Even though Nintendo continually insists it doesn’t compete with the mobile app market, consumers hooked on portable devices show dedication to bite-sized experiences on the cheap. In this regard, an item such as Crystal Adventure should be a welcome addition to the Nintendo DS shop. For $3, the title aims to provide a portable, mobile phone style Rouge-like experience – simple and cheap. However, the title just isn’t immersive and a few mechanical snags reduce the gameplay to trial and error.
Looking at the game’s story, the title is similar to a retro title where all of the story elements are in the instruction booklet and virtually never mentioned in the game. While various sources online have the developer’s story of players controlling an infamous bounty hunter who has uncovered a temple being used by a sorcerer using the power of magic crystals to resurrect a demon, this is never seen throughout the game itself. Players boot up the game and are immediately thrust into the game’s single mode.
While a Hollywood-style script isn’t important for the game Crystal Adventure is trying to be, most RPG players do expect some semblance of storytelling. With bland menus and a lack of a few other mechanics I will come back to, the combination will create some disappointment to players who don’t do any research on the game before putting their money down.
Much like with the story, the title takes a classic approach in its presentation as well. The graphics feature 16-bit style sprites and use a fair amount of color even though there isn’t much detail to the characters. Still, the characters have a bit more flair than the bland environments. The game’s dungeon that players progress through are composed of a handful of tiles looped repeatedly through the dungeon. You’ll see a lot of the brick tiles, a few differently-colored floor tiles, some door tiles and not much else.
The sound may be the weakest point in the title, however. The repetitive music wears fast and the sound effects are just as minimal. The presentation is far from the worst I’ve seen in a game, but everything you’ll see in Crystal Adventure is as minimal as can be.
With gameplay, the title takes a Rogue-like concept and waters it down. Players engage enemies and each attacks the other until one is defeated. That’s true to the genre in many regards, but Crystal Adventure strips out a number of the genre’s most interesting elements.
Experience points and leveling up are present, but there is no customization. Levels merely expand your hit points and increase your attack and defense power. There are plenty of items to pick up, but no inventory, meaning items are used immediately, regardless of whether or not you actually need them. There are no status ailments or conditions such as hunger to concern the player.
What this boils down to is the player using the d-pad to walk around. When the player engages an enemy, a display appears showing the player and enemy hitting each other until someone wins. The player can disengage from the battle, but there is delay involved so the player can’t merely run from a fight without a penalty.
The majority of the game is the player walking around. Players can find a shop on just a few of the tower’s floors and this serves as the clearest sense of progression since the items boost your stats considerably at the cost of gold. However, the rest of the game is trial and error.
As simple of the game premise is, Crystal Adventure does have some challenge to it. There is no randomization in the tower, so players will likely make some mistakes in managing the game’s resources. Players are thrown into the game with little direction, so it is unclear how much of a fight the monsters will put up. There are typically monsters on each floor that are stronger than the player would normally be entering the area. Players can come and go to any cleared floor as they please to return for the extra combat and items, but running into a stronger monster and racking up damage can lead to frustration.
This is mostly due to the aggressive autosave feature in the game. The game saves automatically each time the player changes floors. Thus, if players find themselves in a sticky situation, it could potentially become an improbable situation. Since nothing in the game respawns, if there are no weaker enemies to fight or items to pick up, the player could have to start from scratch. The shops help this issue along, but, still, there is only so much gold to collect too.
There are some issues that popped up that pile on to the autosave problem. In one instance, I changed floors and was stuck in a space with only four tiles. There was an empty space to the right of the stairs, but the game slid me over to the left tile, right next to an enemy blocking the stairs. I was able to combat the beast, but I weren’t able to, my autosave would have permanently stuck me in that spot. I have also been dragged into fights by walking past a monster (understandable) and had my items, such as keys, used up by walking past doors and collectibles (frustrating). With the limited resources, not having a key could lead to one of the aforementioned autosave problems.
Honestly, if the autosave feature could be patched out of the game, Crystal Adventure could become slightly more enjoyable. Being able to manage my own saves would have prevented me from starting over twice.
With no randomization common to Rogue-likes, the title is pretty much only good for one playthrough and seeing the game through to the end won’t last even the most dedicated player through a day. The simplicity of the game isn’t a problem in my eyes, but games can be simple and interesting, innovative or original. Unfortunately, the title does little to drive it beyond a simple RPG experience on the cheap. It nails down the thought of being able to pick up and play a game on the go and put it down in the spur of the moment, but players will likely expect a fully-featured RPG if they do not put in the time to find out what the game is all about.
GemuBaka final review score: 2 of 5
Crystal Adventure does some service in providing a cheap, pick-up-and-play RPG, but its bare-bones offerings and ambiguity will turn off a lot of players. The title has some above-average graphics and well intentions, but an aggressive autosave feature severely cripples the game when mixed in with its other shortcomings. For $3, you could do worse, but I would recommend watching the videos featured on Nintendo’s official site and learning more about the title before you put money down on something you think is going to be a full RPG experience.