Version tested PlayStation 3
Another day, another puzzle game. Like so many others this one involves matching coloured objects as they drop down the screen. Yet again you'll spend your time pulling off combos, racking up points, gathering gems, collecting power-ups and vomiting rainbows of sick into your son's mouth. Hang on what?
Critter Crunch will be familiar to many iPhone-owning puzzle fans, having been selling well in the App Store for over a year now. As you'd expect, the PSN version features much better visuals and audio effects, while the core gameplay mechanics of matching, combining, collecting and vomiting remain intact.
You play as Biggs, a rotund furry character with a big gob and a super-long tongue. He moves left and right underneath a grid populated by coloured critters of various shapes and sizes. The idea is to feed smaller critters to bigger ones till they burst, taking out any adjacent critters of the same type along with them. Say you've got a row of four medium-sized yellows, for example. The medium yellows eat the small blues. So feed small blue critters to a medium yellow and the whole row of yellows will explode.
That's the basic principle, but of course there are extra rules and power-ups to make things more complicated. You can set off a "food chain" by feeding a small to a medium who is directly below a big, thereby blowing up the lot. Some critters are "toxic" and must be avoided, as swallowing them will lose you points. There are bombs for blowing up large groups and watermelon seeds for destroying individual critters. Other top power-ups include the bulb of garlic - swallow this to unleash a belch of breath so bad the entire grid will retreat by one row.
When critters explode they drop precious gems. Collecting these boosts your score and fills the "hunger meter" at the side of the screen. The aim is to fill the meter as fast possible, because if you don't manage it before the critters reach the bottom of the screen it's game over.
Then there's your son, a smaller version of Biggs. Every so often he appears from nowhere and opens his giant mouth, indicating he wants to be fed. Pressing the circle button makes Biggs spew up an arcing rainbow of multicoloured puke, as if his breakfast consisted of 486 packs of Skittles and a bucket of glitter. The longer you vomit into baby Biggs' mouth, the more points you rack up. Never has throwing up held so much charm or appeal. For most of us anyway.
So there are quite a few variables to deal with, but but the power-ups and rules are introduced at a steady rate. In fact, the first half of the game is straightforward to complete and really rather relaxing. Once the pace starts to pick up, however, you can no longer get away with absent-mindedly plugging away till the meter is full - proper concentration and forward planning are required just to stay alive, let alone rack up high scores.
This is where Critter Crunch digs its hooks in. As is essential for a puzzle game to be great, the balance between challenge and reward is just right. You're required to move fast, react quickly, think ahead and weigh up options all at the same time. Succeed and you're rewarded with showers of pretty confetti, sparkly chinking jewels and the satisfying sound of cute creatures popping open like balloons.