By Josh Speer / January 17th, 2020
|Title||Super Crush KO|
|Release Date||January 16th, 2020|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence|
It might seem odd that Super Crush KO is the first game by Vertex Pop that I’ve reviewed for oprainfall. After all, I like retro, I like colorful and I like silly. These are all words I would use to describe other games by Vertex Pop, including We Are Doomed and Graceful Explosion Machine. After demoing Super Crush KO at a couple events, I knew I found the gameplay compelling. The question is, was this the next great indie experience? Or did Super Crush KO leave me hoping for more?
I’m gonna go a bit out of sequence and say this – I absolutely adore the art style of Super Crush KO. It’s vibrant, popping with color and catches the eye. Normally such a bright palette of pinks, blues and greens would be jarring, but they mesh really well. When you factor in that color is well used to tell the story through dynamic comic book panels, it’s even better. That artistry also translates to the game itself, and you’ll rarely be bored by what you’re seeing on screen. Though it’s true some enemy models are pretty similar, there was enough diversity to keep me happy. Honestly, if I were just judging Super Crush KO on artistry, it would likely get a perfect score. However, I also have to gauge it based on other factors.
Let’s start with the plot. I use that word generously, since there’s not much story to speak of in Super Crush KO. One day you wake up and some random alien girl, Ann, kidnaps your cat. You angrily put on your sneakers and jacket, and race after her. All that’s between you and saving Chubbz is Ann’s horde of robot minions. I’m not sure if she built the minions or inherited them, nor am I 100% sure how or why your cat was chosen. It’s also totally unclear why the main character of Karen is able to fight robots with seeming superhuman strength and skills gifted to her by eating random junk food. I hate to dwell on all this, but it stands out because the vague nature of the plot kept it from being a better game. I’m not saying every game has to make perfect sense nor take itself seriously, but I do feel what’s here would have been so much more enjoyable if it wasn’t just trying to be cute all the time.
That said, the main draw of Super Crush KO is the combat. It’s a brawler with platformer elements. Each of the game’s 16 stages (plus 4 boss fights and one tutorial area) has you move from section to section beating the living hell out of Ann’s poor robots. You’re gated in areas until you beat them all, and besides that, you’ll find traps such as buzz saws that move on tracks, spikes, lasers and more to screw with you. You have a wide variety of attacks at your disposal, and most of them require energy. Once you run out, you can’t do anything other than standard punches and kicks. Thankfully, each time you destroy a foe, they’ll spill energy gems for you that refill your meter, letting you keep on the pressure. You’ll have aerial corkscrews, ground pounds, uppercuts and more to wreck them with, as well as a handy gun that has unlimited ammo, but which overheats quickly. Most important of all is your dodge, which lets you avoid projectiles and breeze past charging foes. Conceptually, it all works perfectly, and most of the time I found the combat quite fun. The tricky part comes when you factor in the game’s primary replay value, the Rank system.
To get a perfect score on any stage, you’ll basically need to get through it all without getting hit once. That might not sound so bad, but things get fast and furious, and enemies constantly teleport onto the screen, often surprising you. It’s also frustrating that your main attack combo draws you closer to foes, sometimes resulting in taking accidental damage. I also found that the aforementioned traps were a huge hassle when things got heated, and I often would get hit by a poorly placed laser or moving buzz saw. Generally speaking, I got a rank of A or S on most stages, but getting that along with perfect combos in each section was very difficult. And what’s worse, all you get for a perfect score is bragging rights. I’m a big proponent of performance unlocking content, and wish there were bonus stages or bosses that could be attained by doing exceptionally. Or hell, even an alternate ending or customization options. Without those, the game is quite short, as I managed to beat it in about 2 and a half hours.
Generally in games like this I love the boss fights, but sadly that’s not the case in Super Crush KO. Don’t get me wrong, they were fun enough and challenging, but they also were far too similar. Even the boss models are nearly identical, all humanoid robots who run around attacking, then summon more tiny robots when they take enough damage. I would have liked all the bosses more if they were all totally distinct looking and had totally unique attack patterns. As it is, it felt a lot like just taking on slightly more powerful versions of the same enemy over and over.
While most of the controls work seamlessly for the Switch version, the gun was problematic. It couldn’t fire through platforms, and overheated way too quickly. More troublesome was that you have to re-aim the gun with the left joystick, but most of the movement is relegated to the directional buttons. I really wish you could shift the gun cursor around by tapping the shoulder buttons. More than once I would be firing, a foe would teleport behind me, and by the time I had reoriented the gun, I was taking damage. Another issue I had combat-wise was how easy it was to lose track of where foes are when they swarm you. Given that the only warning you get for a pending attack is a visual cue, this was an issue. I would have loved if there was a distinct audio cue each time an attack was pending, cause then even if I lost track of where the foe was, I could still react in time. And though I loved the Super Beam KO finisher, I do wish the meter filled much faster for it. Usually I’d be lucky if I could use it twice in a single stage.
I really hate harping on what Super Crush KO doesn’t do well, because overall there’s a lot I enjoyed about the experience. Honestly, if this had been a Metroidvania that was much more spread out and had really intriguing boss fights, this would have been a tremendous experience. In many ways, it reminded me of Guacamelee 2!, just a stripped down version. As it is, it’s still fun, it just feels like a light experience that could have been so much more. For example, I liked the combat and I liked the platforming, I just didn’t like them together. If they had separate sections with stage hazards and combat, and they didn’t mix, the game would have flowed so much more fluidly. And while I did love the art in the game, the music and sound effects were a different matter entirely. At best they were muted, at worst they were forgettable bubble gum fare.
In the end, Super Crush KO isn’t quite an indie classic, but it also has some shining points. Though the plot is almost non-existent, the characters are cute. The combat is amazing when it isn’t slowed down by some awkward design, and it can flow very well. And the art is tremendously engaging. While I do feel $14.99 is a bit pricey for a game I beat in a little over two hours, I still am glad I got to cover it. Vertex Pop has the bones of an amazing game here, and I’m hopeful their next title reaches its full potential. If you like cute and colorful games and don’t mind something short and sweet, then I’d check out Super Crush KO.
Review Copy Provided by Developer
brawlercutesyoprainfallplatformersillySuper Crush KOVertex Pop