Two great tastes sometimes don’t taste so great together. Ketchup and peanut butter, for instance? Maybe that’s not so great. But if you mix that ketchup with mayo or that peanut butter with jelly, you might be on to something. Likewise, when you mix puzzle games and fighting games, you get something like Capcom’s Puzzle Fighter, which was a solid hit from back in the day with a taste all its own that’s been faithfully replicated here in Crystal Crisis.
When a mysterious red crystal shows up and starts causing problems, it’s up to the beloved heroes of Nicalis to save the day! You know, the characters from the publisher Nicalis? Think of Marvel’s Avengers or Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros, only without the Marvel or Nintendo heroes…and more Nicalis! This means Cave Story characters! Code of Princess! 1001 Spikes! Even Osamu Tezuka favorites Astro Boy and Black Jack are here too, for what that’s worth, along with Johnny Turbo from those old TurboGrafx-16 ads. Anyway, pick one and get to work crushing crystals!
Crystal Crisis is a Nicalis-themed take on the classic Puzzle Fighter. Two players face off in a puzzle battle that plays out a bit like Puyo Puyo; stack similar-colored crystals together to make larger crystals, then drop a trigger crystal on that stack to blow it up, clearing your board and sending trash to your opponent. Throughout the match, there’s a tension between building effective stacks and combos versus keeping your board clear in anticipation of enemy trash.
Crystal Crisis mixes things up a little by introducing super attacks that can be triggered during battle. Unlike Puzzle Fighter, where characters were distinguished largely by the pattern of trash they’d drop on opponents, here each character has an attack ability and a defense ability. These range from Quote’s trash-generating and block-clearing guns to Akuji’s color-changing abilities. Some of these are more powerful than others, so the character you choose is a very serious consideration; Akuji’s ability to completely flip the board between both fighters is hilariously broken in particular, so watch out if you’re fighting him.
There’s a few ways to go about crystal-crushing. You’ve got your basic arcade mode, a fairly expansive story mode revolving around making binary choices to reach different paths, a tag mode…the works, really. If you can think of a way to implement this gameplay, it’s probably here. You’ve also got online play, though I didn’t have the chance to check this one out.
If, somehow, you’re a die-hard Nicalis fan, you’ll appreciate the amount of nods to your fandom that show up in Crystal Crisis. In particular, if you like Cave Story you’ll be well cared for here. I have to admit that I kinda liked Quote and Curly a little more before I knew they were robots, but there you have it. From a graphical and presentation standpoint there’s very little to complain about regarding Crystal Crisis. I’m especially fond of the incredibly dramatic narrator that shows up throughout the story mode.
That’s not to say this one’s flawless, though. Somehow, even when it’s installed directly to the Switch, Crystal Crisis has absolutely horrific load times that make everything a huge pain. I’m not sure why that’s the case, but it is. They’re bad enough to make the story mode take significantly longer than it might have otherwise and they’re a pain all the time one way or the other.
If you can deal with that, though, Crystal Crisis makes for some pretty enjoyable puzzle combat. The various abilities can feel a little unbalanced, but for many players that might be part of the fun. Even if you don’t recognize every (or any) character from the Nicalis-verse, there’s plenty here that should appeal to those pining for more Puzzle Fighter action. Super-long load times aside, Crystal Crisis is a solid puzzler that’s worth a look.