History lesson time! There’s actually a really good reason that Crawlco Block Knockers, a pervy puzzle game with plenty of nudity in it, is quite the appropriate Nintendo console release (I have no idea how eastasiasoft gets away with this, given the previously-released Waifu Uncovered pushes real boundaries on what can be tolerated on console). Way back on the NES there was a company that specialised in hacking cartridges to ship adults-only games to NES owners. One of those games was Bubble Bath Babes. Think Tetris or Bubble Bobble, but with a naked girl on the screen too. I mention this because Crawlco Block Knockers feels like it is cut from the same cloth to such an extent that it feels like a homage to that pioneering illicit title. Just that this time it’s a formal release. Nintendo sure has come far as a platform owner.
Crawlco Block Knockers offers a different kind of puzzling action, but it’s nonetheless puzzling and you’ll need to put your thinking cap on. This is especially true if you want to see the exposed boobs and body-contorting positions that are the entire value proposition of the game. It’s basically a blend of Qix and Pengo. Each level starts out with a handful of blocks on a blank playfield. You need to slide and push those blocks into groups of three or more, while also avoiding enemies. You can slide the blocks into the enemies to defeat them (that’s the Pengo influence). When you’ve formed sets of three similarly coloured blocks or defeated enemies, parts of the background will also disappear, revealing the image behind it. Your goal is to “clear” a certain amount of the space in each level this way. That’s the Qix side of the experience.
You’re probably looking at the half-naked girls in the background and assuming that this game is terrible, but it’s actually not. It’s actually really, really catchy. Blocks spawn at a rapid rate, so you’ve got to think fast, and the variety of enemies is there to give you a stiff (hah, I was always going to get that pun in there somewhere) challenge. Thanks to a really groovy soundtrack blasting synth beats right into your ears, it’s really easy to get into a rhythm with this thing and play for a lot longer than intended. The little critter that you control (I don’t even know what it is meant to be) moves well and responsively, and there are even boss battles for some variety, that are both healthily challenging and yet fair. This is one of those unfortunate adult games in some ways because it’s going to be dismissed without a second look solely on its visual premise, but the underlying mechanics are rock solid.
But let’s talk about the naked women art pieces, because you can’t escape it if you’re going to play this. They’re excellent. Aesthetically it looks like it’s pulled right from a combination of 80’s “mature” anime (think City Hunter), with a dash of 80’s erotic visual novel thrown in, only in a much higher resolution. And then the characters are all posed in quality pin-up poses which add an artful curb to the excesses of a lot of other games when they start playing around with nudity. It is – dare I say it – classy, and the retro theme acts to further distance the character models from any claims of realistic titillation. It’s too abstract to be perverse, and while we’re certainly not talking about art of the calibre of Hylas and the Nymphs here, that “80’s late-night vibe” is such a cool aesthetic.
Now, can you talk about objectification and all that standard discourse the moment a naked breast appears on-screen in video games? Yes. Sure. The debate over pin-up art in general (is it empowering, demeaning, feminist, voyeuristic, fetishistic, pornographic?) has been going on for many years now and there are very vocal, substantiated arguments from all of those angles and then some. If this was a higher profile game it would certainly raise eyebrows and open mouths. What’s more, Crawlco Block Knockers is certainly not attempting to subvert or satirise, and so as a fairly straight-faced take on the pin-up aesthetic it’s worth engaging on that basis. On the other hand, the sleazy tone that comes from it is, again, spot-on for what clearly influenced it, and while I do think it’s too abstracted to be problematic I do think that aesthetically it is executed to an exacting degree. In other words – it’s good.
Crawlco Block Knockers is pitched at a really low end of the price spectrum, and that’s just as well because while the game’s got more than enough content to justify a run-through, it struggles to give you any reason to keep playing. The game tracks scores, but doesn’t do anything with them, and it never feels “arcade” enough to make the scores the focus of the experience. What passes for a narrative is laughable – it’s one or two lines between levels, and those are nonsense (though I doubt anyone would go into Crawlco Block Knockers looking for a narrative), and once you’ve seen the art for the first time, the mystery is gone. I loved that the game shows a very vague outline of the character on the playfield at the start, so you’re very much teased into sliding those blocks around to “unwrap the prize,” as such. The second time around, though, it’s a bit like wrapping a present just so you can have the joy of unwrapping it again.
Not every game needs to be infinitely replayable, though. Crawlco Block Knockers is perfect as a little diversion in-between bigger games, or because levels are short, it’s the ideal time-filler. I would have said that it would be ideal to take on the commute, too, except that other people would most certainly judge you for playing this in public. It really is good fun though.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb
The critic was provided with a copy of this game for review.