If you were to tell me a couple of weeks ago that one of the most addictive, satisfying games of the summer would be a peculiar combination of venerable (but largely forgotten) Sega arcade title Pengo and ’90s Japanese arcade eroge I’d… have probably believed you, to be honest, but here we are anyway.
Yes, the aptly named Crawlco Block Knockers is a deliberate homage to dank, smoky, sleazy Japanese arcades in the ’90s and the games you would find therein. Drawing particular inspiration from Kaneko’s Gals Panic series and Mitchell Corporation’s Gonta the Diver duology, the game combines strategic thinking, arcade action, ’80s inspired vaporwave music and the opportunity to gradually reveal images of attractive, curvy women not wearing very much.
Sounds like a party, right? Let’s take a look. Some mildly NSFW shenanigans after the jump!
In Crawlco Block Knockers, you take on the role of a green… thing. We’ll call him “you” for the sake of convenience. As you start the game, it seems you have turned up for your first day on the job as a warehouse operative. Your task is simple: prepare the boxes for shipping by arranging like-coloured crates together into groups of three.
Sounds simple, right? Well, there’s a few little wrinkles to take into account. Firstly, in order to move the boxes around, you have three options: kick them, which means they slide off in one direction until they hit something; pull them, which means you can move them a square at a time “backwards” from where you currently are; or vault over them and kick them out behind you, having the same effect as a regular kick, but in the opposite direction.
You need space to do all these things, however: in order to kick, you need to be standing in a free space with the block in front of you (and somewhere for the block to go); in order to pull or vault, you need space behind you as well. This might not sound like a big problem, and at the outset of a level it isn’t. However, as soon as you start making matches, you’ll see why it pays to be strategic: every match you create causes the blocks to disappear and transparent walls to appear in their place, revealing the background beneath the “floor”. You can vault on top of those walls and walk over them, but you cannot kick or pull blocks from atop them, nor can blocks pass through them.
The aim in each level is to fill a meter by uncovering a sufficient amount of the backdrop. Blocks can only be matched if at least one part of the group of three or more is touching the border of the stage or a wall, so you’ll need to start from the outside and work inwards in most cases. You can pass a level by just clearing blocks willy-nilly, but for the best points — and a perfect clear — you’ll need to uncover all the blocks that include part of a clearly outlined silhouette.
Each of Crawlco Block Knockers’ levels is themed around a specific girl and made up of three substages; in turn, each substage features a silhouette of the girl in a different pose and an increasingly immodest state of undress. (For the more prudish among us, there is a “Modesty” option in the menu that allows you to tone down or even disable the lewd content; for those perfectly fine with letting it all hang free, there’s nothing more explicit than breasts, nipples and butts here.)
As the game progresses, the outlines of the silhouettes get trickier to incorporate into your clearing activities, often stretching across the play area diagonally or covering only a very specific area. You’ll need some careful planning to get those perfect clears — particularly once enemies and other hazards enter the picture.
Enemies enter the screen from the sides and all have their own distinct identity that encompasses both their visual appearance and their movement pattern. For example, squid-like enemies move predictably around the perimeter of the area created by blocks and walls; springs “bounce” back and forth from left to right or up and down, occasionally swapping between these two options; spinning top-style enemies drift diagonally around the arena, bouncing off walls.
Outside of a few foes that take multiple hits with a block to dispatch, enemies can be defeated in the style of the aforementioned Pengo by kicking a block into them; upon collision, the block will continue moving, taking the enemy with it, and squash them against a border, wall or block. This, in turn, will result in an explosion that uncovers part of the background and creates the same walls that matching blocks does; consequently, you need to be a bit careful about where you defeat enemies, because doing so haphazardly can block off certain areas of the level.
Interestingly, the game provides the opportunity to turn off the enemies without penalty, allowing you to concentrate on the puzzling gameplay. This is especially beneficial when attempting to go for those perfect clears — and these are worth pursuing, since not only do you unlock the complete image from a perfect clear in the in-game gallery, you also earn gold stars which can be used to skip boss battles if you find yourself not gelling with the more “action” elements of the game.
Yes, there are boss battles, too, and each of these are well-designed encounters that require you to observe patterns, carefully position yourself and take opportunities to attack by kicking blocks into weak points. Each boss is unique, too; some require an intricate “dance” to avoid their attacks, while others require you to figure out how to even hurt them in the first place!
You actually can continue matching blocks to uncover the background during boss battles — and there’s a silhouette to reveal, too — but so long as you complete the boss fight with your allotted three lives, you’ll unlock the picture for the gallery anyway, so there’s little reason to.
The whole thing is tied together by what developer Cosmi Kankei self-deprecatingly describes as a “superfluous” story mode, but the fun dialogue and distinctive characters seen between levels help give the game some personality and good humour — particularly as it becomes apparent that you are seemingly the only one who can see the images of the girls on the warehouse “floor”!
Not that it really needed more personality, mind; the overall look and feel of the game gives it a great sense of character and style in its own right, combining 16-bit style pixel art with bright, glowing neon colours and an absolutely outstanding throbbing vapourwave soundtrack by Opus Science Collective. The art for the girls is distinctive, too, eschewing an explicitly anime aesthetic in favour of something that combines stylistic elements of Western comic book art with pin-up and burlesque-inspired imagery.
I really love this game; it’s abundantly clear that developer Cosmi Kankei has a genuine interest in lewd Japanese arcade titles from the ’90s, and Crawlco Block Knockers provides a very authentic-feeling experience that tickles a lot of the same pleasure centres (shush) as games like Gals Panic and its ilk. At the same time, in this modern age it pays to be as inclusive as you can, so the addition of both the aforementioned “Modesty” and enemy settings as well as a comprehensive suite of colour-blind options mean that a wide variety of people can enjoy the game in the way they want to. Plus, as a game designed specifically for PC rather than arcade, the whole experience feels a lot more “fair” than many of those older games, too!
In other words, what we have here is a great example of a “modern retro” game; a game that understands and authentically recreates elements of games from the past, but which also incorporates a variety of features to cater to modern sensibilities.
Cosmi Kankei’s done a great job with this, so be sure to check out the game on Steam, add it to your wishlist and pick up a copy when it releases in early August. Now I’m off to block a few more knockers… or, err, something like that, anyway…!
More about Crawlco Block Knockers
Cosmi Kankei provided a review copy of this game.
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