It’s a fact of life. Big animals eat smaller animals. Those smaller animals eat even smaller animals. And every now and again, all those critters explode and drop jewels. OK, that last part doesn’t exactly occur in our world, but in Critter Crunch it’s the only way Biggs, your rotund hero, is going to get fed! With a name like Critter Crunch, one might expect a typical bland Bejeweled knock-off. Instead, Capybara has developed a unique and addictive “Match 3”-type puzzler that is sure to please gamers on the go.
Critter Crunch is an absolute joy to look at. Sporting a sharp, hand-drawn anime look, the game’s cute denizens almost make you forget this is a game about animals eating each other. Game screens feature gorgeous jungle backgrounds as a backdrop to the crisp detail of the critter puzzle “pieces.” Capybara’s attention to detail extends even to the title screen, where gently falling leaves float past the game’s menu. The game’s animations are equally as charming. Smiling creatures munch each other with absolute relish, and Biggs’ eating animation is hilarious no matter how many times you see it. Detail is everywhere – from the colorful burst of stars when a creature pops to the cartoon cloud of combat that appears when a creature reaches the bottom of the screen and attacks your poor hero. Capybara really did an outstanding job putting the polish on this title’s presentation. While the gameplay alone could carry the title, the fact that such care was put into the game’s style makes it all the more irresistible.
The game features a bouncy, cheerful score that hearkens back to the soundtracks of classic Nintendo titles like Mario Kart. While I found it fit wonderfully with the game’s fun style, some may find it a little annoying after a long play session. Unfortunately in one of the game’s few oversights, there is no way to turn the music off without turning all the sound off. Doing so would be a shame, because the sound effects are marvelous. Creatures crunch happily when eating, and squeal when picked up or eaten. Biggs’ tongue issues a satisfying snap as he slurps up critters. Even the minor effects, such as the sparkles surrounding bonus creatures or the sounds when Biggs picks up a gem, just feel right.
Critter Crunch makes good use of the iPhone’s touch screen. Biggs can simply be dragged right or left to each column. A tap on Biggs shoots his tongue out, and another tap spits out the creature he just nabbed. A drag up acts as an alternative to tapping Biggs, and a drag down will advance the next row of critters. The game doesn’t make use of the iPhone’s tilt functionality, but you’re unlikely to miss it. There are some minor nitpicks. For those with large fingers, it’s sometimes easy to make Biggs overshoot the column you wanted. He also moves slower than you do, which makes the faster later levels more difficult than they need to be. I also wish a tap anywhere on the screen would control Biggs’ tongue. Because you have to click directly on Biggs to snap his tongue, it’s sometimes easy to miss a snap when he’s on the edge of the screen.
With the amount of puzzle/casual titles on the market these days, you would think all the good ideas had been taken. So it’s exciting when a game comes along that brings something new to the table, even as it incorporates the familiar. Critter Crunch, on the surface, is a game along the lines of Tetris or Bust-A-Move. Pieces advance towards the bottom of the screen, and it’s your job to eliminate them by matching colors and clearing them from the game board. In this case, the pieces are critters of various colors and sizes. Critters come in three sizes: small, medium, and large. Medium critters can only eat small creatures, and large critters can only eat medium critters. Biggs, your hero, is responsible for enforcing the food chain by snapping up critters with his tongue and shooting them into the mouths of larger critters. Feeding a critter one creature makes him full, but feeding him two creatures makes him pop and disappear from the board. Sounds simple enough, but the game’s excellent tutorials soon teach you that there are deeper strategies lurking below the surface. For starters, popping a critter of one color will also pop all adjacent critters of the same color in a chain. As levels get more difficult, it becomes essential to move critters around to create these chains. There are also combos called food chains. When a larger creature is positioned over a full smaller creature, he will automatically devour him. Triggering food chains is a great way to quickly clear critters by letting them do some of the work for you. To win a level, you must fill Biggs’ hunger meter. Biggs eats gems, and the only way to get gems to fall is to pop critters. The game is a race against time to fill Biggs’ meter before the relentlessly advancing critters reach the bottom of the screen and beat poor Biggs to a pulp. The action in later levels can get very frenetic, and you’ll have to make good use of clever positioning and combos to keep the board clear. Fortunately there are some tools to help you out. Occasionally bonus critters surrounded by sparkles will appear. Popping a bonus critter drops a “power food” that bestows a special power to Biggs. The first example is a watermelon which gives you 3 seeds that Biggs can shoot to automatically pop any critter. Like most great puzzle games, Critter Crunch is easy to learn but is more rewarding the deeper you delve. The game will continue to throw twists at you, including poisonous critters and gems, bonus gem catching stages, and more!
Critter Crunch would be a great game with just its default Adventure Mode gameplay. However, the game is packed with 3 additional game modes. Time Trial requires you to clear the board within a certain time limit, while Puzzle Mode removes the time limit and instead gives you a certain number of moves to clear the board. Both modes require careful planning in order to find a solution given the critters available. Finally there is a Survival Mode, if you’re just not satisfied with anything less than limitless hordes of critters to munch. Unfortunately for those with limited patience, these modes must be unlocked through gameplay. While this may put off some, at least the terrific Puzzle Mode is unlocked very quickly, after only a few levels of the tutorial.
Critter Crunch is a terrific little puzzle game. While the retail price of 9.99 may turn some away, you’re getting unique gameplay, plenty of replayabilty, and amazingly high production values for your money. Higher levels provide plenty of challenge, and the game’s four game modes will keep you munching away for quite some time. With its delightful graphics, charming soundtrack, and unique gameplay, this is one iPhone app that is truly at the top of the food chain.