Crystal Crisis Review — Nicalis in Crisis
Crystal Crisis is a decent puzzle fighter that ultimately suffers due to bad pacing and lackluster capitalization of its premise.
While the puzzle genre is typically somewhat looked down upon when it comes to console gaming due to its simplicity, there are some gems to be found like the ever-popular Tetris series or more unique titles like Ironcast. That being said, when a puzzle game does come to consoles, it has to justify its existence in some way with a unique hook or a lot of content. Nicalis’ Crystal Crisis does so by being a puzzle fighter with a lot of content and crossing over Cave Story with games like Akuji the Demon, 1001 Spikes, The Binding of Issac, The Tempura of the Dead, and even Tezuka Productions properties like Astro Boy and Black Jack.
It’s quite the intense crossover of lot of beloved indie games and manga characters, but the crossover nature of the game is its only major strength. Crystal Crisis does feature a competent puzzle system, a variety of modes, and a lot of cool characters, but suffers from a disappointing story to serve as the catalyst for this crossover along with pacing issues due to long loading times.
If you have played a puzzle fighting game before, you will know what to expect from Crystal Crisis. Red, blue, green, and yellow crystals drop in pairs and must be organized into horizontal or vertical lines. Eventually, a spark crystal will appear and allow players to destroy crystals of a matching color that it touches. As Crystal Crisis is played solely in VS matches, clearing lines will summon countdown crystals to appear on your opponent’s board and only revert to another color after a certain number of turns. This all sounds simple and is easy to get the hang of after a solid tutorial, but there is still a high skill ceiling for those who are dedicated.
It’s a solid system, albeit unoriginal if you are familiar with the puzzle fighting genre. The unique draws of Crystal Crisis on this tried and true formula is that crystals can wrap the arena and that players can use Attack and Defense Bursts during each fight. These are both different with every character and while some are clearly better for newcomers than others, most abilities have clear uses in high-level play. While this base puzzle system functions as it should, an area that really kills Crystal Crisis matches is pacing.
The game is generally slower and longer than your typical Tetris or Puyo Puyo match, which is fine, but the Bursts often did a better job at killing the pacing than helping. While they do definitely give the user an edge, every time a Burst is used the other player’s controls freeze until everything is completed. Not only do players have to wait through their opponent’s most powerful and lengthy bursts, but the game also freezes to load a bit before their use every time. The worst thing you can do in a competitive fighting or puzzle game is kill the pacing, and, unfortunately, in an attempt to splice fighting game elements into Crystal Crisis, the developer sacrificed decent pacing.
When some of the weaker bursts have minimal effects, this can get even more frustrating. Long loading times plague Crystal Crisis outside of matches as well on Switch, hurting its appeal as a quick game to pick up. While those Attack and Defense bursts were ultimately annoying, Crystal Crisis does try to make up for it in content variety. Tag Team and Memory spice up the standard formula by adding a second player and making block colors disappear after they are put down, respectively. Meanwhile, Inline brings Crystal Crisis closer to a match 3 game and turned out to be my favorite mode. While there are some clear pacing issues with Crystal Crisis’ gameplay, it certainly packs in a lot of content for those who pick it up.
The other major facet of Crystal Crisis is its story mode. Out of everything in the game, this is what I was looking forward to most as it what was combining the aforementioned franchises as well as a few other characters like Blade Strangers’ Helen, Code of Princess’ Solange, and even failed TurboGrafx 16 mascot Johnny Turbo. Unfortunately, like Blade Strangers before it, the plot of Crystal Crisis doesn’t do much with the premise. Even the aforementioned Burst attacks never really did enough to reflect their respective characters outside of their cute attack names.
Yes, Quote, Aban, and co. are looking for the Red Crystals before they destroy their respective worlds, but it never truly amounts to anything more than that and really just becomes a string of fights capped off with one filled with Cave Story fanservice. On the positive side of things, it features a surprising amount of replayability as the early chapters let players choose their fighter, thus opening up unique paths, and great narration from Peter Cullen, who you’d recognize as Optimus Prime in Transformers. That being said, solid narration from Peter Cullen will only get a lackluster story so far.
Ultimately, the story serves as little more than an embellished arcade mode rather than a story mode that capitalizes on the amount of potential in store here with the characters from franchises like Cave Story and Tezuka Productions. Nicalis likes to flaunt the characters it owns like Quote and Curly from Cave Story, but I would like to see them actually do more with the characters going forward instead of just including them for the sake of fan service towards franchises they didn’t originally create, especially if they are going through the effort to create story modes for their games.
Crystal Crisis is a fine puzzle game with enough content to warrant its price; unfortunately, it feels boring and soulless underneath. Fan service can be a great thing, but it should embellish a solid game on the story front, not just be the main draw. As the puzzle fighter genre is dying off, Crystal Crisis is one of the only real options left available, and in that sense, it is serviceable and features enough modes where players should be able to find one they enjoy.
Even that is hampered by pace-killing Attack and Defense Burst system though, so definitely don’t look to Crystal Crisis if you want a fast-paced puzzle game. The Nintendo Switch is a platform filled great puzzle games–Tetris 99 and Puyo Puyo Champions have come out this year alone–so Crystal Crisis ends up as a middling addition that mainly gets by on the inclusion of beloved characters, even if it doesn’t do much with them.