Tokyo Crash Mobs

Tokyo Crash Mobs encapsulates everything I love about Japan, specifically its penchant for the absurd and thoroughly bizarre. Be it the crazy game shows or the practical, yet oddly designed products designed to make life a bit more merry, Japan’s flair for the weird is a facet worth celebrating. It is a crying shame, however, that Tokyo Crash Mobs’ tasty, tempura wrapped Grade A strangeness isn’t enough to make up for the empty gameplay and needlessly complicated design.

Inspired by Zuma’s “match three” style, Tokyo Crash Mobs consists of a series of puzzles designed around the delightfully unexplained exploits of two women, one Japanese the other American, as their lives are invaded by “Scenesters.” Wearing multi-colored clothing, Scenesters are Japanese men and women who do nothing but form long lines, warble and flail their limbs about for no apparent reason. These mysterious characters impact the women differently: Grace’s levels involve breaking through a gaggle of men and women in order to be the first through the door (presumably leading toward some activity that, ultimately, never gets shown) while Savannah must race to clear out Scenesters before they cast her into a freefall within the vast emptiness of space. Talking about what goes on in the game doesn’t do it justice. The cutscenes in between each puzzle are simply amazing: they offer no pretense for each puzzle scenario nor do they provide any sort of meaningful resolution to what transpires. Where is Grace going that she needs to be first in line? Why is Savannah trapped in a white Limbo where she frantically draws spirals? No one knows, but look as those Scenesters flail about with over-exaggerated gestures!  Why are there ninjas? Why the hell not?

Getting through each stage involves tossing Scenesters into lines, matching three or more like colors. Early levels are simple enough until unique obstacles, such as line cutters, giant beach balls, and chain-blocking ninjas, are slowly introduced in later rounds. Special items designed to give Scenesters a difficult time moving forward or change their color properties eventually prove to be invaluable as the difficulty ramps up.

Grace and Savannah’s stages provide for two distinctly different puzzle variants. As Grace, the goal is to be one of the first ten people through the door within a certain amount of time (with bonus points being awarded for completely clearing the stage with as little time possible). Savannah’s levels pit her against one (and sometimes two) lines of advancing Scenesters that must be eliminated before they reach a red button that will cast the poor woman into space. It's these stages that prove to be the most frantic - as they should be, think of the stakes! At the end of each “week” (consisting of seven stages), Grace and Savannah team up to fight multi-colored ninjas with hamster balls utilizing the same match three strategy only this time, you’re shifting the 3DS to the left and right to target foes.

Zaniness aside, Tokyo Crash Mobs is a serviceable puzzle game seems content with not wanting to leave a great impression gameplay-wise and as such, it feels somewhat unpolished. Part of the problem lies with the choice of camera angle. Instead of presenting each level from a top down perspective, like Zuma, Tokyo Crash Mobs uses an isometric point of view that makes the Scenesters (each a decent, scaled down version of a digitized actor/actress) look bunched up, making precision placement somewhat tricky. The touch screen, where the actual aiming is performed, provides a layout of the level’s line pattern which is useless because it doesn’t identify the positions of the Scenesters as they move across the line. Why use gray dots instead of colored ones? Given the camera angle, this would have made things a littler easier.

The game also fails to properly identify which Scenester is in play - something that’s absolutely crucial for a game like this. Current Scenesters lie curled up in a ball above Grace and Savannah’s heads and upcoming Scenesters are shown at the top left corner of the touch screen. This may not sound like much of an issue in print and through still images but the frantic nature of the gameplay makes it too easy to misinterpret the next Scenester as the one in play because my eye was drawn to its prominent place on the touch screen. There’s 3D in Tokyo Crash Mobs and unless you’re looking at the dead center of the screen, the double vision effect can compound the exasperation. This is a simple match three puzzle game. It shouldn’t be so complicated!

With such familiar gameplay, there’s no real reason to recommend Tokyo Crash Mobs outside of its infectiously strange presentation and cutscenes. Then again, that’s what online video services are for. Those who crave the unpredictable weirdness of the culture will find some value but there just isn’t enough to maintain any prolonged interest with the gameplay itself.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.