Review by KingBroccoli

Reviewed: 09/29/01 | Updated: 09/29/01

Nick Cave's mysterious little sister Crystal......FOUND AT LAST!

Sometimes you just want to get away from it all, pack up your life and find a quieter time in the country. These are pretty much the thoughts that the protagonist of Crystal Caves has; all this poor little blighter wants to do is start up a little worm farm and reap a benefit or two. Unfortunately if he wants to realise this dream he's going to have to make some money, and of course in the future making money is done by travelling to another distant planet and mining its crystals! I'm afraid you, being the player, have to help him do this. You're going to have to take him through a series of levels that are somewhat of a Commander Keen/early Duke Nukem hybrid and score as much cash as you can. Just don't get the poor guy hurt in the process, he only wants worms.

The gameplay of Crystal Caves involves the usual platforming procedures along with some spicy little extra touches to make it a tad more appealing. You guide your character around the ''world map'' kind of thing, scattered all over the place on this on this map are doors. Behind each door is a level, and it's inside these levels that the real fun really starts. Armed with only a blaster and an enormous vertical leap considering his head is three times bigger than his legs...our hero proceeds.

The levels aren't the largest out there, but everything you need to do is usually scattered rather sporadically throughout them. Rather than starting at the beginning and making your way directly to the exit you'll be running around all over the place completing your objective. If you haven't figured it out for yourself yet, the objective is grabbing all the crystals in the level; get them all and you can leave straight away! But of course you've got to do all these other fiddly things such as pulling levers to open doors, getting keys to earn some treasure and grabbing a bit of fruit (for extra points).

Inside each level there's an assortment of nasty little creatures just looking to do your harm, you've only got three hit points (and there's no health pick-up) so be careful! You've got things like big lumbering dinosaurs, spiders that shoot webs, and snakes with poisonous corpses, the entire cast of baddies is a varied one and one that will keep you on your toes. Luckily, death will just return you to the beginning of the level and you have unlimited lives, all things considered we've got it pretty easy! Just to throw a little something else into the cauldron Apogee have been nice enough to give us a few extra gameplay quirks. Anti-gravity is one thing used, usually in the form of a pick-up buy sometimes appearing for entire levels. There's a range of other pick-ups, and they have to be used quickly and strategically to escape from your plight unscathed. These items manage to make the maps a little bit less straight forward, and good on them.

Overall, the gameplay here is a little bit too simplistic, but offers up some nice moments that will keep you playing up until the end. Some of the levels have ingenious designs, but at times it appears the makers were labouring for ideas. The story of the game along with the way the items and bonus' are designed (there's a lot of them) seem to encourage people to play for score rather than for the sake of finishing the game. It's a good way to go about it, seeing as it's a pretty easy game to come to the end of. Two words that could describe it well are mindless fun.

The graphics comprise of a group of (mostly) cute little cartoons. The backgrounds are a well varied lot, and drawn rather nicely too. You'll have metallic scenery, rock scenery, icy scenery and who knows what else! Everything is clear enough, it's always easy to tell what's going on on screen. There are some nice little touches such as animated torches, gigantic hammers that shake the very foundations of the level and more! It's bright and cheerful in places, and decidedly gloomier in others, the colours and colouring have been used to great effect in this regard. The screen scrolls rather well as well. Generally there aren't too many problems with the surroundings, without anything spectacular ever gracing the screen.

There isn't too much to be said about the characters. They're small, and some of them have a comical side to their design. There's nothing wrong with their animations, they look as natural as you'd ever want them to and also share some of the facetiousness of the designs. Our hero has a few little death animations which are superb, my personal favourite is when he gets sucked apart in some kind of spacey vaccuum thing. The characters and the backgrounds go well together, creating a nice little graphics package. It's the chirpy visual feel you'd expect from the PC games of that time era, and there's nothing wrong with it!

Well there's not much at all which can be said for the sound. Much like its olden day counterparts there is absolutely no background music, if there was the technology at the time would have most likely made it painful to listen to so there are no arguments here. There are sound effects in there, quite a few of the suckers. They sound good enough, befitting of their on-screen actions and not distorted at all. They're enough to give some credibility to this sound package, all the gun ZZAPS and miscellaneous CLINKS and DINGS here cover up the lack of background music pretty well. You won't miss a musical score, and the effects won't offend; if you want something more out of this section you're just expecting too much.

Surprisingly, the lifespan isn't as short as I first thought it would be. Sure, you can get through the game with just one sitting (if that sitting is an hour or two long) but it's the repeat plays of the game that really soak up the time. You'll continually return the game, trying to finish the levels with perfect health, shooting eggs to make words (don't ask) and searching out all the treasure chests to ensure you beat your high score. It's the kind of game you'll find yourself coming to for instant gratification; a game you can turn to at any time for a quick ten minute bash. It doesn't take up any room at all, making it a perfect addition to the contents of your hard drive.

If you're playing for the sake of finishing the game you'll get some fleeting fun out of it and if you're playing for score then you'll probably get a tiny bit annoyed. There is more fun just playing the game in bursts, long stints ensure that you'll tire of the whole Crystal Caves formula. Weighing up all of the above, the fun factor can be found around a middle of the road mark. There is fun, but limited amounts of it.

The challenge is between very easy and the simpler side of medium. Few of the levels should give you trouble and you can find yourself at the end of each of them with little persistence. The greatest challenges are the ones you give yourself, and most of them revolve around getting high scores. A few hairy situations in the later levels do nothing to shake the hard truth that Crystal Caves is just that little bit too easy.

Crystal Caves is by no means an epic. However this does not mean that there is no entertainment value to be found with this title. It has some classic platforming action, some nice quirks in a few levels and a miniscule plot twist upon its completion. It's always been shareware, so there'e really nothing stopping you from spending an hour or two in its company; that's really all it needs. A more thorough gaming experience than the Commander Keen saga, it's a perfect little game for the fans of that kind of PC gaming or those after a touch of nostalgia. I give it a slight reccomendation.
SOUND - 3/5 (Just to be fair, music gets a big N/A)
OVERALL - 6.5/10

Rounded up to a 7 for GameFAQs purposes

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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