I have always enjoyed puzzle-fighter mashups and while this isn’t Capcom’s Puzzle Fighters, it basically takes the same formula with using offensive and defensive special abilities. Crystal Crisis from Nicalis follows a similar gameplay style with some clever additions that incorporate characters from many beloved video games to provide a satisfyingly authentic puzzle experience.
There is not much of a story to speak of in Crystal Crisis. The presentation is top-notch with some beautiful cut-scenes and artwork in general, however, the writing is lackluster. Like any fighting type of title, you shouldn’t go in expecting a sweeping narrative, but it’s a shame the narrative takes a backseat with so many iconic characters presented. The opening alone sets for an epic adventure narrated by the voice of Optimus Prime who tells the story of a power crystal and an evil group trying to harness its power.
Fortunately, there is a group of heroes, all owned by the Nicalis IP, who are ready to destroy the crystal and stop evil from prevailing. As stated before, the story is only here to drive your progression through the main story mode, so you will never really question why all of these characters are together. In between matches you’ll get conversations between the characters, but they are more like introductions than some heavy exposition based narrative.
While the story is not the reason to play Crystal Crisis, the gameplay on the other hand makes this investment worth it. There are many similarities to Capcom’s beloved Puzzle Fighter series, but that is not a bad thing if you enjoy those types of puzzle titles. You get a series of colored blocks in pairs of two which you place on a grid similar to Tetris. On occasion, you’ll get these colored crystals that destroy matching color blocks touching them. This is a formula that has worked before and works here just as well.
Where the differentiation comes in is how you’re able to split blocks between the left and right sides of the screen. The strategy involves breaking your blocks on the side, letting you more effectively manage your grid. It’s hard to say if Crystal Crisis is the fist puzzle title to do this, but it definitely changes how you want to succeed.
Another new mechanic is how when you build up a combo meter, you’ll earn points to fill up your super power gauge. Every character has a very different power that is either offensive or defensive and trying to cancel your opponents actions at the right times can mean the difference between success or defeat. They add an interesting twist to the gameplay, but they all operate different depending on the character you have chosen. If you don’t like the super power gauge, you can turn it off in the options menu to create more of an authentic puzzle experience.
The game modes include a Story mode which can be beaten in a couple of hours and a traditional Arcade mode to go against some CPU controlled opponents. There are a few options to change up the traditional gameplay with survival and even a tag-team mode. The tag-team mode in particular has you play as two different characters with two different grids. This adds some more strategy to matches with having to balance two different characters, but also serves as a safety net when one of your characters begins to lose.
Along with the single player options are the Multiplayer modes which allow for online or local play. I only had a brief time with the online component and it held up well for the most part with little in the way of frame rate drops or being a bad experience. Local multiplayer was a blast to play and is where I can see Crystal Crisis truly shining. Lastly, there is an Extra’s menu where you’ll gain access to the games music and concept art which is wonderfully presented.
Visually, Crystal Crisis may look dull at times, but the character animations and their cute-ish looking art styles fit well with the whole puzzle gameplay. Cutscenes and character models have some great animations and you can tell the developer put some work into how the game is shown off. Some of the backgrounds and stages look overly simple, but they never detract from the experience. The music is also well-done with music encompassing many of the different IP’s across Nicalis’ catalogue. While none of the tracks are particularly memorable, they all change depending on the stage you’re on and fit very well with the tone of the game in general.
Crystal Crisis has everything I want in a puzzle game. It fills the void left by Capcom’s Puzzle Fighter series and while the character roster isn’t as iconic, its gameplay is fun enough to forget about what characters you’d rather play as. The whole experience provides gameplay that I’m particularly fond of and many players should become addicted to the infectious way of trying to solve the puzzles. While not completely original and features some long load screens, I had a blast playing Crystal Crisis and I’m sure you will too.