There’s been a quiet revolution happening in gaming over the course of the last year or so. You won’t read much about it in the mainstream games press, for a variety of reasons, but it’s absolutely been happening.
I’m talking about the growing acceptance of games with adult content on home console platforms. More specifically, Nintendo’s seeming willingness to embrace this side of things considerably more than either of its key rivals in the console business — particularly Sony, who have been notoriously heavy- handed with what content they will and won’t allow on their platforms in the last few years.
While we’re still a way off getting fully uncensored, sexually explicit eroge on the Switch, we can at least enjoy games with a cheeky sense of sexuality and eroticism about them on Switch. And, as I type this, the latest game that falls into this category is Eastasiasoft’s port of the excellent Crawlco Block Knockers by Cosmi Kankei. Let’s take a closer look!
For the benefit of those who missed 2019’s PC release of Crawlco Block Knockers, a quick recap. This is a game specifically inspired by classic Japanese erotic arcade games such as Kaneko’s Gals Panic series and Mitchell Corporation’s Gonta the Diver. In other words, it’s a game that features solid, easily understandable arcade-style mechanics, with the reward for your efforts being the gradual revealing of saucy pictures as well as a sense of satisfaction at mastering those easy-to-learn, hard-to-master game systems.
In Crawlco Block Knockers, you take control of a green lizard-like thing who is starting a new job in a warehouse. His job is to move boxes around in the warehouse and turn them into “clear blocks”. This is achieved by lining up groups of three or more blocks that have matching colours with either the edge of the playfield, or areas that he’s already cleared. When you make a match, you effectively block off part of the playfield, since the coloured blocks can’t move through clear blocks. In order to pass a level, you simply have to cover a specified amount of the stage, indicated by a meter at the top of the screen.
To move the blocks around, you have three options. You can kick them, which causes them to slide in a direction until they hit something. You can pull them one square at a time, so long as there’s room behind you to step back into. And you can vault over them and kick them out behind you — again, this requires room behind you to execute.
So far so simple, you might think; veterans of old arcade games may well be (correctly) picturing something of a hybrid between the mechanics of Sega’s Pengo and Taito’s Qix. But the big points in Crawlco Block Knockers are scored by matching blocks over a marked “silhouette” on the screen. As you might expect from what we’ve already discussed, the clear blocks you create in this area gradually reveal an image of a curvy lady in one of several states of undress (three per lady) and provide you with a score bonus at the end of the stage. You can actually clear a stage without revealing the whole silhouette, but in doing so you won’t earn a “star” for that stage. And you wouldn’t want to miss out on a star, now, would you?
Rather than being a straight puzzler, Crawlco Block Knockers features action game elements, too: enemies do their best to thwart your efforts in the regular stages with various attack patterns, but can be squished with a well-timed block kick. Some enemies take more than one hit to dispatch, but the result is always the same when you eventually defeat them: they explode, turning the squares around them into clear blocks, as if you’d matched some coloured blocks in those spaces. With this in mind, you need to be careful with your timing when dealing with enemies, because it’s easy to accidentally leave an unreachable gaping hole in the silhouette if you don’t bear in mind the explosion. In those instances, you can still clear the stage, but you won’t get the star for the perfect bonus.
If that sounds like it might be a little irritating, it most certainly is — though it also presents an interesting tactical challenge alongside the core puzzling gameplay. But Cosmi Kankei had the foresight to cater for people who find dealing with the enemies too annoying to be enjoyable — at any point before starting a group of stages, you can choose to turn the enemies off without penalty, and treat the game as a pure puzzler. Don’t mistake this for an “easy” mode; the layout of the later stages means that you’ll still need to think very carefully about how you move the blocks around and clear out the screen, as well as avoiding obstacles in some cases. Rather, it’s simply a different way of playing, so it’s worth experimenting with both modes to see which one you get along with the best.
Every couple of stages, you’ll face a boss battle where you need to kick blocks into a large enemy while dealing with their attack patterns. These are very well-designed encounters with interesting routines to learn, necessitating careful “dance steps” around the boss while you spot attack telegraphs — and somewhere amid all that you need to find opportunities to launch some attacks of your own. It’s an enjoyable change of pace, but if you’ve been playing the rest of the game as a straight-up puzzler it might feel a bit too jarring.
And that’s where those stars you’ve been earning come in — you can use stars to skip the boss battles altogether if you see fit. It’s a lovely, incredibly considerate piece of game design that allows you to enjoy the game the way you want to enjoy it, and all without sacrificing a sense of challenge or making you feel like you’re “cheating”. Getting those stars can still be tricky, after all — it’s just a different kind of challenge.
Crawlco Block Knockers has made the jump to Nintendo Switch perfectly intact, complete with its attractive neon-soaked pixel art, stylised burlesque-inspired nudey lady backgrounds and astonishingly catchy music by retro electronica artist Opus Science Collective. It very much achieves Cosmi Kankei’s stated goal of capturing the atmosphere of smoky, sleazy back-alley arcades, but combines that distinctive feel with modern touches like an admirable suite of colour-blind options and even several levels of “modesty” options for those who don’t want to see bare nipples.
It’s a highly enjoyable arcade game that deserves to see some success. Here’s hoping the Switch version brings this great game to a much wider audience — and while we’re on, Eastasiasoft, a copy on a cartridge would be lovely sometime, too!
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