CRYSTAL CASTLES / Atari / Arcade
 
 
 
Atari's big experimental title of 1983 took the maze-chase genre into 3D for the first time using trimetric-projection rendering, which allows some flexibility in the creation of each maze. For example, you'll actually see the initials of high scorers incorporated into the level structure in certain levels. Bentley Bear, who appears to be some sort of gem thief who also stole a wizard's hat for some reason, is raiding all the structures in the land for their loose gems but has to compete with a wide variety of nasty monsters for them including walking trees, aggro bee swarms and a persistent witch named Berthilda.
 

There's a couple of really big barriers to going back and enjoying Crystal Castles from these modern times. The biggest is the hardware. The original arcade game was unique in making use of a trackball control scheme that was very flexible, allowing you to breeze across the screen like you're whipping a  mouse cursor around, but also to slow down and make precision movements around corners when required. If you're playing this now, you're likely playing it in MAME, where the control and speed of the stock ROM set are completely unacceptable. There's a "joystick version" ROM set you can find floating around that throttles hero Bentley Bear's speed and makes the game more playable, but it still doesn't have the same level of precision of the original hardware.
 

The other barrier is that even with precise control, the game is still kinda bullshit hard. The bee swarm enemy, which sorta functions as this game's Evil Otto, is just too quick to show up and too up your ass when it isn't distracted by a honey pot. The aggressive tree enemies are also a serious problem as they chase you relentlessly, when you're caught on a field with a few of them having to wait for an elevator to get you outta there it's almost assured death once the speed picks up in the later levels.
 

After 30 years now I'm still not certain whether this was a brilliant visionary take on the maze-chase genre or a fiendish scheme to dazzle kids with technological gimmickrey then suck the quarters out of their pockets with bullshit difficulty. I feel like it at least deserves a mildly positive rating for visual appeal and creativity, however.
 
 
Videos :
 
 
Ending where the world apparently gets destroyed by infinitely spawning blocks for your efforts
 
 
Developer postmortem (warning: large video)
 
Links :
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 









 

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