Crystal Castles

Name:
Crystal Castles
Company: Atari
Model #:
RX-8055
Programmers:
William Jahnke & Paul Metz
Year: 1984
Released?
Yes
Notes:
Completed and released by Atari Corp. in 1988

 

When it first appeared in arcades in 1983, Crystal Castles amazed players with its sharp graphics and pseudo 3-D mazes.  Bringing any 3-D style game to a home computer was though challenge, but luckily programmer Bill Janhke proved to be up to the challenge.  No only was Bill able to keep most of the arcade's graphics, but all the gameplay is intact as well.  Crystal Castles is one of the more impressive arcade to home conversions out there.

 

You play the role of Bentley Bear (who would later go on to star in his own line of Atari ST education games), who after falling asleep (dreaming about poached salmon of all things) has awoken to find himself trapped in a giant crystal castle.  Scattered about the castle are thousands of glittering diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and pearls which Bentley must collect.  Of course one has to ask, what does a bear need with gems?  Bentley must have one heck of a salmon habit...

 

As is the norm, giant crystal castles are inhabited by evil witches and their henchmen (err... henchcreatures).  The evil witch Berthilda is out to catch Bentley and turn him into bear stew (lightly seasoned and served with a lovely plum sauce).  As Bentley moves through the castle he must avoid all of Berthilda's deadly cronies, not to mention a deadly swarm of killer bees!  Run Bentley!  Run!

Gem Eaters
These tall green Centipede looking monsters wander around the maze eating the very gems Bentley is after.  For the most part Gem Eaters are pretty harmless as they would much rather go after gems than Bentley, however they can become a nuisance when confronted in a tight space.  Gem Eaters are the only creature that Bentley can destroy without the aid of the magical hat!  To destroy a Gem Eater simply run over him while he's eating a gem (you'll see it quickly move down his body).  However timing is everything and if Bentley isn't careful he'll end up a Gem Eater snack.  Gem Eaters can be helpful, as they often clear out hard to get to areas of the maze.
Nasty Trees
As their name suggests, these trees are NASTY!  Quick and agile, Nasty Trees chase relentlessly after Bentley without pause or rest.  Bentley can temporarily stun Nasty Trees by jumping over them, but the best way to deal with them is to trap them behind a wall or edge.  Although Nasty Trees will eat the gems they walk over, they don't go out of their way to find them
Crystal Balls
The only future Bentley will see in these dangerous orbs is his own death.  Crystal Balls follow Bentley around the maze in a rolling motion, gobbling up gems as they go.  While they're not as fast as Nasty Trees, Crystal Balls are just as deadly.
Ghosts
Ghosts are encountered only on a few levels and are not a standard enemy.  Ghosts move in a random spastic motion over a very small area.  Use caution when collecting gems near a ghost.
Skeletons
Like Ghosts, Skeletons are rarely encountered over the course of the game (although they are more common than Ghosts).  Skeletons move in a swift gliding motion around the board, but their pattern is random.
Honey Pot
The Honey Pot appears on certain levels and is worth big points if Bentley grabs it.  Even if you're not after bonus points make sure you snag it quickly or you'll run into.
Bee Swarm
The Bee Swarm is one of the most annoying enemies in the game.  The Bee Swarm appears every couple of seconds on levels with a honey pot, and will hover over the pot for a brief time.  To get rid of them, simply grab the honey pot while they're temporarily away.  If Bentley spends too long on any given board, the Bee Swarm will come down and chase him around the screen (at an alarming speed).  Consider them your cue to get a move on.
Cauldron
The Cauldron is similar to the Honey Pot except it's deadly to the touch (mmm. Bentley stew).  Consider it a non-moving enemy and avoid it.
Magic Hat
The Magic Hat appears on certain levels, and always on the fourth board.  By grabbing the Magic Hat Bentley can make himself invincible for a short period of time.  At the higher levels the Magic Hat will start jumping around and will turn into a Crystal Ball if not picked up quickly enough.
Berthilda
Berthilda appears on the fourth board of every level, slowly cruising the level on her broomstick.  Berthilda can be destroyed by Bentley if he's wearing the magic hat, although he doesn't have to go after her.  Consider her bonus points.

 

 

The 8-bit version of Crystal Castles is especially impressive.  The 3-D castles are beautifully rendered and all the gameplay elements as present, from the elevators to the hidden passageways.  Since the 8-bit was much more powerful than the 2600, all the castle designs were able to be ported over from the arcade version.

 

The graphics are very nicely drawn, but there are a few places where they could have been tweaked a bit.  Bentley looks very fat and pixilated for some reason, while the Nasty Trees are very wide (almost twice as wide as they should be).  Why these two characters were drawn so oddly is unknown, but the rest of the game looks excellent, so I guess one could overlook Bentley's beer belly...

 

The sound effects are average, mostly consisting of a few appropriate beeps for when Bentley grabs a gem or jumps over an enemy or dies.  The music between levels is pretty good, but some is still missing due to the programmer leaving Atari before the game was finished.  Sound effects and music are often one of the last things to be finished before a game was released.

 

Some time in 1988, Atari decided that Crystal Castles would make a great release for the XE line.  They originally tried to get programmer Paul Metz to finish the game up after Bill Janhke left Atari, but he declined.  So Atari hired some other programmer to finish up the nearly completed game.  Not only did the programmer finish adding the missing music and sounds, but he also made a few tweaks to the game:

- The XE version changes screen and gem colors like the arcade game, the 400/800 version stays red and blue

- The XE version has better graphics for the Nasty Trees, Bees, Bentley, the Magic Hat, and Honey Pot

- The XE version uses a flashing graphic for when Bentley grabs the magic hat, while the 400/800 version uses a strange 'Squished Bentley' graphic

- The XE version has attract mode (demo)

- The XE version is around 30-40% slower than the 400/800 version.  It is unknown if this is a result of the extra graphics masking or just an intentional move to make the game easier

- The XE version has high score support

- The XE has more music

- The 400/800 has different/incomplete sound effects, such as the death sound that plays when Bentley gets an extra life

- The 400/800 version starts with 7 lives while the XE starts with 3

- The XE version has a ghost effect when Bentley goes behind things.  The 400/800 version just shows a darker graphic for Bentley.

- The XE version shows Bentley saying "Oh No!" when he dies and flying off the screen.  The 400/800 version just has Bentley standing still while the death sound is played.

 

Unfortunately all this extra tweaking increased the memory requirements from 16K to 64K (making it unplayable on the 400/800,, and 600XL).  Why these minor changes required an extra 48K is unknown, but the programmer may have simply used all the memory they could to implement the changes.  Remember that the XEGS came with 64K standard.

 

Crystal Castles was one of the few lost 84 prototypes that actually ended up getting released.  Unfortunately the XE release is very rare, making it out of the reach of most gamers.  Thankfully the original prototype has been found is now available for everyone to play in all its original glory on any computer in the 8-bit line.


A prototype box can be seen in this picture (first row, eigth box)

 

Version Cart Text Description
6/1/84 Crystal HCS 6/1/84 Late stage beta.
?/??/84 None Nearly complete, needs minor polishing.

 

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