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Critter Crunch won IGN Wireless's Best Puzzle Game for 2007 -- and none of the heat is lost in this superlative port to the iPhone and iPod Touch. Capybara Games' clever puzzler is a joy from one end to the other, offering addictive gameplay wrapped in an outrageously adorable package. Simply put, it is one of the best launch games for Apple's new App Store and a must-buy for any puzzle game fan.

By sliding your finger along the bottom of the touch-screen, you control Biggs, a ravenous fella that chows down on insects and then spits them back out into the waiting maws of even bigger bugs. By playing with the food chain -- feeding smaller bugs to largest predators -- you rack up impressive combos. Feed two small bugs to a medium-sized bug and it pops. Feed two mediums to a large to see it burst. But the real points come from urping a little bug into the mouth of a medium bug that happens to be below a large bug. The trio collapses like Russian nesting dolls in reverse. Use Biggs's long tongue to grab like-colored insects and then group them together on the hanging mass of bugs so you can wipe out entire fields with each successful feeding.

Once you pop bugs, coins and gems fall from the forest canopy. Grab these treasures with your tongue to rack up huge points, or walk over them on the ground before they vanish for a more modest bonus. When you reach a certain threshold (as dictated by a growing meter on the left side of the bug field), you move on to the next stage.

It takes only a minute or two to "get," and as soon as you do click with Critter Crunch, you're hooked.

After a few easy stages, Critter Crunch begins adding nuance. There are bonus stages that must be completed within a certain number of moves. Feeding sparkling bugs to a larger insect unlocks special moves, like watermelon seeds that instantly pop any bug. And soon, nasties like poisonous bugs and bomb bugs enter the equation. But it never spirals out of control. Everything remains manageable (just barely, mind you) so you never feel ganged up on. Nothing spoils a puzzle game like stacking the deck unfairly against the player, and Capybara takes steps make sure Critter Crunch is a challenge, but never a chore.

Critter Crunch looked fantastic on regular mobile phones, but on the iPhone's higher resolution screen with extra real estate, the excellent character design really sings. You'll smile at the expressions on the bugs. They change when you're swallowing, spitting and feeding them to each other. I often yammer about color choice -- but it's because I think a pleasing palette does wonders for a game. And by offering cute characters and inviting tones, Critter Crunch is a game you have to try as soon as you see it.



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