Head Trip

CRUSH is quite possibly the most original concept the PSP has ever seen. It also happens to be an awesome game.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 30, 2007
Whatever alignment of the planets that's happened to coincide with the PlayStation Portable's release and the renaissance of puzzle games is something I won't begin to question. Between the blending of Tetris-like concepts and electronic music in Lumines to the mix of BeJeweled and RPG elements in Puzzle Quest (not to mention other gems like PQ2 and Exit), the PSP is rivaled only by racers in terms of quality releases.

But none of those games, even as good as they are, can match CRUSH in terms of pure creativity and absolute mind-bending challenge -- not to mention more storyline and a stylized presentation that most puzzle games could never even approach. In every respect, CRUSH is a stunning achievement, and a game that every single PSP owner needs in their library. Yes, it's really that good.

To be honest, there's not even all that much to the game, excusing the storyline for a second. The main concept of the game, if you haven't heard yet, is that you can literally "crush" things from 3D to 2D, bring what were previously far-off platforms suspended in space onto the same plane. Walk over to platform, now on the same horizontal plane as you, "un-crush" and presto, you've just crossed a massive crevasse. It makes a whole lot more sense if you check out the videos we have of the game (just scroll up to the top of the page and click on the "Movies" link and there ya go).

There are complications, of course, and they're introduced more or less one at a time, giving you a chance to learn their functions before the next batch comes along. Certain blocks when crushed are solid, while others can be freely traversed and still others disappear altogether. If there are lines inside blocks, when you crush them you can climb up just like any other 2D platformer. Other... complications include roaches that have to be squished or avoided, balls that have to be rolled into position and orbs in various colors (which represent point totals) that must be collected before the entrance opens up and you can move on.

If you're the perfectionist type, there are also a couple other factors. Each level has a time limit and each and every crush is counted, so in addition to just finishing the level, if you college all the orbs, scoot through the level and do both using minimal crushes, you'll get a better grade. Not enough? Fine, if you can find the proper angle to line up the pieces, a trophy icon will reveal a hidden trophy somewhere on the screen and both it and a puzzle piece unlocks bonus content back on the main menu. Neither is really necessary, but they do add a little additional replay value.

Basics out of the way, there's not much else to explain. Most puzzle games aren't exactly heavy on plot (in fact, most don't even have a plot), but here too CRUSH goes above and beyond, slowly developing the story of Danny, an insomniac that decides to get some therapy, and from there discovers the C.R.U.P.H. (err, C.R.U.S.H.) machine that can turn his subconscious into 3D worlds that help him unlock repressed memories and get to the bottom of his issues. It's all told with some great voice acting and very, very cool looking art (the unlockable concept sketches are just as cool, which is rare), which just helps pull you into the world that much more.

The reason why CRUSH works so well is because of the controls, which take 3D and essentially break it down into five pre-set angles (all four sides around Danny plus an overhead camera). Because the game doesn't try to ambush you with all the different parts of the puzzle -- in fact one could probably call the first half of the game an extended tutorial -- you're able to wrap your head around thinking in three dimensions. That doesn't mean the puzzles get easier, though; in fact, they get much harder, really playing with the idea of crushing things from three dimensions into two, and though there are a couple puzzles that are perhaps a little too abstract for their own good, for the most part the game does a fantastic job of training you to think a certain way without making it obvious of the solution.

Given that it all takes place in Danny's mind, CRUSH's world is understandably bizarre, but where some games would just dose the world in colored lighting and call it "trippy," here it's far, far more constrained. Little paths of light zip around while the various backgrounds slowly pulse and zoom around you. Danny has a particular gait, and though the collision can be a little wonky, for the most part it all looks amazing.

The audio helps with this too; it's been a while since I heard music this moody and atmospheric -- so much so that every time I played I made sure to throw on a pair of headphones to catch the dreamy, sax-in-an-echo-tunnel soundtrack. The rest of the effects; grunts and oofs and the telltale sound of reality compressing and then expanding are all done well too, as is the give and take between the voice actors, but the real star here is the soundtrack.

With most reviews, I try to outline everything as much as possible. Here, though, there's really no reason. All you have to do is watch the videos at the top of the page and you'll get it. So go get it already.
The Verdict

Easily one of the best puzzle games ever made. Yes, it's really that good. If you own a PSP, you need this game.


Great framerate, great art design, and wonderful artwork all add up to a game that's as fun to play is it is to look at.


It's rare that a game is helped this much by the soundtrack, but all of the audio in CRUSH is absolutely spectacular.


Though some of the platforming can suffer just a little from wonky collision during jumps, wrangling three dimensions and easily crushing them down to two is pulled off amazingly well.


Wrapping your head around manipulating the fabric of reality (in-game, at least) is something that takes a little getting used to, but the pacing, puzzle design and execution are just top-notch.