Nola: Should we start with introductions? Hello, I’m Nola, and it’s been fourteen days since I last played Crush Crush.

Melissa: I’m Melissa, and I don’t remember the last time I played Crush Crush, and I won’t open it again. I won’t, I won’t, I won’t.

Nola: Melissa, did I mention they’ve added new girls?

No, but really. Readers, if you’re unfamiliar, Crush Crush is a… dating game? Kinda? It’s like a hybrid idle/clicker game where you date girls. It’s available on Steam and Nutaku, which is the porn games website owned by PornHub. It was also a singular focus in our lives for about a year each, is that right?

Crush Crush

Sad Panda Studios
Browser, PC
May 13, 2016

Melissa: I don’t want to talk about it.

Okay, so the whole thing with this game is that I wanted to write something about all those goofy, “DON’T PLAY THIS GAME IF YOUR GIRLFRIEND IS IN THE ROOM!!!” ads. It turns out that most of them lead to things like Elvenar, which contains no sexual content. In fact, I found one forum post from the community manager of one of these games that said the ads should not contain any mention of sexual content, and they were baffled that it did. I reached out to a few of the advertisers who run these ads but naturally got stonewalled.

There was only one exception to the rule: Crush Crush. And when I started playing it, I realized that it was… actually pretty funny and weird, which are two of the traits I’m actually very interested in when it comes to games.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that it was more than one year because I made some foolish investments early in my Crush Crush career.

Nola: Tell us about your foolish investments!

I know I got into it when you mentioned Pamu to me. Funny and weird is a good description; it’s both of those, and enough so that I started playing it. I think my literal next message to you afterward was “Oh no what did I do,” because I knew that I was in for a long ride.

The base form of the game is that you have accidental meet-cutes with different girls in different situations, and then you work a bunch of jobs, rising through the ranks at each in order to earn more money to pay for things like gifts and dates. Said gifts and dates are absurdly priced, presumably to add longevity to the game.

Melissa: It’s a pretty typical clicker game, but because it’s free, there’s also the typical microtransactions to purchase gems and speed things up. You get gems for completing certain tasks, and you get a few to start the game, as well. Instead of investing those gems in overall speed-boosts, I used them for time-skips and burned through them pretty quickly because… I don’t know, I guess I didn’t think I’d want to complete the game?

But once you get introduced to the characters beyond the first few—which are your typical tsundere, a gamer, a catgirl, a… whatever Elle is, and more toward Bearverly (a bear) and Ayano (borrowed from Yandere Simulator), things get interesting.

A series of text messages between two characters. One says, "ANYway I figured I'd see what you were up to. I'm studying and having wine coolers." The second character says, "Was doing some research into auto-clickers. Just flirting with the idea though." The first character replies, "That's a very specific answer..."

If the joke is meta, and it happens in a texting session, does that make it metatext?

The thing that really hooked me was when other characters started commenting on Ayano’s presence. They’d make little remarks about being followed or somehow being threatened, and I thought, “Okay, hold on, there’s more work put in here than just like, here’s some big-titty babes who desperately want to have sex with the player.” It’s not like the story suddenly takes a turn to become this deep and investing thing, but it was intriguing, and it made me want to finish, which is more than I can say for Cookie Clicker or even Universal Paperclips (sorry).

Nola, on the other hand, was very wise with their gem spending and managed to soar through the game on gilded wings or something. Did you use a guide or are you just naturally more inclined to spend your gifts wisely?

Nola: Well, I wasn’t that far ahead of you, but as I recall you mentioned your spending mistakes before I’d even started the game, so I was very cautious at the outset, which really means I just spent a few minutes reading what each thing did before I spent anything on it, and then went from there. I was also really, really diligent about the timed events for a while, which kept me, if not exactly flush with diamonds, at least supplied at a steady rate. The real kicker though was when they added Darya, one of the extra DLC girls, and completing her stuff is like pulling a Scrooge McDuck in his Money Vault.

I’m with you on the character interactions though—they’re not like… great, but they do present as interesting enough that you at least end up looking closer. I also liked the limited customizability in the player character options: the game is pretty careful about the gender of the player, if still strictly limited to a binary. I did like that I could instantly make the game gay by just making my character a girl. I also found it funny that being a girl makes the player susceptible to the same big-titty forces.

Melissa: Right? The game has this very bizarre sense of humor about it. Like, sure, there’s everything you expect as far as dirty jokes and things go. But there’s also, as Nola mentioned, the fact that your avatar’s boobs get bigger as you progress through the game. Why? I don’t know. Nobody knows. It’s nonsense. But it’s enjoyable nonsense, and I think what works about Crush Crush is that it didn’t have to be. The game would work for a lot of people without being funny or breaking the fourth wall or having the typical clicker storyline where everything ends in an apocalyptic event. It could work just as well without having a character who spends 90 percent of the playtime as a bear. A literal bear. Not like an anthropomorphized bear, a literal fucking bear.

Nola: In a direct attack on both mine and Melissa’s appreciation of terrible puns, she’s named Bearverly. It’s the kind of thing where if a joke can be made, it gets made. I like to imagine whoever wrote these was just dissolving into giggles every time they came up with one. I’m glad you mentioned the fourth wall thing, though, because let’s talk about… Pamu.

Melissa: Oh, Pamu. When we mentioned that we were playing Crush Crush in the Sidequest Slack, another person, who I will not name and shame, referred to Pamu as something like “the meme girl,” or “the Rick and Morty girl.” I didn’t get the Rick and Morty references because I’ve never seen it, but I have such… mixed feelings on Pamu as a whole. On the one hand, the humor largely does nothing for me because it’s very definitively not for me, a person who does not watch Rick and Morty and who finds the meme references tiring rather than fun.

A bear in a dress and bonnet looks enraged at a party. Text on the screen reads, "It appears that you have offended her delicate bear feelings. Perhaps you should try to smooth things over, once you regain consciousness."

On the other hand, I thought the reference to the fact that the writer of the game is male and the artist female (in a very risque fashion) was funny—there’s this sort of in-your-face, “Does this make you uncomfortable, presumed straight male player??” sense about it, with the butt of the joke being the person who would be made uncomfortable by that kind of thing. Given that your avatar isn’t necessarily gendered within the game, it actually did work for me because the game allowed me space to not be a straight man. It could have easily just been a reminder that I don’t belong in this bizarro space, but it wasn’t.

All right, your turn. Pamu thoughts.

Nola: My thoughts are mostly the same! Some of Pamu’s humor is very juvenile, very “lol sploosh” in style, but there’s also the occasional bit of really irreverent fun-poking at the very nature of the game being played. I agree that when Pamu specifically references the presumed nature of the player, I feel seen, allowed to exist in a game that would otherwise ostensibly not be for me. There’s very much this enforced idea of binary gender in dating-style games, with the idea that what each half of that presumed binary wants is different, and that’s… not necessarily the case? Women can like crass humor too. Women can like silly titillation! I don’t know that this game necessarily succeeds at either of those but at least it recognizes that they’re a thing we can want.

Pamu is apparently the breakout star, because now she’s appeared in another game—Love Esquire features her as a character, although not as a dateable one. Still, she’s got about the same level of meta-fictional awareness and irreverence, and she’s voiced by the same voice actor.

Pamu in Love, Esquire, saying, "...I may not be in that pigeon game yet, but at least this gig's waaay better than Crush Crush!"

One of Pamu’s cameos in Love Esquire

Melissa: I had no idea! I love that there’s this interconnected world of bizarre dating sims. Love Esquire has Pamu from Crush Crush, Crush Crush has Ayano from Yandere Simulator, that screenshot is referencing Hatoful Boyfriend, so for all we know that’s possible, too. Crush Crush is absolutely a lewd dating sim without any interest in being more than that, but it’s also not at all serious, as shown in part by this whole bizarre shared universe, and that’s why it’s more enjoyable than like, a lewd dating sim that’s extremely serious about what it’s doing. I don’t know of any that fit that description, but I’m sure they’re out there.

Unless you have anything else to say, I have one final question: best girl?

Nola: Oh wow. It’s hard to say! I really like Nina and her whole “buy me lots of cars” deal, there’s just something that’s really funny to me about it. She comes in ostensibly to work for you as a maid and you end up buying her twenty-eight cars. I appreciate a girl who knows how to maximize a grift. I also really like Sutra because… well. Strong.

Melissa: Agreed on both accounts. The expectation with your assistant is that she’ll be like, supportive and probably a little meekly flirty, but instead she constantly makes fun of you for having 800 jobs and she gets a bajillion gifts out of it. I support her. And also: yes, strong.

Nola: I also appreciate that Karma and Sutra (yes, those are their names, Crush Crush is not a game that leaves an easy joke on the table) are like this… immortal gay duo without the player. That’s some powerful energy.

Well, I did think of a final question, Missy: Should people play Crush Crush?

Melissa: God, what a complicated question. I don’t like, recommend it? There’s a lot of games out there that do things that are more interesting and more fun and like, progressive, y’know. But if you’re in need of something that is absolutely NSFW, weirdly funny, and contains a literal bear that you can date, have at it! I certainly did.

Nola: I guess what we’re saying is… we’d bearly recommend it.