With Atari recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, I decided to take a look back at one of its less talked about arcade games.
In Crystal Castles, you play as Bentley Bear, and your goal is to collect all of the red gems in every level while avoiding enemies. The idea is straightforward, but things aren’t quite that simple. Each level is viewed from a three-dimensional isometric perspective, and their maze-like designs get to be rather devious. But it’s a unique and interesting look for a game of its era.
There are numerous enemies getting in your way, some of which go after Bentley, while others just eat the gems or guard areas of each castle. You can collect a pot of honey for extra points, although you have to watch out for the bees that appear around it occasionally. There’s also a magic hat Bentley can wear to become temporarily invincible and defeat Birthilda the witch.
Although not as well known as other Atari classics like Centipede and Tempest, Crystal Castles is notable for a few reasons. First, it’s the only classic Atari game I can think of where you plays as an actual character instead of a spaceship or other vehicle, which makes Bentley Bear the closest thing Atari has to a mascot-like character.
Second, Bentley is controlled using a trackball instead of a joystick. It may seem a little strange at first, but it allows his movements to be very precise, which is important in a game with a 3D perspective like this. (Plus, trackballs are awesome.)
Third, Crystal Castles was one of the very first arcade games to have an actual ending instead of just repeating endlessly. This was somewhat controversial at the time, as the common wisdom was that if players could actually beat a game, they would stop playing it. Instead, however, it changed the dynamic of point scoring, in that there is a cutoff point where the game no longer allows you to keep playing. It also allowed each of the 37 castles in the game to have unique designs.
Crystal Castles is available in numerous ways. It was included in the Atari Anniversary package on PS1, Dreamcast and PC, as well as the Atari Anthology on PS2 and the original Xbox, and on Atari’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 for the Nintendo DS. It can also be downloaded for Xbox Live Arcade and Windows as part of “Game Room,” and as part of Atari’s Greatest Hits for iOS devices. You can also play it for free at Atari’s website. However, because the game was originally designed to by played with a trackball, the controls are a bit awkward when adapted to other input devices. So the best way to play Crystal Castles is still in its original arcade cabinet if you’re fortunate enough to find one.
Still, with all the options available, I highly recommend celebrating Atari’s 40th anniversary with a good game of Crystal Castles.