the artistry and psychology of gaming


Crystal Towers 2

Crystal Towers 2

As we move into the month of March, I can’t help but feel as if the year is already beginning to slip away from me. Like its namesake, the month of March is a continuous reminder to us all that time just keeps marching along, always keeping its forward progress; the changing of the seasons, the dawning of new life, and for what it’s worth around the world, spring training kicks off for Major League Baseball.

But hold on, folks; I haven’t finished talking about last year yet! Over the year, I’d gone through a number of great games that I’ve said at one point or the other, “hey, I should review this!” So in order to finally get these projects off of my plate, I’ve decided to suspend my regular feature Gaming on the House for the month of March to focus on a few games from last year that I did pay for. I don’t only play free games, after all!

First up is a pretty great indie project from June 2011 that I can definitely say is quite a bit bigger than it initially seems (I say this because it took quite a bit of time before I felt I had enough information to properly review it!).

Sonic got a chaos emer… hmm, never mind

To quote the developer’s words, Crystal Towers 2 is a “90s-styled hub-based sort of Metroidish-Mario 64ish platform game.” While that sounds like a bit of a mess of cheap name-dropping, I would say the description ultimately holds up, as the game is somewhat of an expansive hybrid in several genre directions, reflective of influences from many titles without stealing from any of them. It’s fairly common for a game to fall into a simple mimicry of games that have come before, however Crystal Towers 2 seems to skirt the issue by only pulling specific aspects from a single series and combining it with others to create a style of play that’s both familiar and unique at once.

To speak about some of the more noticeable connections that I picked up on, title screens and level designs of the individual worlds are very reminiscent of 2D Sonic the Hedgehog, while the act of revisiting each of them to accomplish different objectives are more reflective of Sonic Adventure 1 & 2. Level objectives vary greatly, pulling mostly from styles of play found in PC platformers like Jazz Jackrabbit, and Commander Keen; but also some that make use of the game’s combo system, requiring the player to chain moves together for points similar to extreme sports games. The game is also littered with collectables approaching Banjo-Kazooie levels of variety, and many of those collectables get put to use with the game’s crafting system more commonly reserved for modern RPGs, which in turn gain you spells and abilities to further boost your platforming and battling skills like in Metroid. Pull it all together with an expanding hub world based on your item count (I guess that’s where Super Mario 64 comes in) and you have Crystal Towers 2 in a nutshell; an action platformer at its core with a few special surprises along the way.

Now that may cover the general mechanics of CT2, however there’s more to be said for its overall quality, the first of which is the game’s size. In short, the game is massive. 33 levels can be accessed from the hub world, and each have their own set of objectives to complete individually, making for over 300 individual level runs, let alone the times you’ll die and restart, or go back in at will to grab a few of extra crafting items. Levels are sprawling, with multiple routes to the end, and each contain many secrets and items to help you out either immediately or later on. The game’s combo system is also fun to tool around with, even when not being directly called on for its use, giving some fun points-based play coupled with online leaderboards on the game’s website. If you find a lot to like about the gameplay in CT2 (and I did), you have the added bonus of having a lot of it to like as well.


The game further excels in some of the finer touches, exhibiting a level of polish and attention to detail not always encountered with independent projects. In particular, the written dialogue and narrative within the game is filled with some excellent understated sarcasm and wit that seems to complement the game’s imposed graphical constraints very well. Perhaps it takes an aged gamer to recognize humor in the slow processing speeds of the past instead of frustration, but in CT2 when certain scenes mimic them, there’s usually a well timed line that when taking the words together with the movement on screen and scrolling speeds of the text, become quite comical. Not to go off on a tangent about the de-evolution of video game humor into the crude and repetitive, but I should also note that the humor in CT2 is also funny, beginning as soon as you name your file’s character.

Music is equally charming, with a host of whimsical chiptunes that go very will with each of the distinctive levels. Many tunes do come off as reminiscent of other games; that’s not to say they’re pulling from other works, but they fall under certain unwritten tropes towards matching music with level settings. While nothing will sound incredibly new, nothing sounds out of place either, which is I think what the game needed, as there is already a considerable amount of variety in the settings being covered. The theme of the game itself is very music oriented (similar to Link’s Awakening, you are tasked with retrieving the land’s magical instruments) which offers a cheerful and entertaining plot that never feels out of place, being far enough away that it doesn’t distract from the individual levels, yet present enough to allow for some continued incentive.

The game’s variety is also furthered graphically to the individual level components, where native environmental hazards, enemy representations, and design schemes are all in place to offer a fair amount of thematic separation for each place. While objectives may be similar, a great deal of care has gone in to creating a unique experience over and over with each level run without dissolving into tedium.

Bosses take a lot of hits, which is always a plus for me!

The game is not without a few disagreements however; the area which stands out to me the most is in the game’s platforming, although perhaps this is more an area to simply get used to within the game world. It’s that many of the hills and higher platforms feature overhangs the character can get stuck on. If you don’t jump from far enough away you’ll jump up to get blocked by a seemingly inconsequential piece of land. I can see how the overhangs are ultimately more visually appealing for the hilltops, however I would have preferred the walls to go straight up with nothing else blocking your way.

The second is that as much as I enjoy the variety in objectives being presented, I can’t help but think that certain objectives could be completed en-route to completing others. Super Mario 64, for example allowed for players to collect 100 coins to get a star on the way to fulfilling the objective they originally signed on for. Giving this same treatment to some of the objectives (timed runs, no damage runs, or point combos, for example) may have benefitted the game in the long run, instead of calling for the player to hop back in from the start.

Lastly, and this may speak more to my own reluctance to part with items (for fear I’ll need them later), but I’m not sure if I’ve really used the crafting system to its full potential. After a while, creating things from the magical organ in the center of the game world is fairly easy considering you’ve probably amassed a large number of any of the required ingredients, however my actual use of most recipes has been situational at best. I still very much enjoyed that the system was there; I just feel like I may have missed out on some of its opportunities.

These concerns are minor, and ultimately don’t detract from the overall experience, which is still a blast to keep plugging through. For those that like 100% completing games, CT2 provides a real goldmine for all kinds of challenges, each with different payouts. For those that like to power through a game’s story without a whole lot of extras, you can reach the end before the 50% mark and still enjoy the games platforming precision, exciting boss battles, and colorful locations.

Crystal Towers 2 can be downloaded from the developer’s site, downloaded from Desura, and several other software sites as well. There’s a demo version available that will get you through a few levels and a boss battle, but at an asking price of only $5.00, it’s really a terrific investment for the amount there is to do!

One Comment

  1. Hello
    this’s very cool news

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