How far can you strip a video game genre down to its basic elements? One could argue that if you break a science fiction shooter down, pulling away all unnecessary systems and whiz-bang effects, you might end up with something like Asteroids, or Space Invaders (Shoot the things! Don’t get hit!). And when you remove all of the artifice from a fantasy RPG, you get something along the lines of Atari’s Dungeon (Go get the McGuffin! Kill the bad thing!).
So what do you get when you pull all of the skill trees, defensive-structure-building, and bad pathfinding out of modern RTS titles? Last year’s Tooth & Tail came close to showing what a bare-bones real time strategy title might be like, but I would argue that Crush Your Enemies! comes even closer.
Crush Your Enemies! (newly released on Nintendo Switch) is a real time strategy game, to be sure, and it delivers the same thrills that you get when you build up a giant army and take it swarming over your opponent’s fortress in any modern RTS title. But gone are the sprawling maps, the intricate strategies, the slow build. In their places are small, compressed play areas, reflex-based execution and instant skill changes. All of this still feels like an RTS, but stripped down to something that could have been run (though with less visual flair, obviously) on an 8-bit system.
While I was originally motivated to take a look at Crush your Enemies due to its goofball gonzo barbarian aesthetic, I quickly found that I didn’t care much about the over-the-top characters, the mildly raunchy sense of humor, or the vaguely outlined story. I was instead entranced by the down and dirty nature of the strategy, which is honed down to diamond sharpness, while maintaining a simplicity that anyone could easily pick up on.
Each battle on Crush your Enemies! is fought on a single screen, so no scrolling across the map is needed. The map is divided up between both sides in a grid/checkerboard/strategy RPG sort of layout. Squares you control are orange, your opponents are green, and neutral squares are grey-ish. Your armies can travel freely over squares that you own, but opponent’s squares and neutral squares must be converted to your color before you can travel on them. This is done by sending a contingent of dudes out to go to work converting squares. They kind of huff and puff around a little bit, and - voila! - the square is yours. Buildings work similarly, with your guys being able to convert an unoccupied building to your side in a matter of moments. If a building is occupied, you have to slay all the chumps inside before you can snag it for your army. Therefore, it is wise to keep some of your dudes on hand in all buildings you possess, if you want to keep them from getting swiped.
Typically, both sides start with a set number of grunt-y type units. These guys are pretty weak, and are easily overcome in battle. Good news though, because Crush your Enemies! allows you to convert units to different types just by having them touch the appropriate building. So upgrading your grunt-level cannon fodder is as simple as grabbing a bunch of them and having them run over to the building that will turn them into stronger, battle-worthy soldier-types.
There are a number of different buildings in place, depending on the map you are playing. Building new structures is not an option, so most of the battle is fought over existing resources. There is no resource gathering to speak of in Crush your Enemies. Instead, there are buildings that will allow your grunt-y guys to reproduce. Throw a small group of dudes in there, and they slowly start spawning more. Gaining control of these dude-producing structures is often the key to success. If you have a steady flow of grunts, you can run them all over the map, creating groups of archers, soldiers, and wizards by running them through different buildings.
Each unit type has its own strengths and weaknesses, which are taught to the player in little shorthand hints that pop up as you move through the game. For example, archer units can pin soldiers to the field, preventing them from moving for a brief time while the archers rain down arrows on them, reducing their numbers. However, shield bearing units reflect arrows back at the archers, who are compelled to shoot at anyone near them, resulting in their own demise. This set-up allows for a complicated game of rock-paper-scissors, where you can draw guys in with one unit type, then blow them out of the water with another. The UI is not easily fooled, so pulling off a maneuver of this type can be deeply satisfying.
Units are represented on screen as a mashed-up bunch of little dudes that all move together as one, with a number on a banner with the bunch to visually indicate how many units are present. Dude-bunches cap out at 50 units, and when you go to move them you can either grab the whole group or cut it into smaller groups, pulling out any number of units that you like. The more units in a group, the stronger they are in battle, and small groups of the same unit type can be instantly glommed together to make a stronger group or reinforce an existing group that is getting overrun. This creates a fluidity in battle strategy that is instantly understandable, but with implications that only come to light through extensive play. Is it better to have one group of 50 soldiers on the field running around wrecking shop, or better to have ten groups of five swarming all over the map, converting squares and causing a ruckus?
All of this moving, group-cutting, and unit conversion is handled via a control scheme that is extremely simple and easy to grasp. It is no problem at all to use two Joy-Cons for multiplayer battles on the Switch’s built-in screen, as all you really need is a joystick and one button. That said, when playing single-player, I didn’t use a controller at all, finding that it was far more intuitive to simply control the entire game using the touch pad. Crush your Enemies is a title that feels like it would be right at home on mobile (if it isn’t there already; I have no idea). This is not to say that the game is slight or that production values are low, it is simply to say that the controls are simple enough that they would easily function on a small screen.
But make no mistake, for all of the cartoonish bluster and the simplified control scheme, Crush your Enemies! is no a pushover when it comes to the effort it takes to win battles. Left unchecked, the UI will run roughshod all over your best laid plans, and I often found myself staring at inevitable defeat in less than a minute.
Each battle in the single player campaign (which is enormous) has three goals that are stated before the start of the battle. While players only need to achieve one goal to “win” the battle and progress to the next, obsessive players like myself will find themselves revisiting battles in an attempt to defeat all of the objectives. This gives the game plenty of replay value, as some of these goals are insanely difficult. In fact, there are a couple of battles where all three goals are terribly difficult to achieve, resulting in the occasional frustrating difficulty spike. For battles like this, I found it best to approach the initial layout the way I would a puzzle game. By determining what actions the game designers were trying to push me towards, I was able to overcome even the most difficult hurdles.
Multiplayer is a fun diversion, offering a number of different maps on which to battle your buddies. The maps usually start players on even ground, which sometimes leads to both players making identical moves in an attempt to gain the initial upper hand. These stalemates are sometimes the most fun, as you really have to stretch your brain to come up with devious tactics to outsmart your opponent.
Don’t be fooled by the simple visuals or cartoon-based characters. Crush your Enemies! strategy roots run deep, and in this case, “streamlined” definitely does not equal “easy”. That said, there is a lot of satisfying content here, and with an easy-to-learn control scheme, strategy this deep has rarely been more accessible.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile