Crystal Castles was an old arcade game released by Atari Games way back in 1983, and was also available for the Atari 2600 video game console. This arcade version was programmed by Franz X. Lanzinger, while the home version was done by Peter C. Niday.

The story

Guide Bentley Bear on a quest to gather as many gems as possible. These gems are scattered all over an isometric castle landscape. Finish all ten worlds and you beat the game.

The game

You control Bentley Bear with a trackball, or a joystick in the case of the Atari 2600 version. You must move all over the roads of each castle in an attempt to collect as many gems as possible, before your enemies gobble them up. This is a similar concept to Pac-Man, but the game feels completely different, and is not simply a Pac-Clone. Each level is finished when either Bentley or an enemy collects the last gem. Always try to grab the last one yourself, as it is worth a substantial bonus, and poor Bentley is going to need all the points he can get to make it through all ten worlds.

Your main enemies are the centipede-like "Gem Eaters" who wander around swallowing up the gems that Bentley so desperately craves. You can kill them by moving over them while they are standing still (eating a gem), although this is easier said then done. Your other enemies include trees, skeletons, bees, and Berthilda the witch. Most of the other enemies must be avoided, but Berthilda can be killed by picking up the magic hat and running into her. While trees can be stunned simply by jumping over them.

The Machine

There were two different Crystal Castles cabinets, an upright and a cocktail. Both of these were highly detailed and covered with decorations. The upright had a production run of 4880 and the cocktail had a production run of 500.

The Crystal Castles upright was one of the best looking cabinets ever made. It is sort of colored white, and has huge painted sideart of Bentley Bear gathering gems in the castle. I simply can't do this sideart justice with a text description. You are just going to have to see it for yourself. The marquee has a futuristic looking logo flanked with two in game scenes on a black background. There is a second mini-marquee over the speaker are that has a large Atari logo. For some reason that logo ends up going missing on many machines, and don't believe sellers when they say it is a cheap or easy part to find, because it isn't. The control panel continues the same graphical scheme as the rest of the machine. It has a standard trackball mounted centrally with fire/start buttons on either side. These trackballs eventually become worn out or damaged, and are mildly expensive to replace.

The cocktail version has no sideart, very few cocktail machines do. But the top glass is nicely decorated and the control panel art matches the upright version. The players sit across from each other on this version, and the on screen image flips over to face whichever player is currently controlling Bentley Bear.

Where to play

Crystal Castles was ported to the Atari 2600 in 1984. These cartridges are still quite common, and easy to obtain on eBay, or even in your local junk shop. The arcade version is much better, but the home version is decent enough to spend some spare time playing.

This is one of the few expensive "classic" titles I have ever considered adding to my arcade game collection (who knows, you may want it too). It has a very attractive cabinet, and can be played over and over again without getting old. This title seems to be valued at about $300 USD, for a decent working copy (prices based on 2002 eBay sale prices for this title). Examine the trackball mechanism, and make sure the Atari logo near the speaker is still intact, as those are the two main problems with used machines. The Atari logo is not required for the machine to work, but this machine had a particularly large logo, and they always seem to be missing from used machines. This is probably because the logo was easy to remove, and very cool looking.

Update Wednesday, November 13, 2002

I just purchased my very own Crystal Castles machine. It is an upright, and is in pretty good condition. The trackball and monitor have both been rebuilt and the game is working all the way.

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