Nicalis’s new “color matching combat game” does what many of my favorite modern titles do: “borrows ideas” while innovating with new angles.
The concept of mashing together a puzzle game and a fighting game isn’t too out there. Super Puzzle Fighter did it ages ago. Crystal Crisis is a little denser than the strange chibi style Street Fighter spinoff, so let’s start with just how the puzzle mechanics work.
Bouts begin as a fight between you and your opponent. Like Tetris and Puyo Pop, blocks descend from the heavens, in this case, two-by-two. Matching colors is essential here, and you’re encouraged to make many same-colored blocks connect. However, to rack up points and power, blocks must be destroyed with corresponding colors. It works similarly to how Toad uses bombs to off creatures in Wario Woods, save for the scrambling across the screen. Doing this not only weighs down your opponent’s playfield with more blocks, but it builds up your “Burst Gauge.” And that’s where things get even more interesting.
Burst attacks add another angle of strategy to the game. They’ve split in two: Defense Bursts and Attack Bursts. Defense Bursts help you mow down trouble areas on your screen, to save you from an onslaught or maybe even set up a combo. Attack Bursts rain hell on your opponent’s screen, forcing them into troublesome situations or if you’re lucky, their doom.
In my experience, it made bouts last quite a bit longer, where a victory might be within reach at one moment, but never truly secure. It made for some intense puzzle action that was occasionally infuriating, especially when I found my rhythm in a few rounds. I wouldn’t call this a fault, quite the opposite. The way the mechanics fleshed out an exciting experience over falling blocks was a pleasant surprise.
Aside from the innovative puzzle mechanics, the game’s presentation is downright cinematic. There’s a story mode, complete with animated cutscenes and even a light sprinkling of character development. Oh, and it’s also narrated by Peter Cullen, a voice known to many as Optimus Prime.
The story mode comes complete with branching paths, letting you play as different characters with varying block patterns and unique Attack and Defense Bursts. Among this gorgeous roster are familiar faces like Isaac from Binding of Isaac and Quote and Curly Brace from Cave Story. For the few among you like myself who scoured the internet for freeware games in the early ‘00s, inclusions like Akuji the Demon blew my mind and sent a wave of nostalgia at me I was not prepared for. Oh, and Astro Boy. Legendary anime icon Astro Boy is also playable. These are just a few of the 20 unique offerings on the roster, though, you’ll need to unlock many of them.
Review: Crystal Crisis (Nintendo Switch)
Save Tetris and Puyo Pop for when you want to wind down before bedtime. Crystal Crisis is as intense as puzzle gaming gets and has sparked new life into a genre not known for surprises. From the heart-pumping puzzle action to the full-fledged story mode and a roster that screams “fan service,” it would be a crime to call Crystal Crisis anything less than an absolute diamond.