Review: 1001 Crystal Mazes Collection (DSiWare)

Chump's challenge

Every so often a developer realizes a concept so simple and fun that for as long as games are made, other developers will replicate and modify its formula again and again. Sokoban is one such game, and 1001 Crystal Mazes Collection is one such replication. Not that copying a classic design is inherently bad; Windows users of old will recall the delightful Chip's Challenge, which innovated the puzzler into a fun and addictive adventure game.

This was 1989. Twenty-one years later, you'd think that we'd have progressed farther, but Crystal Mazes is clear proof that some are content with simply replicating the original source material. While a bit stale and not everyone's cup of tea, the thirty year old Sokoban is still very much a winner and, if done well, one could still craft quite the entertaining experience around its classic framework. Unfortunately, this title does squat to breathe new life into it. The goal is to push a set of objects - here, crystals - onto the same amount of specially colored tiles. One fails by getting one's jewels stuck against a wall or another tight spot, as pulling them back out is not an option.

As the title suggests, the selling point here is bulk. So, if you love Sokoban in its simplest form, how could you not be satisfied with this expansive collection of puzzles? Well, you'd better really love Sokoban, because the game basically contains two difficulty levels - fairly easy and ridiculously difficult. Hardly any of the mazes fall anywhere between or outside of these two classifications. It's an arduous task to avoid all of the mazes' tight spots, and you will inevitably trap yourself and your stones time and time again. Thankfully, the game includes an undo and a redo button, but when your incorrect turn was many moves ago (which happens quite frequently given the complexity of many of the levels), you'll have to do a whole lot of undoing to trace your steps back to that fatal moment.

The mazes are split up into seven collections: Relaxed (read: fairly easy, usually), Challenge, and Diabolical, as well as the four arbitrary classifications of Classic and Bonus 1-3. Again, there's very little variation in their oft exhaustive difficulty, so splitting them up like this does little to inform one's choice. The game keeps track of how long it took to conquer each puzzle and lets you preview them before playing, which are a few nice little features. Of course, after you've solved a stage, you can go back in and try to beat it again in fewer steps.

The presentation of Crystal Mazes is absolutely ridiculous. The profile creator greets you with a bizarre illustration of a Brendan Fraser look-alike and his Barbie-esque companion. Brendan suavely rests his arm on his knee while Barbie leaps for joy and stares ahead with dead eyes. Enter your name and select a circle with a small picture of either his or her visage inside, and this little face becomes your protagonist. During each level, the top display shows the maze at hand with photographs of scenery in the back – a quite unimpressive stylistic choice. The bottom screen is even more bizarre, adorned with cryptic symbols and a big purple orb in the middle (although after a look at the instruction manual the symbols make a lot more sense). Included among these tools are buttons to restart the puzzle, to choose next, previous or random levels, arrows to direct your character and the very useful undo and redo toggles. Also featured is a scale with which to change the view to close, medium, or far away. Holding L and R shows you the entire stage when the farthest perspective isn't your default. The music is a bit catchy but quite repetitive, and you'll probably end up muting it in the end. Aesthetically it all feels a bit mish-mashed and imperfect. In a game that needs all the charm it can get, 1001 Crystal Mazes has none.

Conclusion

A Sokoban clone at its simplest won't cut it with most puzzle fans thirty years after the original's creation, especially when most of the levels are as difficult as these. Those looking for a simple yet challenging experience will be happy with this collection and will have over a thousand unforgiving challenges to keep them busy. This quantity, however, won't matter to the majority of players, who will likely get too frustrated to continue after about ten or so.