“The Tetris Effect” is a phenomenon that occurs when someone becomes so absorbed in a repetitive puzzle-based task that their thoughts and dreams begin to pattern themselves after the object of their focus. It’s not the only way to judge the quality of a puzzle game, but certainly any game that manages to creep into players’ brains in a similar fashion as one of the most perfect puzzle titles of all time must be doing something right. Max Krieger’s CROSSNIQ+ is one of those games.
An evolution of a browser game developed by Krieger in 2017, CROSSNIQ+ is built around the concept of creating crosses by sliding colored tiles. It’s a simple, but incredibly fun mechanic, one that is taken to new levels in this retail version of the game — which comes with more styles of play, an online ranking system, and a Y2K-aesthetic-based theming.
Let’s Cross – Aim For the Top!
CROSSNIQ+’s gameplay is influenced by Japanese puzzle games of the late 90s, presenting a simple mechanic with lots of advanced strategies and mechanics that make it easy to learn, but hard to master. The controls are tight and efficient, and though at first I felt that moving the cursor from tile to tile was a bit too slow, the game does a good job of combatting this with tricks, shortcuts and advanced techniques. Once I learned how to integrate these mechanics into my strategy, the feeling of moving too slow dissipated.
One of CROSSNIQ+’s best features is that it offers four different play styles. There’s Endless mode, where the goal is to go as far as you can by creating crosses to refill the timer; Time Attack, where you try to get the highest score in a limited amount of time; Chillout Mode, where you can simply make crosses with no score and no timer; and Versus Mode, a two-player battle that leans into the game’s throwback vibe by focusing on a local multiplayer experience.
Endless mode is the most compelling to me, since doing well translates to a longer play time. Chillout mode is a smart addition to the game, allowing you to get a feel for the mechanics and practice for the faster-paced modes. Versus will probably be the source of the game’s longevity, since the character select, special abilities and game-changing items add a creative and hectic layer to the game. The timer in Versus mode can feel a bit too short at times, but the handicap meter allows you to adjust this a bit, and time-based items can also help.
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Versus mode showcases out one of the best features of CROSSNIQ+ — customization. The game is chock full of adjustable features to suit any player preference, especially in versus battles. On top of the handicap meter, you can choose what items appear on the board, turn off items altogether (for those Fox Only, Final Destination players out there) and, as mentioned, choose different characters with different special abilities.
Additionally, each game mode gives you the ability to change the board’s three colors, a simple design choice that makes the game both customizable to player taste and accessible to colorblind players. Single player modes also allow you to change the music, and Chillout Mode has several background and theme options. To top it all off, CROSSNIQ+ has a store where you can spend in-game currency on unlockable versus items, alternate character outfits and additional themes for Chillout Mode.
All of these options and modes made it easy to find my preferred way of playing, a feature that not a lot of puzzle games can boast, and one of the many things that make CROSSNIQ+ stand out amongst its peers.
The Future Is Bright
The fun of CROSSNIQ+ is just half of the game’s appeal — the other half is its beautifully-crafted Y2K aesthetic. CROSSNIQ+’s look and feel owes itself to Krieger’s personal love of late ‘90s graphic and visual design — organic shapes, techy color schemes, futuristic fonts and a turn-of-the-century optimism that the future was going to be bright, cool and full of possibilities.
These elements of Y2K aesthetic shine bright in CROSSNIQ+’s design: the standard tile colors would feel right at home on a series of late ‘90s MP3 players, the flat, basic shapes over pre-rendered 3D backgrounds harken back to early DDR machines and other Japanese arcade games of the time, and the lovable characters attached to the game are wonderfully reminiscent of Kreiger’s influences — games like Puzzle Fighter II and Monkey Puzzle Exchanger.
There’s really no need for such heavy theming: the Versus Mode doesn’t have to have a character select, and there doesn’t need to be a narrative around the mode select, the shop, Chillout Mode or the tutorial, but these things imbue the game with so much heart. It’s a push for theming where other games might just give you the core mechanic and a hastily put-together menu, a push that elevates CROSSNIQ+ from a simple puzzle game to a video game time capsule experience.
CROSSNIQ+, releases on October 4th for Nintendo Switch via the Nintendo eShop and for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam.
CROSSNIQ+ builds a strong game out of a fun concept paired with the developer’s clear and present love of late ‘90s future aesthetic. For every aspect of CROSSNIQ+ that feels too slow or too fast, there’s a customizable feature to combat these minor faults. CROSSNIQ+ is a great game for lovers of late ‘90s Japanese puzzle games.
- Fun and fast-paced concept
- Easy to learn, hard (but enjoyable) to master
- High level of customization
- Brilliantly-executed theming and design
- Controls feel slow at first
- Versus mode’s standard timer setting is a bit too fast
- Aesthetic/theming sometimes gets in the way of understanding the game