Review by Retro
Reviewed: 04/03/01 | Updated: 03/23/03
One of the best Atari 2600 games in many ways
In Crystal Castles, it's your job to guide Bentley the bear in a journey full of cold, damp castles and terrifying creatures. The object of the game is to collect all the gems scattered around the board (no it's not anything like Pac-Man, believe it or not) in each level. Crystal Castles isn't a 2-D side scroller; Bentley can move around in any direction, 360º, in all the stages. But it's not as easy as it sounds.
Scattered here and there along Bentley the bear's path to collecting all the gems in the dreary, horror-stricken castles, he will encounter many different and captivating enemies, which are so strong that they can make Bentley surrender one of his lives with the slightest of a touch. The enemies are some of the most impressive, if not the most impressive that I've seen in an Atari 2600 game.
There are many harmless looking, yet deadly enemies such as swarms of bees, tall green creatures that love to eat gems, white pot-shaped creatures whose heads are always spinning around 360º, trees that get up and run around, bony skeletons, ghosts, and Bentley's biggest adversary of them all, a witch named Berthilda that flies around on a broom in a few levels. But don't fret! There are ways to defeat or stun a few of the enemies, though not all of them.
On your way to collecting all the gems, or crystals, you'll notice that a good deal of the little treasures are not easy to get to. Most of them are out in the open and are fairly easy to walk over and pick up. To reach some of the gems, you'll have to ride Atari 2600-style elevators up or down to get to many of the waiting gems. These elevators aren't the typical elevators like you see in real life.
Crystal Castles's elevators look more like ladders than anything. The ladders have a line that goes up and down them every few seconds. When Bentley stands right under or over one of these contraptions, he will go down or up at the same time that the elevator rises or lowers. Bentley does have to wait for the elevators to come down or go up (which can sometimes be frustrating in later levels in which enemies are faster and more numerous), but he won't have to step inside of them, pull any levers, or push any electrical buttons.
Crystals aren't the only thing that is on Bentley's mind. He's a honey bear with a big gut, so if he's either hungry or in the mood for one thousand bonus points, he can always collect a honey pot full of honey. As mentioned a little earlier, he can defeat a few of the enemies, such as the witch and the gem-stealing creatures, to earn a good number of points. Some enemies, such as the ghosts can't be defeated at all. Still, others such as the trees can be jumped over and temporarily stunned, but not destroyed.
I'm not the best player in the world at Crystal Castles, so I can't exactly say how many levels are in the game, or if there's an ending to it (I get the impression there is though). But that's a good thing! Crystal Castles has a great challenge, but the game is not overly difficult, at least not to the point where it makes you want to throw the controller down, curse at the innocent television screen, or to never play the game again once you're through.
Another thing that makes Crystal Castles an Atari 2600 classic is that it has an excellent array of levels, especially for it to be an Atari 2600 title. One level can be pretty flat with only a few barriers and hardly any enemies, while another level can have spectacular architecture that features a few stories of floors, elevators all over the place, and enemies around every corner. What all of the levels have in common is that they all take place in castles, hence the title of the game.
It's sort of hard for me to believe that I like Crystal Castles so much. I'm not saying that it's not a great game, because it is in almost every way, and I'd consider it an all-time favorite. I'm usually not all that crazy about games that I can't get that far in, but Crystal Castles is a major exception. It's loads of fun to play, the graphics and sounds are some of the best for the system, and for some reason, every time I dust off my Atari 2600 VCS and play some of its games, Crystal Castles is always one of the very first ones that I visit. To make it short, I can't exactly spell out the reason, but for some reason, Crystal Castles can be extremely addicting.
For the people who aren't Crystal Castles experts (like me), there are eight different difficulties, or levels, in which to choose from before you even begin to play the game. Depending on the difficulty you choose, the game will be a certain speed, and you'll start on a particular level. The difficulty switch on the Atari 2600 VCS console also works to change the speed at which at the enemies move.
Crystal Castles is definitely one of the most visually impressive games ever made for the 2600. The enemies are extraordinarily detailed and their animation is just as well done. The stages, or castles themselves, are 3-D (wow) and they're eye-popping for the system. Sure, you can see a few pixels, but they look great. Some of the enemies flicker a bit, but it's hardly noticeable. The only graphical complaint I have is that most of the levels are blue. Even though blue is my favorite color and although there's a gray or an olive green castle here and there, it would've been nice for the castles to have a wider array of colors.
The audio isn't bad either. The bees actually sound somewhat realistic; most of the other sound effects are crystal clear and pleasing, and Crystal Castles even has some catchy music included when you complete a level and when a new level starts. In case you don't know it already, most Atari 2600 games don't have a bit of music included, so this was a big deal back in the day. Crystal Castles is one of the best sounding games that have ever been made for the system.
Like everything else in the game, the controls are pretty much flawless. The control is responsive, making it a cinch to jump over your enemies, collect the gems, and do everything else you need to do. Bentley walks very fast and you can make him jump and walk in any of eight directions, including diagonally. It's even easy to make him turn corners with ease.
Last but not least, Crystal Castles is only a one-player game. If you own an Atari 2600 or if you ever get the chance to play one, don't miss your chance to own, or at least play, this great, overlooked classic called Crystal Castles! I'm giving it a perfect score because just about every asset of the game stands a head or two above most other Atari 2600 cartridges. Whether it's the spectacular graphics, the memorable sounds and music, the unbelievable replay value, the engaging fun, or whatever, Crystal Castles has it all.
Even if you're real familiar with the Atari 2600 and many of its games, it will probably be hard for you to believe that the creators could fit so many levels, graphics, fun, etc., into just one cartridge like they did with these castles made of crystal.
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