Retro Monday – “The Crystal Maze” (DOS)

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Slow but interesting news week…

The elephant in the room is the lack of coverage of the Tokyo Game Show in… Tokyo. Well, as it happens so late in the year, right at the start of the fall release schedule, there is no news because its just yet more trailers. The games at the show are due to be released in 2 months or less so there is nothing to talk about besides PR and advertising. The big news here was the resounding “ehh… maybe not” from the land of kilts and whisky, Scotland, with their vote on their independence. I’m English so have no say in the matter but even I thought it was going to be a yes at one point. But it was a no, so no leaving the UK for Scotland. I guess the draw of another step of devolution was more inciting then the leap of hope that would be independence. Maybe later I suppose.

Title: “The Crystal Maze

Developer: Digital Jellyfish Design

Publisher: Sherston Software

Released: 1993

With the very British vibe that the news has had this week I thought it would be good to indulge my past and talk about an old DOS game about a 90’s UK TV show. “The Crystal Maze” was a game show made by Channel 4. It started in 1990 and ended in 1995 after 6 seasons. The first 4 seasons were hosted by the legend that is Richard O’Brien. If you’ve head that name before it might be because he happens to pick role in films that become cult classics. One was the musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” where he played Riff Raff as well as writing all the songs, scripts and the book (co-wrote the script/songs where the film is concerned). Then there’s his roles in “Flash Gordon” in 1980 and “Dungeons and Dragons” in 2000. Even kids and parents would have heard his voice before as he plays Lawrence Fletcher, AKA the father of Ferb Fletcher and stepfather to Phineas and Candace Flynn, in the still running Disney show “Phineas & Ferb”. The last 2 seasons were hosted by an entirely different animal, Edward Tudor-Pole. He formed the punk band Tenpole Tudor in 1977 (his latest album, “Made it This Far” was released in 2009 so a long career there) and he also had parts in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” film and had bit parts in “Game of Thrones” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” as Mr. Borgin of ‘Borgin and Burke’s’.

Why am I talking about the presenters is such great detail? Well the show was based around a team of 6 people going on the show and doing challenges. There where 4 categories; skill, physical, mental and mystery. Skill was the mini-game games. Shooting and maze challenges. Physical challenges were… physical challenges. Runny, jumpy, pully, punchy sort of things. Mental challenges were puzzle games and brainteasers. Mystery challenges were slide block puzzles and hidden item games. It safe to say watching people do these challenges were sometimes not that riveting but that is where the presenters come in. Both of them would chat to the camera/audience and make up stories about the fictional place they where at. Or they would just bugger about. O’Brien would play a harmonica while Tudor-Pole would chat. O’Brien was the silly one but he would treat the teams as the audience would, so with up most content if they where crap. Tudor-Pole was more of a presenter. He would talk to the teams and act like most of the current crop game show hosts, while wearing a multi-coloured Georgian coat. So he was a mix of Colin Bakers and Paul McGann’s Doctors. A British thing I suppose.

The game itself is pretty much just the challenges. The physical challenges are just timed platforming games. At least your meant to be platforming but the controls are so muddy that your most likely to just jump or walk off the starting platform and fail in under 10 seconds. It is a DOS game so a lot of the more modern helping hand mechanics like guiding your fall are not present. You just press jump and hope you timed it right but there is no going back. All the other types of challenges use mouse control predominately so fare much better. Although, the skill challenges require you to be in-humanly accurate so they too fall in to the pile of keyboard smashing games. The mystery and mental challenges are the ones most people would do these days because they have much in common with the current crop of casual games. There’s hidden object games, slide block puzzles and mazes. The mazes use the keyboard so they get blindly thrown into the pile but the other two use the mouse and really test your brain. For example, for the hidden object games, rather than just saying what you’re looking for, you get a clue or a riddle to what you’re looking for which you have to work out before you go searching.

When you complete a challenge, you (like the TV show) would get a crystal. Which equates to 5 seconds in the final team challenge. Also like the show, you travel through the 4 ‘zones’ (Aztec, Medieval, Ocean and Futuristic) with 3 choose-able challenges a zone, then go into the eponymous ‘Crystal Dome’ for the final challenge. The final challenge is a stationary, geometric clicker with the same goal as the show. Gold and silver notes fly through the air and you have to collect 100 more than silver to win. So the goal is to have lots of time and many people.

Considering that last paragraph, it would seem that the game is much like the show. It is, to a ridiculous degree. It’s almost like how I would fair if I was actually doing the challenges. That being badly. Like most of the games of the era, it is unforgiving and hard as all hell! But your failure isn’t dwelled on and you move on so quickly that you have no time to get mad.

The best example of a game like it is most of the “Mario Party” games. But un-like the “Mario Party” there is no host. And remember early on in this thing I said that the hosts O’Brien and Tudor-Pole made the series. Without them, the game just feels like a collection of balls-tightening games.

Like the show it’s based on, the game is a product of its time. An unforgiving collection of mini-games that has decent design but no real soul with the lack of a host or one of the 2 faces of the TV series. Although there is a mobile game based on the series now that has O’Brien as the face of it so maybe someone learnt from the mistakes of the first and had another, more successful, shot.

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