Crush is many things. It looks and sounds great, is very competent technically and is incredibly difficult. It comes packed with style, innovation and replay value. Not to mention it has a genuinely compelling story, told through the use of atmospheric and well-acted cutscenes. Puzzle games - even those that pretend not to be puzzle games, such as Crush - don't come much better than this. If this sounds like something you want in a game, then pick up Crush. Now.
The first thing you will notice when you load up the Crush UMD is the music and the colour scheme. The game is set inside a troubled teenage boy's head and the music and overall style reflect this with deep blues and purples, swirling patterns and irregular shapes. This is even before we've got past the main menu screen.
The story revolves around Danny, who lives by himself in a large city. Suffering from constant insomnia, Danny goes to see Doctor Reubens. Reubens is a psychologist whose pride and joy is C.R.U.S.H, a machine he built himself which allows people to enter their own mind in order to resolve any internal conflicts that may be causing them psychological turmoil. As the story progresses, via cutscenes comprised of still images and spoken dialogue, we learn more about Danny's past and the reason why he can't get to sleep.
C.R.U.S.H allows Danny's mind to be manipulated as he moves through it. With a stomp of his foot Danny can condense the 3D world into a 2D plane, allowing him to fill in gaps with other pieces of landscape or move across the level instantly.
The cutscenes themselves are very nicely done and you won't find yourself skipping to the end out of boredom. The voice acting is top notch and, along with the witty writing, made us chuckle more than a few times. The visuals are appropriately dark and are well drawn. You'll find yourself exploring each image with your eyes as the artist has included a remarkable level of detail.
The game has a decent learning curve. The first few tutorial levels will get you acquainted with C.R.U.S.H and your abilities within the game. These are made fun by the dialogue between the Doctor and Danny and are mercifully short so that you can start playing as quickly as possible. You'll blitz through the first section of the game with no real problems, but after that the difficulty starts to ramp up quite rapidly until by the last section you'll most likely be fighting the overwhelming desire to throw your PSP to the floor. This is definitely a game to play with the wrist strap on.
The control scheme works great. The analogue nub moves Danny through the levels, even in 2D mode, as the D-pad is reserved for camera controls. Pressing L to initiate a Crush is very satisfying with the chunky PSP shoulder buttons and gives some great tactile feedback. With the face buttons you'll be jumping, pushing and crawling, though mostly jumping. The R button allows you to look at the entire level and fly around with the analogue nub, which you'll be needing to do a lot in the later levels in order to figure out your route.
One of the aspects of the game that jumps out is the quality of the music. The hypnotic repeating beats intermingled with sound effects and intercut with samples from music we've all heard from our childhood make it intensely haunting and atmospheric. During the nursery levels, for example, you will hear babies crying and children playing over the sound of the music. You'll never get bored of the music, as it changes for almost every level.
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. The colour schemes for each level are flawless and look crisp and clear. After crushing the textures become simpler and more cel shaded, turning the world into a cartoon. Danny himself looks excellent and is nicely modeled, though perhaps to too great a detail considering how infrequently he appears during the game. It's not often you can bemoan that a game artist has put too much effort into a character model.
Addictive and accessible, the mind-bending gameplay works really nicely and the levels are well designed. It's clear, however, that the developers had more ideas than they could arguably utilize within the game. At the beginning of each section there are a couple of tutorials to get you acquainted with some new gameplay mechanics. These don't end up being used enough, which is a shame. Squashing bugs (symbolizing nightmares) against walls or tapping them in cages is something I would've liked to have done more often. Likewise, octorollers and some "thoughts" (power ups that are activated when crushed against a wall) don't get used enough.
While a large portion of the gameplay consists of collecting the required amounts of marbles, which are scattered about the landscape, and making your way to the exit, there are a couple of extra missions to perform in each level. A jigsaw piece is hidden in each level and, once collected, will open up a image in the Gallery section of the main menu. These images can be pieces of concept art, uncoloured stills from cut scenes or photos of developers and really adds a "gotta catch 'em all" quality to the game. If you can collect the trophy too, which appears when you find and activate the trophy "thought," you can replay the level in trophy mode. This involves having to get through the level within a time limit with only a set number of crushes at your disposal. You must also pick up the trophy and jigsaw piece in order to open the exit. Think of it as a hard mode for an already very challenging game.
Crush is a very well made puzzle game which is as addictive as it is difficult. Though the developers tried to pack a little too much in, it doesn't detract from the overall experience. Crush is a perfect portable game, with each level lasting between 5 and 30+ minutes, depending on difficulty and player skill. This game is exactly what the PSP needs. It's fresh,innovative and it makes a worthy addition to any PSP game collection. Do yourself a favour and pick it up.
PSP Fanboy Score: 9.0
Second Opinion: Peter
Crush is a unique puzzler that should be declared a must-have for any PSP owner. The plot line, about a young man Danny and his quest to cure insomnia, is completely original, deserving kudos considering the slew of PS2 remakes out there. As the plot slowly unravels itself, you learn the relationship behind Danny, Dr. Reubens and the enigmatic C.R.U.S.H. method and coincidentally, find yourself sucked in by the game's pretty graphics amidst the world's quirky and complex design. Puzzlers are a perfect match for handhelds and with Crush being a unique PSP-only experience, it would behoove all PSP owners to pick this gem up.
Third Opinion: Andrew
There's only one thing imaginable more challenging than playing Crush ... and that's making it. Zoe Mode should be applauded for crafting such an ingenious title. The mechanic is innovative and endlessly enjoyable. Crush will go on in gaming memory not only as one of the best PSP games of all time, but as a template of impeccable level design and meticulously executed design philosophies for future game designers. Crush comes not just recommended -- this is required gaming for any true fan of the PSP.