It didn’t take me long playing KRUNCH to figure out that the title is a reference to the sound a floating robot orb makes when it is smashed to bits–a sound with which I have become quite familiar. KRUNCH doesn’t play nice. It plays fair (mostly), but it does not play nice. Things will beat the crap out of you and laugh about it.
The goal of the game is simple: make it to the exit of each level. You have a limited amount of health, which slowly decreases. The health bar acts as a timer for each level. Other things, such as buzzsaws, spikes, and angry aliens will deplete your health much faster. You must avoid and outrun advancing walls of doom, traps, and the local wildlife while holding onto just enough health to survive until you reach the exit.
KRUNCH is a twitch action game, but it plays like a puzzle game. You have to carefully plot out your moves and then execute your runs with precision. After the first few levels, you may not be able to make it through a level on the first try. You may need to take a couple of test runs just to see what moves you have to pull to survive. The game is not unfair, however, and there are no unforeseeable surprises like in maso-core games such as I Wanna Be The Guy. Everything that can kill you in KRUNCH is readily apparent, or at least predictable if not yet visible, and not one of my many deaths felt unfair. I was just too slow, or zigged when I should have zagged.
There will be times in KRUNCH where you will be convinced that there is no possible way to get through one of the game’s 100+ levels. But with persistence and a steady hand, you will manage to squeak by at the last millisecond. Many levels are artfully designed to only allow you through a hazard at the last possible moment, but thankfully the controls are tight enough to allow this (nevertheless, you may want to map the keys to a gamepad for extra precision). A lot of the precision timing involves exactly when you choose to employ your boost. Boosting drains your life faster, so you can’t do it constantly. But you will have to do it in order to survive very far into the game.
KRUNCH gives you a few levels at the beginning to get into the swing of things before it really gets mean. The game doesn’t hate you; it wants you to succeed, if only so it can reveal more ingenious deathtraps to you. But oh, does it delight in seeing you fail. At least KRUNCH displays a remarkable good humor; each level has a clever name, like in VVVVVV, and the game handily keeps track of how you died and assigns each death a particular descriptive verb. It even gives you an option to share your manner of demise on Twitter or FaceBook.
KRUNCH is such a polished game, it is hard to believe that it’s the first release from Canadian developers LeGrudge & Rugged (Vieko Franetovic & Michael Lohaus). Easy to learn and difficult to master, KRUNCH has the feel of a lost arcade classic. It has been compared to VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy, and it is similar to those games in its difficulty and urgency, but KRUNCH has its own distinct style and identity. For one thing, it’s not a platformer at all; your robot orb floats through the tunnels, there is no running or jumping (or gravity flipping) involved, and it’s best to avoid contact with the floor (or ceiling) entirely!
KRUNCH is all about escaping. It has a claustrophobic, intense feeling. The dark and urgent chiptune soundtrack by Disasterpeace (Fez, ZONR) and Dirk Rugged (KRUNCH co-designer Lohaus) compels you forward as much as the walls closing in behind you do. You may not have much time to stop and admire the pixels, but the artwork is beautiful. The sprites are detailed and the backgrounds are heavily atmospheric, with strands of foliage hanging from ceilings and eyes peeking out from dark places. The limited color palettes and clean pixelwork give KRUNCH a distinct, eye-catching look. And the expressive face of your robot is rather cute and endears the little orb to you.
There is a bigger story at work here than is evident at first glance. You will get a glimpse of a larger narrative at the beginning of the game when strange tentacled aliens release six floating robot probes (perhaps unintentionally) into a subterranean network of tunnels. You are one of these robots, and all you know at this point is that you don’t want to be hammered, suffocated, slashed, skewered, smashed, pummeled, prickled, butchered, or thrashed (and that’s just a sampling of ways to die in KRUNCH). Hopefully, there will be some more exposition at the end of the game, but I have not yet made it there. But KRUNCH is just a first taste of the narrative that LeGrudge & Rugged have created; the developer has already announced their second game, BINGE, which is set in the same universe. I look forward to exploring it further with them.
You can purchase KRUNCH for $10 at krunchgame.com. It comes as a DRM-free direct download, and is compatible with Windows, Linux, and MacOSX. For $14, you can download the game and the excellent soundtrack. There is also a limited Collector’s Edition available for pre-order, priced at $29.99. The Collector’s Edition comes with hard copies of the game and soundtrack, as well as wallpapers, stickers, a poster, an art print, and–most interesting of all–a comic book featuring gorgeous art by Sara Gross of Two Bit Art which will explicate the backstory leading up to the game.
There is a two-player edition of KRUNCH that is currently exclusive to the Winnitron indie arcade cabinet, but I hope it gets added to this version at some point.
Buy KRUNCH here: krunchgame.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Hack (Phack) writes about indie games when he can find time away from his day job and from his role as a dad wrapped around his 2-year old daughter’s finger. Not satisfied with just playing games and writing about games, he is currently learning about making games. You can find Paul on Twitter @indiegamehunt. Paul also runs the website twinehub.weebly.com.