Crystal Castles

Jump over trees to stun them. Of course, why didn't I think of that?

Source // Wikipedia

Yeah, no, I'm sorry - this was most certainly not what I had in mind when trying to imagine what Crystal Castles was about. A bear called Bentley picking up gems, jumping over trees, dancing around skeletons... Have I been hit over the head and since woken up in bizarroland?

I'm going to need to play this one...

Not like this though - the Atari 2600 version of Crystal Castles is slick, but dumbed down, and I don't think anyone would disagree. No, instead I tracked down an online version, for those of us still running Flash, whereupon I was still none the wiser as to what's going on.

You play as Bentley, gem collecting bear extraordinaire, as he navigates 3-dimensional levels collecting gems a la Pac-Man and, naturally, avoiding enemies ranging from sentient balls, upright snake poles, trees, skeletons and - for the slow - bees.

Just watch a video (or better yet, play it yourself).


Sorry, should have warned you to turn the volume down or, if you prefer, off. Entirely. It's like a warzone, there's just so much of it (though ironically, unless it's just me, the sound cuts out for a minute or two at the start). Luckily there are very few, if any, audio cues that aren't accompanied by a visual of some sort, so you should be able to get by.

Movement is nippy, and you're not locked to a square on the floor like you might expect - you can miss the gems despite only being off by the tiniest amount, especially on the Atari 2600. In the arcades it used a trackball, and the speed of movement from that has transferred over to both the versions I've played. You can get used to the speed, but it'll be your skill at controlling your movement that gets tested, as much - if not more - than the routes through the levels you pick.

Fun Times

There's not much else to get irked by in Crystal Castles though. The game is simple enough, despite making no sense. The level ahead of you is filled with gems, a few scattered enemies, perhaps even some lifts and tunnels.

Your opponents will come in the form of balls that you need to find a way around as they roll this way and that, serpent-looking gem-eating pole things that can only be defeated by running into them when they're eating a gem (which makes for some interesting strategy regarding routes and maximising scoring bonuses), and trees which, as you'd expect, walk through the level and get smaller when you jump over them.

If you find a magic hat, you can kill Berthilda, who I assume is some kind of witch - someone has to be responsible for all these walking trees. She doesn't appear to do much though. Anyway, finally, if you take too long in clearing the level of gems, a swarm of bees start to track you down (unfortunately their buzzing is the big reason why you should play on mute).

It all makes sense.

Final Word

It doesn't make sense. It doesn't need to. Collect object A, avoid objects B, C, D... It's sort of like Pac-Man, but not a whole lot. I guess it's also like I, Robot too.  But neither of these games, nor any other we've played so far, nor any we're going to play in the future have bright red boots and shorts that can be seen through walls, to allow us to not get lost as dear Bentley goes around the back of the levels, or into some tunnels.

Take that modern gaming...

Crystal Castles, despite me being nitpicky about it, does has some appeal. I can see why it's on the list, I can agree with it being on the list, and I think it'll stay there for some time to come. It perhaps won't be your cup of tea in terms of what you're seeing (shrinking walking trees etc), but the gameplay is what matters and the gameplay is simple enough for anybody to dive right in and try it.

Fun Facts

The first game to include a definite conclusion, rather than a loop of levels or a killscreen, is Crystal Castles. Of all the titles...

Crystal Castles, developed by Atari, Inc., first released in 1983.
Versions played: Atari 2600, 1983, via emulation.
Arcade remake, via Flash,
Versions watched: Arcade, 1983 (Old Classic Retro Gaming)