Probably one of the top games to land on a list of "games you'll never see remade," Crystal Quest isn't even in the memory of many gaming fans. An obscure Mac title (and later Apple II), this shooter offered some different mechanics to help it stand out, including inertia and a focus on collecting. Only one of those makes it into this remake.
Originally programmed for the Apple II by Bill Heineman, Crystal Quest is dated. Included in this Xbox Live Arcade version is that original game, and even when comparing it to the likes of other similar shooters in the Arcade, this one doesn't stand a chance. The concept is simple: collect the crystals, shoot the enemies, and escape through an ever-shrinking hole at the bottom of the screen.
Most of that is kept in this update. However, the basic mechanics have been ripped out. One of the interesting features of the original was the ability to "drop" shots, by using the physics to stop the ships bullets. In other words, the speed of the bullets was directly affected by the movement/speed of the ship. That's not the case here.
In fact, the solid silver ball players control has upgraded to some form of super machine gun, taking a lot of the strategy with it. As such, it doesn't separate itself from the likes of Geometry Wars enough to avoid the direct comparison. What it has going for it are the crystals, which is where the Robotron comparison is brought in.
The difference between the Williams arcade classic and Crystal Quest is that its collectables are stationary. Your ship is required to fly around the screen, weaving between various hazards, and shoot enemies as they pop out of the generators on the sides. The problem is that on the default difficulty and even on the first 30 or so levels, this is dull. It's devoid of intensity, and in most cases, it's better not to shoot at all.
Credit is then due for making Crystal Quest's highest difficulty an entirely different game. From increased enemy speeds, firing rates, and regeneration, this should be the only difficulty level you're playing on. Even then however, the collecting gameplay mechanic on an open environment isn't exciting. A maze environment traps the players to force strategy. Here you're free to collect at will, and by opening up, it only makes this feel pointless like the countless oddball collectables in Donkey Kong Country 64.
Instead, the focus is shifted to the combat on these higher levels, which isn't particularly well thought out either. Since there are no power-ups and the updated graphics make it frustratingly difficult to discern crystals from enemy mines (it would be almost impossible on standard definition TVs), it's repetitive and frustrating. The visual problem is a ridiculous way to force the player into buying various graphical skins for an extra fee from the Live Marketplace.
Crystal Quest doesn't appeal to many people at all, though the inclusion of the original will only catch the eye of nostalgia buffs. Everyone else can spring for the far better (and cheaper with the nearly necessary skins) Geometry Wars and Robotron. Besides, the last thing the Live Arcade needs are more dual-analog shooters.
(** out of *****)