C64 Games: Crystal Castles

I never got far in this one but always kept trying.

Not until years later did I realize Crystal Castles wasn’t a game originally developed for C64.

We (my brother and I) played the hell out of it. Poor little Bentley Bear’s head could have been a zit on my adolescent nose for the number of times it popped.

I suspect Crystal Castles became one of my primary influences when I started making games. Skeeter’s Grid is also orthographic (albeit isometric rather than trimetric), but the visual similarities are unmistakable. That said, I was never terribly good at it. Crystal Castles is hard with a bizarre diversity of enemies: witches, devils, caterpillars, um… trees. In retrospect, I think the rather novel projection mixed with those old joysticks made for challenging controls. Once, in an arcade, I played the game with a trackball and had a much easier time of it. I still lost, but it seemed clear after that point that the C64 was not an especially accommodating platform for this game.

But I lost and I lost, and I still played.

Although we’d had the game for years, I spent my earlier C64 years playing other games–Boulder Dash, Crossroads, Marble Madness, etc. My obsession with Crystal Castles came later, and I’m not even sure how. It was just on some 5 1/4 floppy I probably ignored until one day… Maybe it was pirated? I don’t remember us ever buying it, and in the early days of the C64, there was plenty of sharing going on. These were usually gifted to my dad, who took them begrudgingly and then started to refuse them. Even back then, he found piracy distasteful. This rubbed off on me. Let’s just say I largely missed the Limewire craze of my college years.

Anyway, Crystal Castles became my favorite game for a brief era of my life.

Years later, in an ice cream shop, my young son (then about age 6) discovered Crystal Castles in one of those MAME arcade boxes and started playing it. He was terrible (of course), but he and I started trading turns. The game and all its various strategies came back to me. I remembered using the hat to defeat the witch and needing to wait until the caterpillars were digesting gems to roll them over, and I got further than I ever had before, but it didn’t have quite the significance as it did when I was younger.

On one of these occasions, probably while I was eating ice cream, my son called me over to the MAME box. He wanted to show me that he’d finally gotten past the “tree level”. This was only level two, but in a game so challenging, this was still quite an accomplishment.

“Nice job, bud,” I said. Then I showed him how it was really done.