One of the reactions I often get when I write about games is that I need to chill the fuck out. It’s a fair criticism, as I tend to run hyperbolically hot or cold on most. I think I’m like an Amazon reviewer: a piece of media has to really stick in my craw (either positively or negatively) in order for me to sit down and write at length about it.
I tend to extremes, is what I’m saying. And I’m probably particularly effusive with good indie games, because I’m a giant sycophant who craves the giving and receiving of praise from fellow artists, as a reprieve from the howling black void of impostor syndrome that lives inside me. Oh god the howling.
So with those qualifiers firmly in mind, here’s my totally untrustworthy and utterly asinine take on Max Krieger’s CROSSNIQ:
It’s dope and I love it.
CROSSNIQ – Launch Trailer
I’ll get to DA GAEMPLAY in a sec—because no review is complete without a cold, clinical description of mechanics, like we’re describing cup-holders in a sports car—but I want to talk first about how this game feels:
It’s 2002. Summer. Warm, but not hot. It’s about 1:34 pm, and has been for the last three months. You’ve got a bottle of green tea SoBe in your hand, and a fresh new glossy gaming mag laid out across the bed. Inside are eye-goggling visuals of weird titles from faraway lands, exploding across your cornea with a bleeding edge J-Pop aesthetic and wild electric pastels.
You have no idea what the hell kind of crazy artistic renaissance is happening over there, but you DO know what games that look like that feel like to play: all those PS1 and Dreamcast titles, with their surf-rock soundtracks and beachfront asphalt. Sonic Adventure. Crazy Taxi. Jet Set Radio. Etcetera.
And what they feel like is this:
Not cool like “badass”. Not cool like leather jackets and cigarettes. Cool in a cozy way. Cool in a comfortable way. Cool like anime cicadas, or air conditioning in August. Cool in the way that every single person who skateboards wishes they actually were.
That’s what CROSSNIQ looks like. Feels like.
And I know, I KNOW, we’re not supposed to care about graphics anymore. Such things are gauche, like conversing with the help. Graphics are expected to perform, and they must do exquisitely, but the less said about them, the better. And we’re especially not supposed to—in this gaudy and beleaguered Age of Looking Backwards —ever allow ourselves to be exploited by capitalist pig-dogs wielding weaponized nostalgia.
(After all, what are we, casuals?)
But while I can appreciate a design-first perspective, it’s also like…fuck that? There’s more than one lens we can look at a game through, and if a given lens doesn’t capture how that game makes us feel, then we should discard it and look for one that does.
And CROSSNIQ makes me feel good. And a big part of that is its note-perfect approximation of the early 2000’s SEGA aesthetic.
(And if you think graphics don’t have a pronounced effect on game feel, you should ask yourself why even total design purists like Jon Blow make games that have leaf shaders and shit.)
But okay, fine, let’s talk about the gameplay.
So here’s that sports car cup-holder description:
CROSSNIQ is a color-matching puzzle game. There’s a board full of multicolored tiles, which you can slide by column (up or down) or row (left or right). Your goal is to make crosses — that is, one full row and one full column of all the same color, overlapping perpendicularly and running to the edges of the screen. And then of course, you have your complications: the blocks that don’t move around, the ones you can only destroy a certain way, etc etc.
But don’t let my boredom with this part of the review throw you: CROSSNIQ is great. Seriously. It’s beautifully polished, endlessly addictive, and the kind of game that runs behind your eyes when you’re done playing it.
I guess we’re supposed to compare this kind of thing to Bejeweled? But honestly, what it really reminds me of is Wario’s Woods: the kind of puzzle game that strikes the perfect sweet spot between strategic planning, experimental thrashing, and oh god the clock is running out, how do I solve this, HOW DO I SOLVE THIS
Now don’t get me wrong, I do want more from CROSSNIQ.
I’d love to play it on my phone, for starters; it’s the rare game that I think would control better on mobile, because it relies on fast dragging and swiping.
I’d also love a local versus mode, where forming crosses just right makes my opponent’s screen shake and fill with bad blocks, and they go “oh, you bastard” and smack the controller out of my hands.
Finally, I’d love some challenge boards with a limited clock and number of moves. Ooh, and one of those goofy letter-grading systems with a scale that goes from F to some ridiculous upper limit like “Triple Rainbow S”.
But all that is just wishful thinking on my part, and honestly, the game is probably more elegant without the bells and whistles.
CROSSNIQ is a slice of perfection: the rare game that knows exactly what it wants to be, and achieves it with no loose screws or extra fluff. Most importantly: it looks really cool.