Planet Cruncher, from the fine folks at Rock Solid Arcade who brought us Stunt Pilot, lets you satisfy your appetite for destruction by casting you as an omnipotent exterminator of worlds. It doesn't exactly feel like a game about the deaths of billions, encased as it is in a shell of relaxing arcadey puzzle gameplay. But sometimes you have to play a game in your own way, and I choose to play this one while cackling maniacally and stroking an imaginary long-haired white star-cat named Lord Galaxathon.
Your goal in Planet Cruncher is to collect a certain number of crystals on each level by smashing together planets of the same type. As in Loop or Floats, you must capture groups of identical objects by drawing loops around them with the mouse. The more heavenly bodies you encircle at one time, the more goodies the resulting explosion releases. Collect the spiral of scattering crystals by simply touching them with the mouse.
Encircle at least four planets at once to produce a special bonus planet that will double the crystal output of any matched set you include it in. Accidentally loop mismatched objects together, and you'll create a black hole, which will meander around eating planets until you can circle it again. Twice per level, a comet will shoot by. Touch it to produce a quick additional reward of crystals.
At first, the planets will sit in place, easy prey for your magnetic universe crayon of doom. But before long, you'll be faced with screenfuls of bouncing planets in three different varieties. If a planet comes in contact with an outline as you are drawing it, it will explode, taking your unfinished loop with it. The tragedy of that is now you have one less world to mine for crystals, making it that much harder to reach quota. If you fail to fill the crystal bar at the top of the screen, your game is over, presumably because your cosmic gambling debts have caught up to you.
Although you may initially be tempted to play Planet Cruncher with gusto, making quick circles and taking opportunities where you find them, you'll probably run out of steam once the level quotas get higher. Eventually, you'll need to take advantage of the 2 x bonus planets and avoid needlessly sacrificing individual worlds to your impetuous whims. Rock Solid Arcade has chosen not to include a time limit, so your score will be better served by patience. It works best to sit back and ponder the situation, literally waiting for the planets to align before you strike, serving your justice cold, just like a good vengeful almighty being should.
Analysis: Planet Cruncher's presentation is up to Rock Solid's usual high standards, with clean, professional artwork and sound effects. The static background could use some animation — twinkling stars, slowly rotating nebulas, that sort of thing — but there's plenty of colorful orbs to attract your eye anyway.
The pacing is quite slow for what is ostensibly an arcade game, but there's a pleasant awareness to be found here, once the requirements get more demanding and every move has consequences. In order to do well, you'll need to spend a lot of time just watching and hoping for like planets to group together of their own accord. It's a nice time to pet the cat and do some cackling. Comets sometimes break up the silence, but otherwise this is a calming experience, if you're an untroubled planet-smasher. It's an arcade game for the quiet mind.
Unfortunately, Planet Cruncher peters out after a while. The crystal quotas keep getting higher, but there aren't any new concepts after the first few stages, although there are some fast-paced bonus levels. There isn't ever even a new background. And therefore, there is slim incentive to continue, once you've more or less mastered the technique.
Which brings me back to completing the picture by providing my own megalomaniacal back-story. I'll feast upon your immortal souls, insignificant denizens of Saturn! Bam! Smash! Mwaaahahahahahahaa!