Super Crush KO boasts a pretty art style and a fast pace, but a lack of evolution or surprise means its high-scores aren’t worth chasing after a while.
As Netflix recently proved with its horrifying docuseries Don’t F*ck With Cats, people will go to absurd lengths for their moggies. With that in mind, it seems totally reasonable that, if an alien warlord were to burst through your bedroom wall like the Kool-Aid Man and make off with your feline friend, that you’d immediately pursue said warlord with a laser rifle. This, by the way, is the setup of newish side-scrolling 2D brawler Super Crush KO, a game of stellar first impressions and medium- to long-term disappointments.
Those first impressions are great, though. With a vibrant Cartoon Network art style full of color and charming animation, a clear old-school UI, and a surprising sense of pace, the introductory levels speed you through the basics, gradually adding new abilities to a manageable arsenal of fun tricks that mesh well together. Your intrepid heroine can string a basic punch combo together, fire her laser rifle (governed by a heat-up-cool-down system to prevent spam), and dash through enemies and projectiles. Quickly you’re gifted new tools, all tied to the same button but tweaked with varying directional inputs — a straight-line dive, a Ryu-style twisting uppercut, a ground-pound, and an air-dash. Within just a couple of levels, I was stringing all these moves together with ease, working my way through the game’s screen-fulls of enemy beasties with graded panache. Many levels later, I was still stringing the same moves together, but enjoying doing so much less.
I’m not sure exactly when I realized that Super Crush KO had no more surprises, but it was pretty early on. The papery lightness of the early foes never went away, either; brutalizing them felt like scrunching up rough drafts. That lack of tactility got to me, after a while. It was no more satisfying punching holes through big monsters with charge attacks than it was smacking the dopey starter goons that roam idly around, seemingly waiting for it. Each screen, as it gradually flooded with more enemies to wail on, began to feel more and more like tedious busywork.
The game’s action is defined by an unsubtle letter grade squatting at the top-right of the screen, judging your progress accordingly. The relatively shallow combat makes knocking that grade up to the elusive S rank easier to achieve here than in most games of this type, and there’s something refreshing about that, at least. It quickly becomes obvious that the point of Super Crush KO is not to progress through it, but to progress through it as near as possible in one long, unbroken combination, and the moveset is designed in such a way that this is almost always possible, if rarely easy. You’ll notice how much ground the special abilities allow the player to cover, either laterally or vertically, and how the power meter that governs them — replenished by the purple gems enemies explode into upon death — allows for several of them to be strung together in a row without much penalty. Zipping away from attacks, which are telegraphed by obvious lightning bolts appearing over a bad guy’s head, and using your laser rifle to keep the combo counter churning even while you’re out of range, allows for long and complex sequences of moves and reactions and counterattacks that, taken together, are the game at its best.
While this is fun, the fact Super Crush KO never really evolves after its first couple of levels means that chasing high-scores still becomes stale. Its core mechanics are finely-tuned, but it has no ambitions beyond providing an excuse to execute that core loop again and again and again. True mastery still takes a while to achieve, but a satisfying competence comes quite quickly, and the absence of further things to master only exacerbates that feeling of glazing over from doing the same thing decently enough for an extended period of time. A tokenistic story told through pretty comic-book pages isn’t enough to hold a player’s attention when the gameplay loses them, either, and as a result, Super Crush KO is a title that comes out fighting but lacks the stamina for those crucial later rounds.