Crystal Mines
by Peaches

Thanks to the computational powerhouse that was the 8-bit NES, the video game console industry went from a failed experiment to the software juggernaut you and I know and love. Many people wanted a piece of the NES pie, but Nintendo was pretty strict about retailers who sold unliscenced NES games ("You stop selling that crap, or Mario will come and kick your scrawny gaijin ass, ya hear?") But not everyone paid attention to what the Big N had to say. Those people labored on small budgets supplemented with love to craft games that... well, sucked. This is such a game. Made by a semi-notorious company called Color Dreams, Crystal Mines went on to have many "sequels" (i.e. sprite tweakings) as the company decided to market their games as Christian edutainment (before that word was even invented - such pioneers!)

But Wisom Tree's legacy is another story. Here, you have a small mining robot that mines crystals. The game gives you a nice little blurb of backstory, as well as a quick look at the kind of nasties and power-ups you will find, but it all boils down to grab crystals and blow shit up. Which is a lot harder than it sounds.

Your robot has a little pea shooter/M buster type thing that lets you clear away dirt, some rocks, and weaker creatures, and also lets you set off your bombs early. But you don't start with bombs, which would make sense because you need them for almost every level. You have to find you're firecrackers. The game doesn't explain why there are unarmed explosive devices buried miles underground next to valuable minerals, but since you get a bonus for unused bombs at the end of every level, perhaps you're mining for those, too. They're conveinently labled 'TNT', so you won't mistake them for red, cylinder-shaped aliens.

Speaking of convenient things buried underground, there are many pickups you find. There are power ups to improve your pea shooter, but they only last until you die (which is a lot), so they feel pretty pointless. Invincibility would have been nice, but instead you get a seperate invinciblity pick-up for every hazard you face, e.g. monsters, explosions, radiation, mud/lava... it's frustrating when you're going Nagasaki on this crummy planet, not caring a bit because you're immune to explosions, and you fail to notice the space gorilla until he steps on you.

Oh yeah, the space gorillas. That's what most of the enemies look like, anyway. The game has its own names for them, though nothing interesting like Goomba or Koopa. Instead, you get "Soft Rock Creature", "Hard Rock Creature", and the ever-popular "Mud Creature". My favorite is the Lava Creature, because he looks like something that crawled out of a lava lamp. Most of the time they just wander around, waiting for you to erase them from this junker of a video game. Some get stunned or killed by your ping pong ball shooter, but it can make others move faster. They all die after a bomb or three. The best way of taking them out is to drop a rock on them, which as Dig Dug teaches, is both the best and hardest way of eliminating a baddie.

Quick geology lesson: rocks are everywhere in this game. And they will fall on you. Crystal Mines is a lot like those push-the-rock-but-don't-let-it-fall-on-you games you probably played before, where you can freely move in space, and some things float freely in space, but rocks still fall to the bottom of the screen. Even worse, the pseudo-gravity causes them to fall in pyramids, not stacks, and it takes awhile to figure out where that bunch of rocks will tumble, meaning a boulder will sometimes randomly roll over and crush you to death, kinda like when I take my dates home with me.

And don't forget everybody's favorite nuclear phenomenon, radiation. There are rocks that are radioactive here. Touching them makes your robot radioactive, which means it flashes pretty colors until it blows up. Radioactive stuff can be destroyed with plenty of bombs, but that's a pain more than anything, plus while a bomb shortage is rare, you still can run out if you're not careful. Oh, and radioactive stuff reflects your ball blaster shots right back at you, which is fun because having a ton of dirt block your path means you get in the habit of shooting constantly at everything. The worst part is that radiation turns the space gorillas radioactive, making them incredilby strong and fast (they're probably running to the nearest space zookepper to treat their radiation poisoning).

In case I haven't made it perfectly clear, the game is frustrating and hard. Every level, you pretty much have to figure out, by trial and error, what the best course of action is, having the level reset every time you die. You could pause the game periodically to work out a methodical plan ahead of time, but with that attention span, you would probably be better off reading Paradise Lost or something (seriously, it makes Satan seem like a pretty cool guy). Also, the game is filled with bits that... well, just make the game harder. Not challenging, as in making you think harder to solve puzzles. Just harder, as in the "power-up" that is invisible until you walk over it, and freezes your robot just long enough for a lava lamp to munch on you.

In short, this game shows how so many NES games failed: it tries to screw you over instead of challenging you. Occasionally, you get the hang of things and your wit puts you one step ahead of things... but then you usually get smooshed by that radioactive boulder you failed to take into account. If you're a masochist, and Polly isn't in the chatroom, go play this game.


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