A worthy addition to VR roguelikes, Crumbling doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s a good bit of fun. Here’s our full review:
When we were kids, sometimes all we wanted to do was pick up a toy and smash it off an opposing action figure. This light-hearted, nonsensical impulse is one of Crumbling’s most alluring aspects, it’s a simplistic VR roguelike that caters to kids and the young at heart.
Crumbling takes place in the Crumbles Crafts & Comics store, tasking you with reclaiming comic book pages by battling to unlock this world’s hidden story. A short tutorial sets the stage as a profit-hungry antagonist and opposing toymaker looks to steal a mom-and-pop shop’s secret sauce – in this case, magic. Following classic good vs evil tropes, Böse Corp uses the stolen magic to corrupt their own inferior creations, and you must restore order by fighting back.
To start, you’ll remove your blister-packed brawler from their plastic prison, and throw them into the opening level. The toys, aptly named Crumblings, resemble fantasy archetypes like shamans and knights and progressing through the levels unlocks more, broadening your combat horizons with their exclusive weaponry and special attacks.
Using a top-down perspective, you control the movement of the palm-sized Crumblings with physical motion, as their position is tied to the location of your dominant hand. Avoiding projectiles and finding advantageous combat positions requires moving your hand around these diorama-like arenas. Unfortunately, that means you’ll have to brace your arm muscles for the entirety of a run, which could eventually make even the most hench player tired. Pulling the triggers initiates an attack and the face buttons let you dodge or perform a special attack respectively. The knight’s special attack is a sword plunge that creates an AOE explosion, for example, dealing with multiple enemies at once.
Crumbling boasts a simple but effective premise. You’ll work your way through the roguelike arenas, fight against a boss and reap the rewards back at the hub. This feedback loop makes Crumbling easy to digest, but it can’t make up for the forgettable moral storytelling that surrounds it. Rebuilding a graphic novel page by page is a novel idea but the story gets predictable. I struggled to feel grounded in the world or have any sort of identity and driving purpose within the game’s setting. I enjoyed jumping into battle but I’d often wonder what I was fighting for, beyond the promise of new combatants and upgrades. There was little mystique to the game from the start, and this persisted through to the ending credits.
Choose your fighter
Under its sickly-sweet veneer, Crumbling’s combat doesn’t pull any punches. While my spritely warrior dangled playfully in my hand, continuous enemy waves caused my heart rate to spike. I found myself facing a challenging playpen of tyrannical toys as rounds developed, ranging from aggressive wind-up frogs to bomb-catapulting squirrels. The character designs are inspired, and it was fun trying to balance my spatial awareness while looking for opportunities to retaliate, especially as copious projectiles aimed to overwhelm me. All the while, I had to keep thinking about my build and picking suitable upgrades after a hard-fought round.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. Attack animations are sluggish, and you’re unable to string your inputs together without locking your Crumbling in place. This would often lead to frustrating failures that felt unavoidable in the heat of battle. Obstacles litter the arenas, which you can use for cover, but they also demand you to move your Crumbling carefully so as to not get trapped. The tight-knit arenas make for some tense battles, but intermittent tracking issues can spoil the fun entirely, especially if you make a harsh movement and end up in stasis.
Completing a run successfully rewards you with coins for purchasing Crumbling upgrades. Three can be activated at once to provide a variety of buffs, like a protective shield that negates damage or improves maximum health. You can use the magic you’ve collected in combat to strengthen the efficacy of your upgrades as you strive to find your favored build. Earning coins and trophies is slow enough that taking the time to choose between upgrades holds actual weight. It was nice to feel challenged to save up my coins rather than cash out early for short-term relief.
Charming Warhammer worlds
Each Crumbling level has its own corresponding enemies, paraphernalia and a soundscape that further compounds the visual atmosphere of its arenas. Where the Hills map delivers fantastical fanfare, the volcanic Caves rely on dark, moodier melodies to set the scene. Considering how frequently you revisit the maps during repetitious runs, the well-constructed environments and musical accompaniment evoked a compelling storybook style.
While combat is definitely Crumbling’s best asset, there are some smart visual details like luminescent toadstools, chunky hay bales and hidden caves. It’s worth stopping to smell the roses after you finish a fight, as it’s difficult to appreciate these visual flourishes when you’re being besieged from all sides.
Crumbling can be played seated or standing. You change your perspective of the levels with grab-and-pull maneuvering, moving your dominant hand to control your Crumbling fighter’s position. You can toggle which hand you use to hold your Crumbling by clicking the left and right sticks at any time. In the hub, you can teleport between the areas by pressing the buttons attached to each station.
The playful art direction extends to Crumbling’s various enemies and their attacks, which all demand adaptation to conquer. My favorite was a button-eyed rattlesnake whose streams of confetti poison frequently ended my attempts earlier than I would have liked as I flailed my tired bones to avoid the danger. Though, as much as I associated its sinister yellow and green pattern with frustration, I couldn’t deny its charm.
Not every aspect of a run feels justified, however. Crumbling is keen to break up the combat with cutesy carnival activities such as a shooting gallery and a ‘don’t touch the wire’ minigame. They’re well-made and would work in a separate mode accessible from the hub, but often break the momentum during a taxing run. I began to dread their appearance after a few failed attempts, patiently waiting for the timer to run out so I could hone my combat skills again.
Crumbling Review: Final Verdict
Crumbling is a nostalgic spin on the trendy VR roguelike that effectively evokes the youthful bliss of setting up fights between your action figures. It won’t shift the genre in a new direction and the basic narrative means seasoned players may prefer something with a bit more depth and nuance. Even so, Crumbling boasts moreish battle mechanics and a polished cartoon world full of intricate dioramas. It’s a friendly introduction to the format, especially for kids new to VR.
UploadVR uses a 5-Star rating system for our game reviews – you can read a breakdown of each star rating in our review guidelines.