Friday, December 21, 2007

Zamby and the Mystical Crystals Review

Zamby and the Mystical Crystals, developed and published by Kristanix Games.
The Good: Lots of levels at varied difficulties, very straightforward mechanics, numerous enemies with interesting behaviors, good tutorial missions, level editor, enjoyable background music
The Not So Good: Can get frustratingly tough, limited solution options, unimpressive graphics
What say you? A simple puzzle game with a respectable amount of design flexibility and content: 6/8

After a bunch of reviews of first person shooters and strategy games, it’s time to put your thinking caps on and delve back in to the puzzle genre. Our entry today is Zamby and the Mystical Crystals, concerning a qwonk (cyclops-thing) on the search for, well, mystical crystals. Along the way, he will encounter evil boxes and mean enemies that will attempt to restrict his progress. Will he (and you) survive the quest?

Zamby and the Mystical Crystals features some outdated 2-D graphics, even for the puzzle genre. The character models are small and sparsely animated, the environments are bland and generic, and there are hardly any special effects to enjoy while you are playing. This game could have easily come out fifteen years ago and featured the same graphics; at least you can play it in a window. Zamby and the Mystical Crystals does offer up some entertaining background music that fits the theme of the game well, but this is the lone highlight of the presentation. Good thing for Zamby and his Mystical Crystals that I put much more emphasis on gameplay than graphics.

Zamby and the Mystical Crystals is an environment-manipulation and movement puzzle game where you must avoid enemies by blocking their paths on the way to collecting crystals (I think they are mystical) in each level. The game comes with quite a large amount of content: seventy levels in the main quest, fifty-four levels for the kiddies, a host of unlocked levels as you advance through the game, and a comprehensive level editor to create even more nefarious concoctions. All of this should keep players busy for quite a while.

Learning Zamby and the Mystical Crystals is quite simple thanks to the well-written tutorial levels that introduce the basics one mission at a time. Zamby (I want to call him Zaxby…I must be hungry) is controlled by using the keyboard or the mouse and moves one square per “turn.” Zamby can push boxes and pick up and ignite bombs. Boxes are used to block an enemy’s view or path and to create temporary bridges over water. Bombs are used to blow stuff up, namely rocks or boxes that absolutely, positively need to be there today. You can also set up us the bomb in a row for a chain reaction of destruction. You must also content with different surfaces: while the default green grass behaves “normally,” ice causes objects to slide until they hit another object, and mud and rocks can’t support box movement.

As if boxes weren’t worrisome enough, there is a variety of monsters that are either stationary or move towards you with each move you make (reminiscent of DROD). The basic stationary wizard fires if nothing stands between you (which sounds like bad song lyrics), spiders move away, a medusa turns you to stone if you face her, knights move like knights in chess (a neat idea, by the way), trolls move towards you twice as fast as you can walk (but can be blocked), and minotaur move directly towards you. A variety of enemies contained in the same map can result in some interestingly complex scenarios, as you are trying to balance the biggest threat while moving around the environment.

Zamby and the Mystical Crystals is a bit limited in your strategic choices since all you can do is move, push boxes, and use bombs. That said, the developers did a good job using these limited resources to create some really challenging puzzles. I’ve become frustrated upon occasion trying to figure out what the developers wanted me to do, since most of the solutions are fairly linear and they don’t offer the flexibility present in a number of other puzzle games. Unlike Eets (a game I finished quite quickly), Zamby and the Mystical Crystals took a long time to get through, especially with all of the levels to navigate. Luckily, you can undo your last move and don’t have to start over from the beginning of each level if you severely mess up. Zamby and the Mystical Crystals might not have the sheer number of “parts” as other puzzle games, but it’s still fun and it comes with a lot of levels to tinker around with.

Zamby and the Mystical Crystals is a good puzzle game for kids or novice players: the controls are very simple and the solutions range from the trivial to the challenging over the course of the game’s many, many levels. You don’t have as many tools at your disposal compared to a lot of other games, so Zamby and the Mystical Crystals ends up being like a more simplified version of Professor Fizzwizzle. The tutorials are informative and the level editor will keep new content streaming for quite a while. Of course, it takes long enough to get through all of the included puzzles as it is, thanks to some challenging creations that allow for only small degrees of change from the correct solution. The enemy pathing is very interesting and the combination of different behaviors on the same map can result in some pleasingly intricate puzzles. So if you enjoy puzzle games, give Zamby and the Mystical Crystals a shot: it might not be the prettiest or most complex game on the market, but it does offer some enjoyable gameplay.