Developed and Published by: Vertex Pop Inc.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC
Release Date: Out Now!
You know, sometimes games are just straightforward, distilled fun. Yes, I know, a revolutionary concept, right? Super Crush KO is a fantastic example of this, with a sharp, short story, a strong visual flair and energetic, absorbing combat platforming. It’s a game I first played roughly two years ago on my Switch, but recently found myself returning to as a reliable palette cleaner in between some of the more expansive and time-consuming blockbuster releases out there. From developer/publisher Vertex Pop, who you might know from Graceful Explosion Machine, this Switch/PC game delivers a welcome burst of colour and joy that – whilst not always the most in-depth, fleshed-out, or indeed long experience – is an example of the pure satisfaction games can provide. In this review I’ll tell you exactly how Super Crush KO nails that intangible sense of game feel, as well as note how the surrounding package does not always back that up.
Hey, That’s My Cat!
Plot-wise, Super Crush KO quickly establishes the story premise through comic-panel cutscenes that have a vibrant, characterful style reminiscent of the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World series (which, from me, is high praise). Essentially, main character Karen is minding her own business the mysterious Ann suddenly breaks into their room (Resident Evil 3 flashbacks, but this is quite a different game, aha) and steals away their cat Chubbz – leaving Karen on a quest to chase after and retrieve them. It all happens within a few illustrations and is slightly ridiculous, but the larger-than-life tone works due to a combination of stylish aesthetics and endearing character design. There is a very contemporary vibe to it all, and Karen is the embodiment of this; their modern outfit, which is finished off with a signature multicoloured jacket, has a modern feel that you can picture actually being worn in the real world. Of course, Super Crush KO is set in a very different reality, one where Karen has to make their way through a bubblegum-urban setting full of mechanised obstacles designed to slow them down. Which is where you, the player, come in…
The levels themselves, which are grouped into sections capped off with boss fights, consist of several left-to-right combat screens, where various types of mechs present themselves in your path. Your task is straightforward; punch your way through in the most efficient way possible, so you can progress to the next level and get closer to saving Chubbz. Being an admittedly simple premise, it’s up to the gameplay to grab the player and keep them in, and that’s exactly where Super Crush KO excels. Through a combination of face buttons and directional inputs, you can attack in different ways (similar to a Super Smash Bros. moveset). To start with, there’s your basic attack that can be chained into a hard-hitting combo of four; then, there are the strong directional dash attacks that cover more of a distance and take you through enemies; and by aiming your attacks the right way, you can perform uppercuts and ground slams. In addition, the triggers supplement this by allowing you to both dash and fire your gun. The former is handy for dodging through enemy attacks or getting through barriers in light platforming sections, whilst the latter can deal useful damage from a distance (though the longer you hold it down, the slower and weaker it fires, so use it wisely). Combined with a slowly-charging powerful beam that devastates enemies directly in front of you, you have quite the range of options, which encourages the player to vary their approach.
So, the game gives you options – but it’s how it all works seamlessly together that really makes Super Crush KO stand out. Karen is delightful to play as, with a sense of freedom and speed to their movement that is extremely rewarding but never overpowered. You can tell Vertex Pop have really thought about the timings and gaps in between being able to deploy different attacks; it all feels satisfyingly smooth when you’re tying together combos and feeling unstoppable, but the small quirks of how certain attacks lock you into movement animations put you at risk of being hit and having it all slow down again. Indeed, the sense of punishment is apparent, as Karen only has four hearts of health that very quickly disappear if you start making mistakes. You can get health back from defeating enemies or running through checkpoints, so forming a good run of attacks without being struck is key to your success. It’s remarkable how unchained the game feels, despite the relatively enclosed level designs that – when you really think about them – are very basic in their topographic structure. Most of the time you are just jumping up and down simple platforms or making your way through checkpoints in the level; as aforementioned, there are a few small platforming sections which are sadly few and far between – I actually think a bit more on this front would have been good for further emphasis on how well Karen moves around the screen.
Mechs & Multipliers
Your fluidity of movement is especially important, as so much of the longevity of Super Crush KO is built around the score system. It’s all based around combos, you see, which are built up through combining together those attacks and not being hit. At the end of each level you’ll be marked for not only your raw score but extra factors such as not needing any Continues, or not being hit at all – these can increase your score by 10% each, so can make a significant difference on your place in the online leaderboards. Furthermore, each level has some predetermined points where the game will take note of your running combo – if you are sustaining an S-Rank at that moment, you’ll tick off a “Perfect Score” marker, and if you complete all of these in a level you’ll get a further bonus. The draw of getting an S-Rank or climbing the leaderboards is relied on in terms of replayability, and it’s effective if you’re the sort of player who likes getting 100% completion in a game. Even so, it’s very clear by the end of Super Crush KO that there is very little else to do after the relatively small amount of levels on offer. You can fly through the levels in around three hours, and there are no extra modes or side offerings included after that. If you don’t feel the need to replay levels for higher scores, you may find that’s as much as you get from Super Crush KO. Personally, I do not generally have an issue with games being short when it feels necessary; but with how well Super Crush KO plays, it felt as though there was potential for further levels and more enemy types.
Still, though, Super Crush KO does pack in a good variety of mechs within a relatively short amount of time. It certainly doesn’t get stale or repetitive, and you’re constantly challenged by how different mechs are combined together. As you’d expect, the early levels consist of quite basic close-combat robots that are easily dealt with, but soon you start to meet different forms that make you alter your approach. For example, ranged or flying attackers make you consider how you move around the area, whilst stronger melee enemies resistant to being interrupted prevent you from button-mashing your way to victory. You’ll soon start to encounter mini-boss mechs quite frequently, which might go into invulnerable rolling attacks, deploy shields, or start firing off flamethrowers in your direction. Each of them are fun to go up against on their own, but it’s how Super Crush KO creates waves of different mechs that keeps you on your toes. Sure, it’s easy to jump out of the way of a rolling attack when in a one-on-one situation, but when you also have incoming ranged attacks from above? That’s a whole other situation, and traps from the platforming sections start bleeding into the fight instances too, just to add another layer… Subsequently, keeping that combo going without being hit gets progressively more challenging, and simultaneously stays rewarding as a result.
On top of this, ending each handful of levels is a boss fight which both shakes up the combat and delivers your next portion of story. This is when you get the next confrontation between Karen and Ann, which, through some sharp writing and charming character drawings, quickly becomes more refreshing and unexpected than you might expect from such a short narrative. Mechs you face here are much larger and dominate the screen, and are nice breaks in the action that make you think in new ways. Again, my main issue with them is that there aren’t more of them, or even some sort of boss rush mode where you can fight them all in one go. They’re also an example of how, within the template of mechs, Super Crush KO goes out of its way to create a lot of different shapes and forms of robots for you to go up against. Every type importantly has a distinctive look to immediately indicate to you the sort of moveset you are up against, whilst staying within the mech aesthetic. It would perhaps have been good to find a way for non-mech enemies to be introduced to shake it up even more, though.
This is something I’ve already touched on, but it really is a bit disappointing that Super Crush KO isn’t a bit longer. It feels so good to play, and combined with the bright, welcoming look to the game, it encourages you to pick it up again and again. At some point, though, that wears off due to the limited amount of levels themselves. You can rewatch cutscenes in the main menu but that’s literally it, other than marvelling at the different illustrations of Karen that appear there (which you may well end up doing). The lack of content does not make Super Crush KO bad at all – it feels too good to play for that to be the case. However, it stops it being a game you play for hours and hours on end, and instead makes it suited to occasionally dropping into for a burst of wondrous fun – which on the Switch, is admittedly suited. Still, as with The Medium earlier this year, Super Crush KO left me ready for more, and it just didn’t have that prepared. Even some sort of mode such as a one-run permadeath, or a bonus such as a different outfit for Karen, would have been that slight extra motivation to dive back in more often and/or for longer.
It’s been briefly brought up along the way in this review, but I really need to talk more about the visual/audio presentation of Super Crush KO. The screenshots in this post have hopefully created a clear image of just how strikingly vibrant Super Crush KO is – everything is painted on screen in such a unique way, in a hand drawn, comic-esque fashion, with a fantastic pastel palette of colours. It plays into the contemporary feel I brought up before, and makes Super Crush KO evidently modern in sensibility. Everything moves in such an energetic way, with a slightly staggered detail that isn’t quite stop-motion, but makes the frames a bit more noticeable, which suits that graphic novel look. The game is fast and clear at the same time, which works so well with the way you’re encouraged to chase high scores and a mistake-free run. It’s effects like the red lightning bolts above an enemy, signifying that they’re about to attack you – they’re practical for the player, and fit into the stylisation of the visuals too. Changing up the prominent colour of the levels ensures that the game stays as fresh as it is at the beginning – some levels may have an overriding pink colour, whilst others may change that for a blue style. The extra layer that tops it all off are those stunning illustrations of Karen, Ann, and Chubbz, and the comic panel story beats that are effective rewards for making your way through the story.
Not quite as noticeable is the audio side of Super Crush KO, but the music does a good job at maintaining the momentum in your ears. There’s a cheerful pace to the soundtrack that befits the action and colour on the screen, though I wouldn’t say it left as much as an impression on me as the visuals did. Sound effects are nice and weighty, though, and put across the impact from each of the punches and gunshots Karen delivers – with the painful noise of being hit quickly becoming one you connect to the disappointment of your combo going back to the base score multiplier of D! This sound design pays a part in those awesome comic panels, too, as they’re relied on for putting across the audio side of those narrative developments. So, as I say, whilst not outstanding to me, the audio does a great job in allowing the rest of Super Crush KO to shine as much as it does.
If you haven’t heard of or played Super Crush KO and tend to enjoy action platformers, this is one I recommend to put on your radar. The brilliant art direction stands out from the crowd, and then once you’re in, you’ll discover a superbly satisfying combat system full of variety, charm, and challenge. It’s just especially disappointing that such a well-crafted framework does not have the surrounding structure to keep you in for longer. The offering of different levels ends far too soon, and aside from going for higher scores, there’s nothing to sustain you for an extended period of time. Still, I wouldn’t let that put you off giving Super Crush KO a go, as there is so much to enjoy here, whether it be the vibrant visuals, the compelling combat, or the surprisingly sweet story – it just would’ve been nice if there was more to do.