Saturday, 30 January 2016

THE CRYSTAL MAZE


To anyone of a certain age living in Britain during the early 90s, The Crystal Maze needs no introduction. It garnered the highest viewing figures Channel 4 had at the time and was (and still is in my opinion) the zenith of all game shows. Everyone and their mother wanted to be a contestant, but after its cancellation in 1995, only a few would ever have that honour. At least now anyone can experience its awesomeness. At least you would hope.

In case you've never seen an episode (and you should, they're still fun), the aim is to win Time Crystals by completing tasks in one of four categories; Skill, Physical, Mental or Mystery. These tasks take place in the four themed zones; Aztec, Futuristic, Medieval and Industrial (that latter would be changed to Oceanic from season 3 onwards). You must keep an eye on the time, for if it runs out while you're still in the room, you'll be locked in. Your teammates can choose to release you at the cost of one hard-won crystal. Once you've visited all four zones, it's off to the dome where you have to collect gold tokens while avoiding silver. The number of crystal you've won dictates how long you have in there, but most will lose.

In 1993, a game developed by Digital Jellyfish Design would prove as wobbly as their company mascot. This game is little more than a hastily put together bunch of frustrating mini-games that attempted to cash in on the IP's rising popularity. It didn't even feature the show's iconic host, Richard O'Brien of Rocky Horror fame. But underneath the surface, there is an attempt to re-create the show.

You start the game by selecting your six team members. Unbeknownst to anyone who can't be bothered to read the manual (distributed only in a .txt file), each of these nameless characters have their strengths and weaknesses. For example, those weak on Skill will have the controls reversed on skill levels, or those strong in Mystery will have easier clues to guide them. There are no stats in-game to communicate this half-hearted attempt at strategic elements so what we're left with is an impression that the game is just broken.

The games range from single-screen platform levels, to logic puzzles and hidden object games. Each of these types of games were overly familiar even in 1993 and have been done much better elsewhere. The difference here is that this game actively wants you to fail each of them. This may be true to the show (and their hilariously idiotic contestants), but it doesn't make for a fun game. The final showdown in the dome surprisingly holds true to its origins. You are in the centre of a pseudo 3D enclosure where you're tasked with collecting the gold tokens. It plays like the basic mechanics of flight combat game like Wing Commander have been ripped out of their natural environment and been caged inside a dull snowglobe. But it's as if you'll spend much time here. I've only ever reached this stage with a single crystal meaning five seconds in the dome. Somehow that was more exciting on broadcast TV.

What's really disappointing is what could have been. Had the game not been rushed to market, we could've had a puzzle game that stood the test of time. Instead we got a confusing mess of a game with user unfriendly designs and mechanics.

If you want to play something good, play the game book (which is also included) which adds pen and paper RPG elements to the puzzles is far more fun. There were once Crystal Maze attractions scattered around the UK during the height of the show, but they were basic, overcrowded and prone to technical difficulties. And also targeted at little kids. Now there's the imminent The Crystal Maze experience in London - something which I'm uber excited about. It began as a highly successful crowd funded project that's just about to become a reality. Until then, this mediocre mid-90s cash-grab will have to do.


To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Text Manual and Game Book included. Tested on Windows 7 and Windows 10.

Download


The Crystal Maze (the game) is © Sherston Software
The Crystal Maze (the TV show) is © Chatsworth Television
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me 

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