Crystal Caves HD is a real diamond
This perfect remake of a standout DOS platformer IS retrogaming
I knew this was gonna be a good one, and with the release date in sight (the 16th of October, to be precise), Apogee have kindly furnished me with a copy of Emberheart Games' Crystal Caves HD and, lo and behold, it's aces. A complete and unerringly faithful remake of Apogee's auld classic Crystal Caves, this is a definitive stamp on the entire concept of "remaking" - the original game's identity is preserved, but polish has been added.
Let's not mince words. A lot of people won't like this. It's too close to the original, and the original isn't exactly spoken of in hushed, rapturous tones. It's a DOS platformer from a simpler time, with mechanics and gameplay ideas that some gamers will simply bounce off. Yes, there's a puzzle element to some stages that can render them unwinnable if you approach them in the wrong way. This stuff is enough to consign the game to many a mental bin. But it shouldn't be. The levels are small, nicely compact and uniformly well-designed. Said conciseness means that if you screw up, it's simplicity itself to reload and have another go.
All the stages from the original game are here, alongside a brand new fourth episode that I have been SWORN TO SECRECY over the content of. But I can exclusively reveal this: it's good. It's just another nice bonus alongside the beautifully redrawn art that doesn't compromise the classic look at all - in fact, I found myself looking at comparisons and being surprised, because the HD version is how I remember Crystal Caves looking when I was a kid. That's quite a clichéd observation, but it very much applies here.
Despite the game's simplicity, there's plenty of scope for interesting level design - gravity flipping, enemies that can't be defeated by your standard weapon, and the notorious air tanks that will instantly kill you should a stray projectile hit them. These and a brace of fun items, objects and enemies make the included level editor enormously appealing. It's incredible how easy to use it is, with breezy controls and a friendly interface that lets you test stages instantly and publish them to the Steam Workshop in a snap. I've already got a couple of my own up there, so why not look out for them?
Another decision I love is the retention of the PC Speaker style sound effects. Do they sound bad? Well, yes, but they're accurate, they fit the game feel. There's a new soundtrack, too, which comes over rather NES-style and is pretty good, though if I can level any criticism at Crystal Caves HD (which I'm loath to do), I feel like it would have made more sense to have Sound Blaster 16-style music ala the later Commander Keen games. Still, the polishing (but not transforming), of the game's aesthetic is something video game remakes should absolutely adopt. If it doesn't look like the original game, as far as I'm concerned it isn't. And yes, that is pretty narrow-minded, but I'm bloody sick of remakes that seem to despise the game they're remaking. Crystal Caves HD clearly loves Crystal Caves, and that love oozes from its every pore.
I can't even pretend to be reasonably objective about this. Crystal Caves HD is the new best remake ever, supplanting the terrific Castle of Illusion a few years back. The only reason you wouldn't like this is if you don't like Crystal Caves. And if you don't like Crystal Caves, well! You and I have nothing to say to one another. October 16th, pick this up or I will come round to your house and batter you. (Please do not threaten the readers. - Ed)
A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.