Grab your fedora, hitch a bullwhip to your belt and ready your one-liners about snakes - we're going crystal hunting! Two intrepid adventurers - Thomas and Amelia - are all set to grab all those sparkly gems in their quest for fame and fortune. Pick your favourite and guide them through caves, forests and castles - and watch out for traps!
Crystal Hunters is a retro-style puzzle adventure in which your aim on each level is to collect all the crystals and thus open the exit. Out to stop you in this task are various obstacles (such as crates, doors, "stumps" and even laser beams) and a variety of enemies. Sentinels are bad enough, able to zap you should you be foolish enough to wander into their line of sight, but at least they don't move. Warriors DO move, as do the mostly harmless blockers. But don't worry! Special red crystals will give you useful firepower (good for dealing with stumps) and you can use crates and even crystals as cover.
Your chosen character - as far as I can tell, the difference is entirely cosmetic - is operated by keyboard. Use the arrow keys to move in the four standard directions and the spacebar to fire (when you pick up some red crystals). You can push crates around (and stumps!) in typical Sokoban fashion and this is useful both for blocking sentinels and laser beams and for activating switches. Unusually, crystals themselves also block enemies, so sometimes it pays not to collect them straight away. Details on all the various objects in the game are explained in the tutorial, as narrated by ex-crystal hunter Grampa Buckley, and this is well worth going through.
Retro-themed throughout, Crystal Hunters is built on sprites and squares. All movement is orthogonal (no diagonals here!) and the graphics are simple and vaguely cartoon. There is very little difference between the two avatars beside the colour. Fortunately the game is clear and bright, so it's usually quite easy to tell what everything is, and there are several sets of graphics for the different areas. The cut-scene images are quite variable in style, however, suggesting more than one artist is involved. Sound is also retro, with 8-bit music and effects accompanying the action.
Crystal Hunters is very playable, with the main controls intuitive and the game physics largely obvious. The tutorial is excellent, though it is a little unfair on players trying to move through a level quickly when Grampa Buckley forces you to wait while he's talking - especially when he starts wittering on about the faces on stumps! There is an Undo feature, but while the tutorial mentions how useful this is it didn't tell me how to use it - it's the R key, folks, as I discovered almost by accident. However, while the majority of a level has just one way to solve it, the roaming monsters can lead to a certain amount of randomness.
Levels can be replayed as often as you like and there's a three star rating based on how well you do. To win those three stars, you'll need to complete the level without losing any lives. There's also a medal up for grabs if you can beat the par time - collecting medals unlocks artwork in the gallery, such as concept art. What the game lacks, however, is any obvious way to reset your progress. Want to start again from the beginning? You can replay the levels as much as you like, but your records and medals remain the same.
I had a few hiccups getting started with this game. Installation took several attempts, apparently due to Windows and the .NET framework (between the game and Windows Update, it seems to have got there eventually). I also had two game installers, being versions 1.0 and 1.1, but no instructions on which I needed to install (or perhaps both). I couldn't get 1.1 to work at all at first, so is that one a patch? The lack of instructions is also true of the game itself, with the tutorial helpfully explaining what to do - but not the keys that do it. The lack of mouse support on the main menu surprises me every time, too. It probably shouldn't - the mouse has no function in the rest of the game, either.
It's a good enough game, but nothing really stood out for me - indeed, I often feel that things could be taken further. So far I've only encountered one "power-up" crystal, for instance. One aspect of Crystal Hunters that could be better is the characters. There is virtually no difference between the two hunters, and you can only play one at a time. Simply making them differ in gameplay would be one thing (for instance, Amelia could be faster while Thomas is stronger) but I had something else in mind - the range of puzzles and strategies that could be employed if you were able to play both at once, either as two players or simply switching between them, is enormous. Something to consider for a sequel, perhaps?
Crystal Hunters is far from being a bad game and a fair amount of effort has clearly gone into its production. Somehow, however, it simply doesn't sparkle the way it could do. There's very little here that hasn't been done before, often better. I hope that DreamRoot Studios will continue with their efforts - there is room for improvement, but they have already proven themselves determined enough to see a project through. Crystal Hunters 2 will, I'm sure, be fantastic.
Keywords: crystal hunters review, dreamroot studios reviews, dreamroot studios games, crystal hunters scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.