As of late, there’s been a lot of debate over whether or not indie titles, particularly downloadable ones from small studios, are viable. The question is whether quality can come in small sizes with miniscule budgets, yet still being able to deliver a double dose of ‘fun’. If there was ever a good example of a tiny title done correctly, then it’s Critter Crunch, a bright and colourful puzzle game from indie dev Capybara Games that serves up gameplay excellence and leaves you, quite literally, hungry for more.
In Critter Crunch you play as Biggs, a giant fluffy creature whom, in his habitat of the tropical island of Krunchatoa, Biggs sits firmly right at the top of the island’s food chain, helping other ‘Critters’ get their dietary requirements. Biggs does this using the very simple gameplay element of using his giant tongue to nab critters from the rows of generated beasties, delivering them into the mouths of bigger critters. The tiny fly like creatures feed the slightly bigger and more cutesy animals who can then be fed into the (still very adorable) globe sized beasts. Feeding them makes them explode out of happiness (this is how the game justifies the critter bursting) which in turns rewards Biggs with the points required to beat ‘most’ levels and jewels, which he then digests in his ginormous stomach.
All of this adorableness is presented and explained to you via an in-game documentary. Yes, as part of the game, there are animated cutscenes in which a curious explorer with an impressive moustache explains to you some of the history of Biggs and his place in the food chain. The explorer’s short and often humorous talks function as a tutorial too. While these scenes are hardly the visual spectacular you’d expect from a big budget blockbuster, Capybara Games is certainly utilising its funds well as this is beyond the production value I’d expect from a game of this size. And what’s more is that these cutscenes really do function as an unobtrusive Critter Crunch guide, helping you quickly and easily get a firm grasp on the game’s skills and requirements, handy for when the game gets trickier…
Critter Crunch does ease you in rather well, with a gentle learning curve that you’d want from a casual title. However, the two level types in the game do try to challenge your critter crunching abilities. You get a map where you have to complete levels to unlock the next part of the island, but while some challenges are just ‘stick to the basic gameplay, throw everything at the wall to get points’, others are the far trickier puzzle levels, where you have a certain amount of moves in which to clear the board completely. There are also optional bonus levels just in case you get bored.
While it’s unlikely that playing for around half an hour (your recommended daily Critter Crunch allowance) will see you getting bored, Critter Crunch is very much a casual title, as its iOS and PSN availability would have you believe. That’s not to say that it can’t be enjoyed for longer, but the game provides its optimal ‘fun’ level when it’s being enjoyed in short bursts. A ramped up level difficulty, e.g using more Critters as well as introducing toxic kinds of critters (these can pass their toxicity to other critters and harm your points score), attempts to remedy this but it runs the risk of forcing you into frustration.
What does keep you occupied in the game, besides Critter Crunch’s insanely vibrant graphics, which threaten to challenge triple A titles with its use of the colour wheel, is that Biggs is actually on a mission to feed his son. As you’ll learn in an early stage of the game, Critter Crunch’s protagonist isn’t just out to digest jewels for the ‘lulz’, as when you achieve a particularly high scoring streak, you can transfer some of your digested loot into the open, waiting mouth of Biggs’ child…via, you guessed it, rainbow vomit. As you can lose the non-puzzle levels by the critters running out of space (this can and will challenge your logistical management) and falling out of the level grid, feeding your son requires some serious grid watching, as they race down the grid faster due to the rainbow stuff being one of their favourite treats. However, you get multiplied points for feeding Biggs’ offspring so despite the challenge, you’ll absolutely want to do your best to get him fed.
Critter Crunch does of course make the task less straightforward for you in some cases, with Capybara Games’ decision to include a plethora of helpful powerups. Amongst these are special powered up foods such as slices of watermelon which provide you with seeds to shoot at critters and pop them instantly. Then there are the bomb Critters, which, just under Biggs on the food chain, are one of the biggest creatures in the game. They require one full critter to burst, or two critters before exploding and taking out a whole giant chunk of the level rewarding you with a crazy amount of points as a result. There are also glowing critters which provide extra points when they explode, and can be indicated by the bright light that they emit.
There’s not a lot of bad that can be said about a game this cute and the fact that Critter Crunch somehow matches the horror of food chain with an adorable father and son partnership is a testament to Capybara Games. A talented studio, they’ve even managed to wrap it all up in a package adorable graphics and some fantastic sound production that caresses your ears like and energetic lullaby. So if there’s any doubt remaining that indie titles don’t belong, let them eat Critters, for Critter Crunch will surely prove them wrong.
Overall Score : 9