As cute as it is disturbing
Capybara Games hit it big with 2011’s Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. It was – and continues to be – praised as one of the greatest games in the smartphone market, courtesy of its surreal storyline and clever adaptation of classic adventure gaming. But well before Capybara introduced us to the antics of Logfella, they invited us into the deceptively cute world of Critter Crunch for iOS. It’s been removed from the App Store for reasons unknown, but worry not: it’s now available on Steam.
Picture it: You’re a fuzzy, circular animal running around on the jungle floor. Other critters are slowly descending upon you, Space Invaders style. If they make it to the bottom of the screen, you’re donezo. Fortunately for you, however, the bigger ones will eat the smaller ones if you lick them up and spit them at them. Additionally, feeding them two of the smaller creatures will cause them to explode, leaving behind a crystal you need to eat in order to survive!
Such is the core gameplay of Critter Crunch, a Darwinian puzzle game that wears its weirdness with pride. You take on the role of the Biggs, a fictitious species of animal who reside on the also-fictitious island of Krunchatoa. Biggs more or less run the show on the island, and they prove it by forcing other critters to eat one another and burst into pieces. It may sound downright devious – and in a way it is – but it’s a means to a very important end: keeping the younger members of your species alive. Do you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? You won’t for long.
While the critters and scenery are downright adorable, what you as a player must do certainly isn’t. If overfeeding creatures to the point of explosion weren’t enough, you also have the opportunity to barf a rainbow-colored liquid into your son’s mouth whenever you score a combo chain of 8 or more. It was a horrifying glimpse into the animal kingdom, but I couldn’t help but smile at the sheer absurdity.
All of this action takes place across three different modes: Adventure, Puzzle and Challenge. Adventure mode is the main portion of the game, and it features a series of increasingly-difficult levels for players to devour their way through. In Puzzle mode, you’re tasked with clearing a playing field in a certain number of moves. Lastly, in Challenge mode, each level possesses unique guidelines for victory – like filling your meter without creating any sort of “food chains.”
And as the word “Challenge” fails to hide, that’s easier said than done. If a medium critter is directly below a big critter, throwing a small critter into its mouth will cause them all to disappear. This is known as a food chain, and it’s a great way to score some quick bonus points.
And if a critter explodes directly next to other critters of its size and color, they all explode. It means little outside of extra points – and the chance to barf rainbow-colored liquid into your son’s mouth – at first, but it becomes crucial in some of the later levels, where critters descend from the sky at a rapid pace.
While all three modes have a lot to offer, the Adventure mode was by far my favorite. It continually tosses new concepts and items your way, always stopping to weave them into the story. Poisoned critters, for example, were introduced to the island after some vacationers failed to pick up their garbage and polluted the place.
The game also features an online mode, though I had troubles getting a match going. I suspect this problem will fix itself as more people purchase the game, though, and speaking from my time with both the co-op and versus mode in the PS3 version of the game, they’re a blast.
Critter Crunch is one of the best puzzle games currently on the market. Its gameplay is both satisfying and challenging, its various modes are a blast, and it wraps everything up in an incredibly gorgeous package. If you’re even but a casual fan of the genre, letting this one pass you by would be a grave mistake.
Please, think of the Biggs.