Grappling hooks are a perpetual constant in the world of video game selling points. “Bionic Commando,” the various Spider-Man games, and even the upcoming “Grapple Dog” are all based around the simple satisfaction of what is essentially a reversed jump. Crumble is the ultimate crystallization of why this is the case.
The easiest way to describe “Crumble” would be the good old-fashioned blender analogy: “Clustertruck” plus “Marble Blast” plus “Handulum” plus “Gish” equals “Crumble.” While this is certainly far from wrong (the major challenge is quickly running through increasingly complex and chaotic levels that literally crumble all around you (just like real life “Clustertruck”), it doesn’t really express just how compelling and approachable “Crumble” really is. “Crumble” is the sort of game screenshots can’t do justice to; it’s so simple, intuitive, and fast that it really has to be seen to be believed. It feels like a game tailored to my tastes specifically, a blazingly-fast 10-hour masterpiece with smooth controls, few collectibles, minimalist gameplay and massive set pieces.
While the soundtrack wasn’t very interesting to me (it’s mostly jaunty “stock platformer music,” if that makes any sense), that’s about where its weaknesses end. Its core is simple and engaging enough that anyone can play it — swing and jump to reach the exit in time — but its elaborations and twists on that concept maintain enough novelty and variety to sustain multiple playthroughs, both through alternate applications of the grapple (such as climbing up a wall, hanging onto a specific structure, or weaving through pillars you could also have run on top of) and deviations from the general level formula.
There’s a pinball stage, a survival stage, stages where the game mimics “Lost in Shadow,” a rollercoaster, a giant precarious lava-mountain, a maelstrom of objects to bob through, an homage to Super Mario Sunshine’s Sand Bird, and a climactic level that puts “Clustertruck’s” finale to shame while using a similar central idea, to say nothing of several more. All of these are achieved with an amazing technical virtuosity; huge expanses are seamlessly loaded in on the fly, and the controls and camera never acted up in my entire run. Failure is nowhere near as punishing as in “Clustertruck,” since death only sets you back a few seconds to the last checkpoint instead of all the way back to the start of a level.
The visual design is expressive and simple, with careful attention paid to color choices and lighting to help create a unique atmosphere for each world.
The player character is just a ball of goo with a smiley face on it, making it easy to distinguish from the madness unfolding around you and memorable in its own strange way.
There are also a few collectible skins, which make it worth revisiting prior levels and exploring different areas off the beaten path to see what you can find — collectibles the game doesn’t beat you over the head with at all. Said exploration is a joy as well, since even the act of jumping and swinging around is fun on its own. There’s also a party mode that I never got the opportunity to play.
Perhaps the most astounding aspect of “Crumble” is that it was developed by no more than two people and started as a jam game for Ludum Dare 42, making it one of the higher-profile jam-projects-turned-full-games next to the likes of “Celeste” and “Superhot.” I genuinely hope that “Crumble” becomes as popular as those two, because the game — and the developers, for that matter — deserve it.
“Crumble” is worth the $15, and to me it’d be well worth $70. It won’t run on everything, but it’s definitely worth your time and worth checking out. Rarely are such rote concepts applied so joyously.
Gaget is a student in Fairbanks public schools, and has developed a number of free games. He is a neutral game reviewer.
If You Play
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch
Internet Usage (accounts for download size): 1 GB
ESRB Rating: E
Release Date: 12/4/20
Genre (if applicable): Physics-platformer
Developer: BRUTE FORCE