely too beautiful (and far too adorable) to pass up.
If you happen to finish the single-player adventure mode too quickly, there also are several other modes to partake in (puzzle, challenge, and multi-player) that should extend your Critter Crunch experience to a far more acceptable length of time. However, I have one fairly significant gripe with the multi-player mode, one that I have seen consistently with several other titles. Upon hosting your own game the match will run smoothly, yet any other game that you try to join will often suffer from crippling lag. In order to combat these issues, you can opt to play with an opponent in local cooperative or versus play, though I will submit that in the near future (as with Xbox Live Arcade titles), multi-player will likely fizzle out and you'll have to spend longer and longer to find a match with a stranger.
Still, Critter Crunch is a heck of a bargain at $6.99. With a solo adventure that should easily take 5 or more hours to complete, multi-player and several other modes, you'll be puzzling it out for quite awhile. Addictive and endearing gameplay and offbeat humor make this puzzler one worth watching. If you're looking for the latest brain teaser to add to your game library, Critter Crunch is a fantastic choice.
Freelance review by Brittany Vincent (November 01, 2009)
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