If you were a gamer in the 8-bit and 16-bit generations, you undoubtedly know about the Neo Geo, the world’s foremost home games console in terms of graphics, offering the highest arcade fidelity available and with prices to match. One thing you may not have considered is how solid SNK’s games were on the whole. Not only was the Neo Geo filled to the brim with high-quality arcade titles, but also SNK showed its prowess in game’s development even on the humble Nintendo Famicom with their action RPG Crystalis.
Easily one of the most gorgeous games you will play on Nintendo’s 8-bit system, SNK’s Crystalis is bright and colorful, with large, detailed sprites that fill the screen. It was like Zelda on steroids and is remarkable even today for the level of depth its gameplay offers. The story is basic but convoluted all at the same time in the classic tradition of Japanese RPGs. You play as an anonymous warrior who wakes up after a 100-year cryogenic sleep to save the world. Apparently everything was wiped out by a massive nuclear war 100 years prior and you’re back to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The action is fast paced and persistent – you rarely get any downtime in this game. It remains consistently challenging as well, mixing in platforming elements with traditional action RPG gameplay.
The upgrades, items, and abilities at your character’s disposal are multi-varied and really add something to the game. Not only are most of these elements integrated into the core gameplay, but also they are critical to puzzle solving and rarely is the player given something that is of no use. One criticism of the game is it is a bit obscure, but that is a modern critique as it is par for the course with 8-bit games. Hit detection remains a bit iffy, however, and this adds somewhat to the difficulty. This can be a bit frustrating but, again, the experience is worth it, especially when you consider how outstanding it is in hindsight.
Another area where the game shines is in its soundtrack. A mixture of a more technologically influenced and upbeat The Legend of Zelda, it also recalls fantasy epics like Square’s Final Fantasy and Enix’s Dragon Quest series. Calling it an essential experience is not too much of a stretch as Crystalis offers a lot to even modern gamers.
Upon release Crystalis was praised by critics who cited much of what was discussed above and really only faulted the game for what was perceived to be repetitive gameplay. In fact, the company magazine Nintendo Power placed Crystalis at 115 in their list of the top 200 Famicom games of all time. Despite all of this acclamation, however, Crystalis was not a commercial success and really exists more as a cult classic than anything today. With its charming graphics and awesome score, coupled with surprisingly deep gameplay options and puzzles, Crystalis not only offers modern gamers something to enjoy but also appears modern itself, a true credit to its innovative and timeless spirit.