Crystal Wizard Review
Developer: Tates Colony
Reviewed on PC
Official Site: tatescolony.com/games/games.php
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 200 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Windows 95 or more recent operating system
Perhaps it's a thaumaturgical exercise. Perhaps it's just straightforward entertainment. Either way, Crystal Wizard is a casual game with familiar elements from games such as Puzzle Bobble and Pachinko, all tied together with a mystical theme.
Crystal Wizard combines a lot of elements that other games have perfected, and combines them into a new and interesting package that, above all, offers flexible and entertaining gameplay. You control a wizard's hand, dropping crystal spheres into the play area. You can drop the colored spheres straight down or throw them with some force at an angle for directed shots or creative ricochets. Unlike typical Puzzle Bobble-style games, you move your hand around the drop area at the top of the screen, throw balls at the base of the play area, and have to contend with gravity's pull. Much of the time, your goal is simply to get three balls of the same color touching (horizontally or vertically), at which point those balls will be annihilated and converted to points. Larger combinations score more points, and if falling balls create more combinations you will create chain reactions for more points and a score multiplier.
Things get a little more complicated. There is a tinted line (called the Flood Line). If the crystals stack past this line (except to destroy a combination) the game is over. The Drop Area (the region from which you can drop or throw crystals) can change, and doesn't have to extend far down or all the way to the sides of the field. The goal isn't always just to stockpile points or eliminate all crystals from the field. Sometimes you will need to hit targets to clear a level. That means placing a crystal of the correct color in a specific location. Sometimes elements of Pachinko machine play will get in your way, also. Pegs or ramps can block clear paths to the bottom of the play field, bouncing the crystals you throw in different directions. Should everything above sound complicated, Crystal Wizard has an excellent tutorial that will walk you through every aspect of the game, step by step.
The main game in Crystal Wizard contains forty levels of play, each progressively more difficult than the last. This is the mode for those who want to rack up the highest scores, and should your game end you can restart on your current level or restart from any level for which you have the password. The levels are entertaining and well crafted, although many of them have a specific gimmick as a solution, or just require mastery of angular shots. If you restart occasionally, although you may not climb the high score board, you will be able to quickly complete the forty levels. The levels also span a nice variety of objectives, from point goals to eliminating all balls to hitting all the targets. Many of these objectives have to be completed under a time limit.
The longevity of Crystal Wizard comes from the bonus games. There are six of these, and they are like separately accessible levels that can be easily replayed. The six gamers are: Spree has you trying to score as many points as possible on the field in one hundred seconds. Haste has you working to remove every ball from a small playing field in sixty seconds. Swank has you trying to achieve a high score with a full field and six hundred seconds. Heave has you shooting for specific targets with plenty of pegs and obstacles. Peril clears all balls from a perilously-full playing field with pegs. Limbo has a large number of targets to hit, some suspended quite high in the playing field.
What Crystal Wizard really needs to dramatically improve its playability is a simple randomization, that would present you with a new field of crystals and pegs each time. Evens so, many of the game's features (such as the Flood Line and Drop Area) can be manually configured by the player to create infinite variations on the gameplay.
Crystal Wizard does present the entire game in a polished package, with simple but pleasant effects, attractive backgrounds and good sound for a casual game. Save for the lack of randomized gameplay, and in no small part due to an excellent tutorial, were price not an object, Crystal Wizard would be an easy game to recommend. You can easily play a demo version of the game on the web to better understand the title. If you want the full version, it would ordinarily run you just under $20. For the holidays, Tates Colony is offering it for under $15. Frictionless Insight's score system is based not only on the quality of a title, but on its price. This title would be a good value for $10. It's a fun and polished game, but $15 is ultimately a touch high.