Review: Crystal Caverns of Amon-Ra (DSiWare)

Is the quality of this game just a mirage?

Puzzle games are a dime a dozen on DSiWare, so when a new one comes along, it's pretty easy to dismiss. Throw in a word like "crystal" and the words "Bejeweled clone" immediately come to mind. While this does involve the matching of three similarly coloured objects, however, Crystal Caverns of Amon-Ra takes a slightly different route. Is it enough to set it apart?

Don't get too excited, now – while the concept is one we haven't yet seen on DSiWare, the developers indeed model it on an older game: Zuma, Puzz Loop or Luxor, which take the match-three concept and run a thread through the middle. A path appears along which a group of coloured orbs – er, crystals – proceed from one side to the other, sped up and slowed down by the momentum of gravity as the line dips and curves. You control a shooter at the bottom that launches more spheres at the line-up, breaking them up when they hit two or more of the same hue. They also change the way the group moves, as creating gaps will slow its progress, and the dynamic still succeeds in making this an interesting experience. Think of the way that water droplets travel, connecting with each other and gaining speed as they go – that's how Crystal Caverns works. You can control it either with the buttons or the stylus, and it's really a matter of preference, though we found the latter a more accurate method.

You lose when a single orb makes it all the way to the end, causing all of the others to follow. Given that it's somewhat difficult to direct your crystal exactly where you want all the time, an act which sometimes helps quicken the column's progress if you get it wrong, this becomes quite challenging very quickly. It would have served the experience much better if it were more lenient, perhaps deducting points for each sphere that makes it past the threshold, but instead it feels overly punishing, especially in the large amount of stages featuring very short pathways.

Power-ups and power-downs fall from the sky for you to catch with your crystal launcher or avoid, which adds a bit to the experience, slowing down or reversing the orbs' flow. One penalising example is the Joker tile, which shoots random spheres, but the fact that you can simply scroll to the end and shoot it off into space makes this ineffective.

Beyond the interesting mechanic at the game's foundation, two main factors help make this a worthwhile purchase: the inclusion of three save slots and leaderboards in which their owners can compete, and the level count of 1,001 puzzles. You're able to access these by linear progression, one at a time or at random, though the majority of them are locked at the start.

Aurally and visually, Crystal Caverns is extremely dull. Some level sets include dry cracks in the ground, rocks, sand or a number of other boring backgrounds. The music is unobtrusive and forgettable, though the main menu includes an endearing out-of-place MIDI synth track that reminded us of cheesy 80's pop music.

Conclusion

It takes its cues blatantly from games like Luxor and too often straddles the line between rewardingly challenging and unfairly punishing, but Crystal Caverns of Amon-Ra makes for a decent purchase thanks to an interesting puzzle mechanic that we've yet to see on DSiWare, leaderboards and an abundance of levels. You won't want to place it in your tomb for use in the afterlife, but it'll make a fairly entertaining diversion until you get there.

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