I thought I was getting some kind of RPG, but I ended up with an arcade game instead!
To Beat: Set the high score
To Complete: Beat Wave 99
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Completed the game
My Difficulty: 3/10
Crystal Quest caught me a bit by surprise in a number of ways. I was not expecting to be writing a Game Boy post right now, but circumstances can be a funny thing sometimes and so here we are. I didn’t know anything about the game until just last week, but when I saw the cart I figured it would be something I would want to have for my collection. When I ended up with was not the game I was guessing I would get, but it turned out to be a fun little diversion that took me almost no time at all to complete.
It all started last week while looking at game lots for sale on eBay. I am always keeping an eye out for good deals as well as games to add to my ever growing collection. One listing I found was for a small Game Boy lot that included Crystal Quest. This was the first time I had ever seen the game while looking at Game Boy games over the last several months. It looked intriguing just based on the cover art alone. I put it in my watch list and hemmed and hawed about buying it before deciding to let the auction end without placing a bit.
I still wanted to know more about the game so I did a little bit of research about the gameplay. Surprising to me, this game with the word Quest in the title was actually an arcade shooter. I hopped on over to eBay and found a copy for under $7 shipped, and when researching prices it seemed to be worth around $10, so that was enough for me to take the plunge and pick up a new game for the collection.
I received the cart earlier in the week along with a few other games I had ordered. I opened up and cleaned the carts like I always do, and then later on I fired the games up to test them out. When I got to Crystal Quest, I played through a few levels only to lose all of my lives rather quickly. Rather than putting it away, I decided to go for one more try. All of a sudden, I had that beautiful moment where the game clicked with me. I played and played and I got to the point where I could play indefinitely, which is about as good as it gets for an endless game like Crystal Quest. It started with cart testing time, and it ended up with the base for a new blog post!
Crystal Quest was originally released in 1987 for the Apple Macintosh and the Apple IIgs. It was developed by Patrick Buckland and published by Casady & Greene. The game is notable for being the first game in color for the Macintosh. Crystal Quest is loosely based on the Atari 800 XL game Crystal Raider, which is a platformer instead of a shooter style game but with a similar premise. There would later be a sequel released in 1993 named Crystal Crazy, and much later in 2006 Crystal Quest was ported to the Xbox 360 on the Xbox Live Arcade. A Kickstarter was launched in 2015 to create a new version of the game, but unfortunately it did not meet its funding goal. The Game Boy version I played was released in September 1991, published by Data East, and developed by Novalogic.
Crystal Quest is a top down arcade shooter with a very simple goal. You pilot a spaceship inside an arena that is scattered with crystals. The goal is to collect all the crystals and escape through the hatch that opens at the bottom of the screen. That sounds simple, but of course there are obstacles designed to prevent you from easily clearing the room. Randomly strewn on the screen are mines that will explode the ship if touched. There are also two hatches. One is on the left side of the screen and the other on the right side, and they spawn various types of enemies. Each wave consists of a single screen of randomly placed crystals and mines, and the enemies will keep flowing until you escape to the next wave.
The controls are really simple. Use the D-pad to move in any direction. Press the A button to fire a bullet, and press the B button to use a bomb. The movement in the game is very inertia heavy so it is pretty easy to slide around all over the place. Pressing in the opposite direction to slow down is an essential skill. The shooting in this game is unique in that the bullets go in exactly the same direction as the ship is moving. For instance, to fire right means having to move to the right. That makes it challenging to attack enemies coming directly toward you. Even more strange is that shooting without moving at all will place a stationary bullet as sort of a makeshift mine.
The bombs are very powerful weapons that wipe out all of the enemies on the screen. Of course bombs like this can only be used a limited number of times so they must be used conservatively. There are bomb icons in the levels that can be collected to add a bomb to the supply. These turn out to be crucial in keeping alive through as many waves as possible.
There are several different enemy types that will stand in the way of completing the level. They are very tiny sprites and it is typically difficult to distinguish exactly how they will move and attack by sight alone. I just observed them for a second to see how they would attack instead. Some enemies shoot, some enemies home in on you, some enemies drop mines, some randomly bounce around the screen, and so on.
Crystal Quest is primarily a score attack game and as a result there are several ways to earn points. Collecting crystals and killing enemies give a small amount of points. There are diamonds sometimes dispersed in the level that are there to provide a nice point boost. Occasionally a large diamond will appear that appears to be an enemy at first, but it can be collected and it is worth a lot of points. After the wave is completed, there is a time bonus that depends on how long it takes to complete the wave. The score starts out adding up slowly but it really ramps up after about a dozen stages or so.
There are 99 Waves total in Crystal Quest. I know that because I got to Wave 99 and after beating it the game just loops Wave 99 over and over until you quit or run out of lives. Every 15 waves or so there is a small cutscene where a bug gets shot and explodes, and you are rewarded with a one-word attaboy like “Radical” or “Awesome.” Eventually these cutscenes cease once the Wave 99 loop starts. At some point, the escape hatch start moving back and forth along the bottom of the screen which adds a little extra challenge to slipping out of the arena at the end.
I found that the game takes a little bit of practice to get used to, but after that the Waves become really short. It doesn’t take long to start making good progress into the game. Crystal Quest is also very generous with extra lives doled out at a regular pace. I couldn’t discern any sort of pattern of when I would get an extra life but I would earn one at least every other level, and so I could earn lives faster than I could spend them. At the very least I could maintain roughly the same number of lives. The bombs worked the same way so I never ran out of them or even got particularly low.
I developed a good strategy for playing Crystal Quest. I would sweep each level counter-clockwise starting with the right side of the screen. Early on I stopped shooting altogether in favor of collecting the crystals and exiting the stage as quickly as possible. If I got into any trouble I dropped a bomb and kept moving. This was tricky when collecting crystals around the side enemy hatches. Usually activating a single bomb as I approached the left hatch and quickly flying through seemed to do the trick most of the time.
With repeating that strategy, I reached Wave 99 in a little over a half hour with about 5 million points. I figured that the score would either cap or loop at 9,999,999 so I kept going until then. As it turns out the score keeps tallying above 10 million points, so I called it quits shortly after that. There’s no way I wanted to spend several more hours in an attempt to max out the score just to see what happens!
Endless games are always a challenge to pin on a winning condition. There are several options and there’s a good argument for every one of them, but I had to choose something so this is what I decided. I like to choose the point where all the levels are completed, but that does fit well here since the level layouts are completely random. Beating Wave 99 seems a little excessive to me, so I opted to use that as the Completed winning condition. The next option is either setting the high score or finding where the difficulty maxes out. I decided upon setting the high score as the winning condition since Crystal Quest looks to be all about getting a high score. The high score on the hall of fame screen is 1,750,000, so exceeding that score is the minimum to consider the game beaten in my opinion.
Crystal Quest is a fine option to pick up and play for a few minutes every now and then, but there’s not really enough to the game to want to play it any more than that. It’s a competent game for sure, but I feel that it’s not worth seeking out unless it’s really cheap. I had a fun time with it however so it was worth the cost to me!