Overall Score 70%
Jenny is upset. She became trapped in a computer game one night when she was looking for stars (we wonít be too concerned with exactly how). Jenny is relieved. She realises that getting trapped inside a giant game of Tetris is a lot better than getting trapped inside a giant game of Doom.
Crashblock is a unique twist on the standard Tetris clone. A sense of grand size is well conveyed through the use of a photorealistic Jenny character that runs about madly at the bottom of each puzzle, directing the action, and a giant crane that is used to position the blocks as Jenny sees fit. The player directly controls Jenny and indirectly (through the crane) the massive Tetris blocks. Compared to regular Tetris, the pace of the falling blocks is quite appropriately less manic, although in the later stages Jenny herself needs to move like greased lightning up and over blocks in order to be in good positions. She can position the crane directly over herself, and command it to release blocks to fall onto the giant puzzle as she sees fit. If a horizontal line of blocks is completed, then these are removed from the playfield, and bonus items are released.
Jenny needs to make sure that she is not in the path of the blocks when they fall or she is squashed and loses a life. Alternatively, if the blocks are allowed to pile up to the top of the level it is game over, regardless of how many lives Jenny still has available. Levels are won when a pre-determined amount of stars are collected from cleared blocks. Apart from stars however, many other bonus items can be collected such as bombs which can be deployed to get Jenny out of a tight squeeze by destroying surrounding blocks, and hourglasses which can freeze time for a short period (useful since the chain that connects the crane to the blocks will weaken over time and will eventually snap regardless of whether Jenny has positioned the block to her liking or not).
Interestingly, the more I played this game, the more I realised that some situations that I got myself into were not as hopeless as I had first thought. Good use of bombs especially, and also strategic use of the Jenny respawn feature (at the cost of one life) could actually get me back into the game on many an occasion where it seemed that all hope was lost.
I found the default keyboard command allocation for controlling the game to be abominable; with the key for releasing the block set to the backspace key having me play cross-handed over the arrow keys which defaulted for movement. A much better solution for me was WASD for moving and ctrl and shift for crane commands. All commands can be remapped from an easy to navigate options panel. Alternatively, the game offers joystick control, and although this is certainly not a mandatory feature in a game where the keyboard commands are so simple, itís still a nice touch.
The animations for Jenny are reasonably good. Perhaps a few more frames per second for a more fluid feel wouldnít have gone astray, but overall the game is colourful and the visual effects are decent enough. The game consists of 16 levels over 4 different level sets each of which has an individually distinctive theme. A couple of other level sets would have been welcomed. Crashblock seems to only run in a fixed resolution which I suspect is 800x600 but this can be scaled up to a full screen mode if desired.
Sound effects fail to convey effectively the crashing of giant blocks down onto the playfield, but there is a fair variety of sounds and they are not disappointing beyond that criticism. The in-game music is great and complements the atmosphere of each level set very well.
Crashblock does not score very highly in the longevity department since it is by nature quite a casual game. It lacks the long-term hook to keep the player coming back for more. Increasing the overall score was the fact that the concept is original and the game does well in achieving a satisfying play experience whilst keeping the interface simple and the learning curve gentle.
Whilst the appeal of this game is not going to be universal, ex-Tetris junkies from the 1980ís are encouraged to try the demo which will let you play the first 4 levels without any other limitation. For the cost of registration, the other 3 level sets are unlocked with no need to download anything else.
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