: DreamRoot Studios
: DreamRoot Studios
: XBOX 360
: April 23, 2012
Crystal Hunters is the first game published by Indie game developer, DreamRoot Studios. Crystal Hunters is a top down puzzle game that also acts as a throwback to lovable old school games of the past. Crystal Hunters is definitely a great game for gamers who enjoy the puzzle genre and totally worth looking into if it catches your interest. Crystal Hunters is currently available for download on the XBOX Live Marketplace.
Crystal Hunters follows the journey of two young explorers, either of which the gamer can play as. Thomas and Amelia are on a journey to obtain crystals throughout the land. Some crystals are easy to obtain and some require a daring and skilled display of timing and reflexes to acquire. Thomas and Amelia are also mentored by their seemingly retired crystal hunter grandfather, Grampa Buckley, who still has a few helpful tricks up his sleeve to make crystal nabbing all the more simpler. After a few helpful lessons, Thomas and Amelia are on their own to solve challenging puzzles through caves, forests, and ruins to recover every crystal in their path.
The art style for Crystal Hunters is great and is one of the reasons why I was fascinated with the game in the first place. This includes graphics not only in actual gameplay but also when navigating the gameís menus. When I started playing the game, the first thing I thought of was that it looked similar to the original Legend of Zelda. Knowing that the game involves fortune hunters I also thought this was like an 8bit pairing of Indiana Jones and Zelda. With the NES being the first gaming console I owned, I felt right at home with the gameís graphics. Itís like a hi-def NES game. When you play in the forest area you can really pick up on things such as the flowers in the grass.
In the tutorial portion of the game when Grampa Buckley offers hints, the character model is crisp and clean and also includes the matching text bubble. Very nostalgic. That also includes the character artwork for Thomas and Amelia of course. The characters are well drawn and nicely represented in the artwork that appears in the game. I also liked the attention to detail when scrolling through the menus. For example, when selecting a level you can navigate through the different worlds and the art style in the background will change from the interior of a cave, to a lush forest, to the interior of a castle ruins, and so on. It couldíve been one piece of art for the whole level select menu but I liked that the developers fluctuated the gameís art in this manner.
Crystal Hunters follows that old school feel not only with its graphics, but also in how it sounds. To the old school gamerís ear, you can quickly identify classic game sound effects such as the flick of a switch, or the ďpew pewĒ sound of shooting a projectile weapon. Additionally, Crystal Hunters features an original soundtrack to keep the game interesting. Itís a classic 8bit music direction but with a modern take to it with more realistic sounding instruments, and it works great with the game.
The gameplay for Crystal Hunters can be called easy to learn and challenging to master. In that I mean itís easy to understand how the controls work, but itís solving puzzles that can leave you scratching your head from time to time and itís all so satisfying when you figure out how a puzzle works and you move on to the next stage with all the crystals in hand. There are 5 chapters to play and 45 levels between them, so the game is definitely going to hold your attention for a great amount of time.
The point of the game is to collect all the crystals in a level before youíre given access to the next level. At the top of the screen is a HUD that shows how many crystals are in a level as well as how many you currently possess. In addition the HUD displays a timer which acts as the time you must beat in order to earn a special medal for that stage. Timers are different from one level to the next, so youíll need to put your puzzle solving skills to the test to beat the clock if you want to earn all the special medals. The HUD also shows how many red crystals youíre carrying. Red crystals act as a projectile type weapon and are useful when you need to get past or move tree stumps around when solving puzzles. Itís best to use them sparingly because they wonít regenerate.
Puzzles will increase in difficulty from one level to the next which tests your ability to adapt to the gameís learning curve. Itís great to know that thereís a tutorial you can play to understand how the game works so you donít have to go into it without a good understanding of the gameís mechanics. In fact before beginning the first stage you can move back and find the tutorials there for your use.
There are numerous obstacles that will get in your way to prevent you from obtaining the crystals. These include tree stumps, lasers, sentinels, giant balls of death, and blockers. Tree stumps just get in your way, but they can be moved or destroyed depending how you handle them. Shooting them with a red crystal once will stun them, making them easy to move around and theyíll act like an extra block but stumps will soon revert back to their normal state and be planted firm to the area you pushed it to. Shooting a stump twice will completely remove it, but they can reappear after a certain time. Again, deciding when to use your limited reserve of red crystals is part of the puzzle solving experience. Lasers are both a puzzle solving tool and a hazard if you arenít careful. Lasers can bounce off of mirrors to open up new pathways if you arrange mirrors in a certain sequence. Lasers can also destroy other obstacles if they make contact with the beam. Itís best to avoid the line of sight of an object that can fire a laser, because getting too close to it will get you scorched. Sentinels are stationary objects that also fire a laser at you if you get in their line of sight. You could be on the opposite side of the stage and they can zap you if you step within its watchful gaze. Luckily you can hide behind blocks and crystals, or push blocks to avoid it. Sentinels can be neutralized by placing blocks on its sides, disabling its view of the level. In some stages there are these large boulders that come alive if you snatch a crystal nearby. They act as a trap and chase you down. I liked this because it reminds me of that iconic scene in Indiana Jones when heís running from that unrelenting boulder. While these boulders try to crush you with a mind of their own, itís really fun to outwit them. Then there are blockers. These things donít hurt you but they can hinder your progress through a level. If you pass straight in front of them, theyíll come running to you to block you with their shield. You need to move out of the way fast otherwise youíll be blocked with no way to get out. Luckily blockers can be fooled too.
Thatís the essence of the game and itís a matter of avoiding and/or influencing these obstacles to your advantage to get all the crystals to move on from one stage to the next. Some of these puzzles will get more difficult to solve as you go, and gosh will the game test your ability to solve a brainteaser as best you can. What the timer displays as two or more minutes sometimes took me ten or more minutes of trial and error to figure out. This is a testament to Crystal Hunters gameplay though, not an obstruction. Great puzzle games are known for their amusing intricacies. Thereís always a way to solve a puzzle and you just need to get creative. Luckily thereís a ďredoĒ option in the game that you can take advantage of. This will revert your actions back a bit so you can correct or adjust your strategy. Additionally, each time youíre killed youíll be taken back to the last possible checkpoint to resume the game. The fewer deaths you have in a level, the more stars you earn when youíve completed it. This was just one thing about Crystal Hunters I had a little hassle with. Only in certain levels that involved lasers, when I respawned I was close to the line of sight of a laser, or rather an object that can fire a laser. If that object happened to be moving I had only a little time to react and run away or influence an object to protect me from the laser. Often times my character would get zapped and Iíd have to start over. Also, Iíd like to offer a comment regarding the redo option. You can only go back to your previous actions once and not multiple times. Think of it like a board game. If I advance five spaces ahead I can redo my actions but only move once space back instead of the full five spaces when I originally started my strategy. Sometimes Iíd realize what I should have done in a puzzle, but it was too late. I couldnít manipulate an object to advance further so I would have to resort to restarting the stage from the beginning in another attempt to get it right. If a sequel is planned, this kind of revamped feature would be great and helpful, not to mention a time saver when going after the precious medals. Other than that, it was a real treat playing the game.
Crystal Hunters gets its replay value from a few extras. Again, each level has a medal that can be earned by completing it in as fast a time as possible. Earning every star in a level can be achieved by not losing a single life during your run through. For all your hard work Crystal Hunters features some in-game achievements and unlockable concept art for conquering these commendable time trials.
Crystal Hunters was like a breath of fresh air after being away from the old school style games for quite awhile. The gameís puzzles will certainly deliver a challenge. Sometimes the in-game hazards got the best of me when I respawned after getting killed, but after trial and error I started figuring out puzzle after puzzle. Given Crystal Hunters talent to deliver tricky, yet fun, brain teasers, itís a creditable puzzle game and a splendid addition to the XBOX Live Indie Games collection. It takes a lot of time and dedication for an indie developer to put a game together and DreamRoot Studios first entry into the gaming scene is a successful and fun one. The game is priced at 240 msp, not bad by XBOX standards. Crystal Hunters is absolutely worth exploring. Definitely check this one out.