By Evan Norris 16th Jan 2020 | 2,611 views
Where a lot of video games embrace a "jack of all trades, master of none" mentality, some games focus like a laser on one element and nail it. For Vertex Pop's Super Crush KO that special element is combo-based fighting. With intuitive commands, smooth controls, and rewarding combos, it hosts some of the best 2D brawling this side of Guacamelee! Regrettably, for this side-scrolling fighter there isn't quite enough built up around its one extraordinary feature.
The story in Super Crush KO is thin but fun. A mysterious green humanoid—is she an alien, a monster?—breaks into everywoman Karen's home and absconds with her husky cat Chubbz. When Karen pursues the catnapper, she's met by a robotic army under the control of the verte villain. Told primarily through comic panels and featuring colorful characters and funny dialogue, the narrative is entertaining—while it lasts.
It doesn't last very long, unfortunately. Super Crush KO is surprisingly short, with only 20 levels (21 if you include the tutorial) that last about five minutes apiece. Now, each level tracks your high score and uploads it to online leaderboards, so there are certainly replay opportunities for high score hounds. For the average player, however, this might be insufficient on its own to coax another playthrough after logging two to three hours.
That said, those hours will be filled with some of the smoothest, most gratifying 2D action you're likely to experience all year. Karen has several different moves at her disposal, which players can use to chain together whirlwind combos. There's a basic melee attack, a dodge attack that allows Karen to phase through projectiles, a rapid-fire gun, a series of horizontal and vertical special attacks that deplete an energy bar, and a spectacular laser beam that can be used once, maybe twice a stage. It's incredibly satisfying to launch robots helplessly upward, jump and attack them mid-air, dodge enemy fire, and then turn around and empty a clip into flying bots—all without touching the ground. Judged only by its moment-to-moment brawling, Super Crush KO is a GotY contender.
Judged by the whole package, it falls short of greatness. Not only are levels short, but they often seem indistinguishable from each other, with similar layouts and enemy groupings. They're also lacking much to do outside of fighting. The average level starts with a fight, which leads into a scripted fight that is scored at the end, which leads into another transitional fight, then a second scored fight, and so on. It all becomes predictable and ho-hum—despite a smattering of jump pads, lasers, and warp gates in late-game levels. Even bosses, which come at the end of each of the game's four worlds, move and attack with similar patterns and projectiles. Super Crush KO needs more platforming challenges or collectible items to keep things from getting stale and samey.
In terms of difficulty curve, though, Vertex Pop nails it. The game quickly debuts new maneuvers and then introduces in regular intervals new, more aggressive robots. In early levels players can take their time dispatching rank-and-file bots, but in later stages, with heat-seeking drones and shielded elephantine droids, they will need to dart in and out of harm's way, avoiding unblockable melee attacks and walls of red bullets. Again, the momentary action is outstanding, but the scenarios and situations all tend to bleed together.
What doesn't bleed together are the game's colorful pastel graphics. While Super Crush KO doesn't own the most advanced special effects or the most detailed models, its colorful skylines and soft colors bestow upon it a unique aesthetic that matches its breezy gameplay.
It's commendable that Vertex Pop chose to hone in on and elevate one specific element—2D arcade brawling. The results speak for themselves, thanks to smooth, rewarding, and flexible combo-based action. In the case of Super Crush KO, however, more attention to the structure, content, and variety of each level would have made the product even richer and more replayable. Those who enjoy titles like Guacamelee! primarily for its suplexes and uppercuts will surely appreciate this adventure, but fans looking for a fuller action-platformer experience might be unready to rumble.