Crush (video game)
Crush is a platformer-puzzle video game developed by Kuju Entertainment's Zoë Mode studio and published by Sega in 2007 for the PlayStation Portable. Its protagonist is Danny, a teenager suffering from insomnia, who uses an experimental device to explore his mind and discover the cause of his sleeplessness. Each level of the game, representing events from Danny's life and inspired by artists such as Tim Burton and M.C. Escher, requires the player to control Danny as he collects his "lost marbles" and other thoughts.
Crush's primary gameplay feature involves manipulating each game level between 3D and 2D views, allowing the player to reach platforms and locations inaccessible from within a different view. This element was noted by critics to be similar to one in Super Paper Mario, also released in 2007, though the Zoë Mode team had envisioned the concept five years prior. Crush received positive reviews upon release, with critics praising its incorporation of this dimension-shifting component alongside other aspects of the game presentation. Though Crush won several gaming awards, including PSP game of the month, it failed to meet the developer's sales expectations. A port of the game for the Nintendo 3DS called Crush 3D was announced on January 19, 2011 and was made available on January 13, 2012 in Europe and on March 6, 2012 in North America.
Although they have the same gameplay and premise, the plots for the PSP & 3DS are entirely different.
The protagonist of the game, a young man named Danny, suffers from insomnia caused by worry, stress, and repressed memories. This insomnia becomes so chronic that he is hospitalized for it, so he consults a mad scientist, Dr. Reubens, treats Danny with his Cognitive Regression Utilizing pSychiatric Heuristics (C.R.U.S.H.) device, which has a sentient female persona. The device's helmet places Danny under hypnosis, during which he can regain control of his sanity by collecting his lost marbles, and facing his primal fears in the form of monsters (i.e. cockroaches, slugs). Danny tells Reubens about his love life with a girl named Tina but he ended up getting dumped, and how Danny was bullied at the fun fair, telling Reubens he went to the fun fair alone. Later on, Dr. Reubens makes Danny regress all the way to his childhood, and making him tell how his parents left him at the house alone, with creepy shadows haunting him. This makes Danny discover that his fears at that time, specifically being afraid of the dark, are causing his insomnia. In the ending, C.R.U.S.H., finding Danny's nyctophobia to be too elementary for its purpose, turns and seems to attack Danny's mind, the screen fading to black at the start of the attempt.
Doctor 'Doc' Doccerson (instead of Reubens in the PSP version), is angry that all of his inventions failed, but today he 'shall surpass them all' with his latest invention, C.R.U.S.H. He uses a tape recorder for his scientific narrative on the experiment. With the help of his best friend, Danny (a running gag consists of him correcting Doc throughout the game), he enters his mind as his subject to C.R.U.S.H., but after a few tests, Danny is trapped inside C.R.U.S.H., where he can collect his lost marbles (which will unlock new dressing gowns/robe designs) and facing his fears in the form of monsters (i.e. cockroaches, slugs). Danny discovers that he is not in his mind at all, but C.R.U.S.H's, where C.R.U.S.H. has become overly attracted to Danny, which Danny despises. In the ending, Danny finally escapes and is free out of C.R.U.S.H's mind. He and Doc discuss C.R.U.S.H's future, while Doc says that he'll fix her. In a twist, it turns out that they were not in the real world at all, but all the levels throughout the game are outside Doc's lab. C.R.U.S.H. smiles and laughs into the camera, she winks and the screen cuts to black.
Crush contains ten levels in each of the four worlds, all based on an event in Danny's past. The levels represent Danny's mind: a dark city landscape with many tall buildings and the occasional street lamp. Levels are mostly composed of platforms formed by blocks. The player's goal in each level is to collect marbles, which give the player points based on their color. The exit from the level is opened once a predetermined number of points have been collected. Danny can crawl into narrow areas and jump a small height.
The main gameplay feature of Crush is the ability to transpose the layout of a level between 2D and 3D representations to reach seemingly inaccessible areas and solve the game's puzzles. The player can switch the third-person camera between four directional side views and a top-down view at any time while in 3D. When in these views, the player can have Danny "crush" the level, collapsing all 3D elements into 2D; crushing from side views results in a 2D platformer-like view, while crushing from the top-down view provides a 2D top-down perspective. Crushing can connect and merge platforms on the same visual plane in the 3D view but separated by a large distance, creating pathways across the level in the 2D view. The player can also "uncrush" the level at any time. Certain blocks, when crushed, become either obstacles through which Danny cannot pass, or ledges the player can use to reach other parts of the level. Attempts to crush a level in any manner that would harm Danny are thwarted. However, uncrushing can leave Danny in a helpless state, such as hanging in mid-air.
Enemy monsters inhabit the levels, but the player can crush them by flattening impassable blocks against them. The player may also encounter timers that will begin to elapse when crushed for the first time and can only be stopped when Danny jumps on them. Danny wakes from his mental explorations if he falls off the level, is touched by a monster, or fails to stop a timer, but the C.R.U.S.H. device reinserts him at the start of the level or the last checkpoint Danny passed.
Throughout the levels are scattered large spheres and cylinders, which the player can roll when crushed appropriately. These can then be used as platforms or to depress switches. Jigsaw pieces can be collected to reveal extra artwork in the game's menus. Some of Danny's "thoughts", represented by glowing neon icons on the walls of the level, are only activated when the level is crushed in a manner that does not obscure them. Some thoughts allow Danny to jump higher or stop time. Once the player completes each level, they are graded by the duration of Danny's stay on the level, how many times Danny "woke up", and a bonus for collecting all marbles, the jigsaw piece, and a hidden thought trophy. The thought trophy, once completed by crushing, unlocks a level's special challenge mode for later play which requires time-limited completion of the level with an allotted number of crushes.
In an interview, Zoë Mode executive producer Paul Mottram claimed that the game concept was envisioned in 2002, but work did not actually begin until 2006. The initial concept was built on the crushing mechanism between 2D and 3D, and they only had to create appropriate obstacles to prevent players from simply "crushing" across the level. Mottram noted that during the development of Crush, the gameplay of Super Paper Mario had not yet been revealed, and thus the team was surprised to learn that it shared a similar feature.
Mottram stated that the crushing mechanism had been developed and refined for six months before developing the story and characters; the development team wanted to have "a normal person in an impossible situation". The art and level design were inspired by Tim Burton, Mike Mignola, and M.C. Escher. The plot was originally more morbid than in the final product, with Danny dying and the rest of the game told as flashbacks.
The game levels were developed on a level editor on the PlayStation Portable, but Zoë Mode were not able to refine the editor in time for shipping. Mottram said "It would be great to see user generated content and this is something we have been seriously thinking about for the future" and that downloadable content "would work perfectly with the Crush level structure and I am sure that fans of the game would be eager to see more levels." Mottram has stated they would like to market a sequel based on the highly positive feedback they had received; however, with other Zoë Mode projects such as SingStar and Play taking precedence, he does not know when this could be.
Crush received generally positive reviews, with aggregate scores of 83 out of 100 from Metacritic and 83% from Game Rankings. The game was highly praised for its innovative approach to gameplay. Ryan Davis of GameSpot appreciated Crush for owing "very little of its novel concept to games that preceded it". Nick Suttner of 1UP called the game a "cognitively rewarding, expertly designed puzzle experience that truly plays like nothing else". Reviews were mixed on the game's learning curve. IGN's Jeremy Dunham praised the ordering of the puzzle elements, that new gaming elements are introduced at "an ideal pace", and that most puzzles have solutions where the player must "think 'outside the box'". Eurogamer's Dan Whitehead commented that the game introduces these elements too quickly and "doesn't give you much time to put the basics into practice". Some critics found that elements of the game detracted from the game's uniqueness. X-Play's Greg Orlando, while stating that this was "one of the most novel games ever made", noted that it was "simply not very fun", as it lacked many player incentives beyond manipulating the world and collecting objects on each level. Reviewers noted that some puzzles were awkward due to the selection of the PlayStation Portable's controls. Reviewers found the game's story poor, but this was overcome by the gameplay elements; Charles Harold of the New York Times said "the minimal story is as forgettable as its puzzles are ingenious".
IGN awarded Crush PSP Game of the Month for May 2007. GameSpy called Crush the third best PlayStation Portable game and the "PSP Puzzle Game of the Year" for its Game of the Year 2007 awards. Similarly, IGN awarded Crush the "Best PSP Puzzle Game", "Most Innovative PSP Game", and "Best PSP Game No One Played" awards in their Game of the Year 2007 selections. Crush won the 2007 Develop Conference Industry Award for "Best New Handheld IP". According to Paul Mottram, positive reception of the game did not translate into high sales, but the game "will hopefully stick around for a while and continue to shift units".
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