By Ryan Spainhour
What is best in life? Well, if you’re a barbarian, the only correct answer to that question is “to crush your enemies!” It’s not just for barbarians though: If you enjoy real time strategy, puzzles, or a game with witty writing and great tone, then Crush Your Enemies might be a good thing in your life, too.
Crush Your Enemies is probably best described as a puzzler, but it uses deceptively simple real-time strategy mechanics to deliver a refreshingly low-pressure but highly entertaining experience. The game is laid out as a series of levels, each with three objectives that can be completed (though not necessarily in the same attempt) to gain “respect” in the form of heads on spikes which appear on the level’s map tile. As the game progresses, the levels become more challenging and introduce new units and mechanics, but also require increasing amounts of respect, prompting you to go back and replay levels to complete objectives you missed the first time around. The multiple objectives for each level are a treat for completionists while also helping to extend the playtime of this short-but-sweet title.
One of the best parts of Crush Your Enemies is the way it combines the stage puzzler and strategy genres. Each level starts you out in a unique situation with various terrains, buildings, starting units, and does the same for the enemy. With both mirror matchups and asymmetrical levels, the game does a wonderful job of forcing you to approach each level with fresh eyes. After a level spent carefully defending a position and amassing more troops, you may suddenly find yourself being required to complete an entire level without any structures for recruiting, leaving you to determine the most efficient way to win with what you’ve been given.
Crush Your Enemies is a straightforward title that would stand quite well on its gameplay alone. However, the developers went the extra mile and wrote a story to give some direction to the wanton slaughter of the people of Generia. The levels are punctuated by short cutscenes, presented as dialogue between a small cast with names like “Fuzgut” and “Prissy LeFop,” the game strikes a wonderfully lighthearted tone.
The writing does a wonderfully economic job of giving a structure to a primarily stage-driven game, while also being a humorous break in between bouts of the game’s titular crushing. As long as you don’t have a problem with coarse language and references to male genitalia, it makes for a delightful experience (though admittedly, some may simply find it juvenile), made all the better by the fact that instead of voicing the actual lines, the game literally plays a guttural “blah blah blah” as the words flick across the screen. All this is presented in a nice, though unremarkable, pixel art style which, while not adding substantially to the game, doesn’t take anything away from its core mechanics.
If it isn’t readily apparent by now, I rather enjoyed playing Crush Your Enemies, but there a few caveats to consider. One issue that the game has is a relatively simple AI. The game relies on stacking the deck against the player at the start of a level to increase the difficulty. It works, but as you play, it isn’t too difficult to spot patterns in the way the game plays against you, which you can exploit as part of your strategy. Because the game struggles to adapt to changing circumstances, it doesn’t play from behind very well, meaning that a player will often reach a point in the level where it’s effectively over, leaving the final victory to feel like more of a formality. Some levels deal with this better than others, and time-based objectives erase this possibility in certain cases, but veteran strategy gamers may find that this leaves a bit to be desired.
Additionally, the game suddenly introduces a rather difficult resource-management aspect to some later levels, which doesn’t feel as thought-out as the core gameplay. Bafflingly, after the first few levels using this mechanic, it goes back to the original style, then for the rest of the game, levels spontaneously occur which use the mechanic. It breaks up the flow of the game and gives a strange feeling that the developers didn’t want to choose between committing to a single style and better integrating/implementing the new mechanic. One final, small note: the game is also rather short, which might not be a problem for some given its low price, but for players who prefer more long-term games, this is certainly something to consider.
All told, Crush Your Enemies is a great combination of depth and simplicity. Varied levels with unique challenges provide several hours of entertainment with a consistent, witty tone. Whether you prefer your games creatively bite-sized or just want to take a break from a game that’s been sucking up all your time, Crush Your Enemies is definitely worth a look.