OK, it's official. There is now a glut of "one stick moves, the other stick shoots" games on Xbox Live Arcade. The latest in line is Stainless Games' Crystal Quest, a remake of a 1987 shooter for the Macintosh. This game does get tough, especially when you play on the harder difficulty settings, but its difficulty feels much different from other, similar games, such as Robotron: 2084 and Geometry Wars. Whether that difference is enough to make Crystal Quest worth a purchase depends on how hooked you are on this surprisingly crowded genre.
The goal in Crystal Quest goes beyond mere shooting. In each level, there are crystals lying around that must be collected. Picking up all of the crystals will open up a gate at the bottom of the level, which you must pass through to reach the next stage. Two portals on either side of the level spew enemies into the level; you must deal with them either by shooting them or by unleashing a smart bomb, which will clear out all the enemies, as well as any mines that the enemies may have laid. On higher difficulty settings, mines become a real problem, so you'll occasionally need to use smart bombs to clear a path to certain crystals.
On the default difficulty setting, it takes 20 or 30 levels for things to get going, which makes this setting rather boring. Pumping the game up to its hardest difficulty setting, though, makes the game far more entertaining and frantic. The points you earn are scaled accordingly, so it's much easier to get higher scores when the difficulty is increased. One glance at the game's online leaderboards will tell you that you'll need to play on this setting if you hope to compete with other players.
In addition to the main game, you can play in classic mode, which brings you back to the original version of the game. This version doesn't have the dual-joystick, Robotron thing going on. Instead, you can only fire in the direction you're moving in, and your shot speed is determined by how quickly you're moving. The sound effects are also pretty funny, with most of them being generated from human speech, including the ever-popular "boing!"
Graphically, the main game looks better than the classic mode, but it's still incredibly plain. You are a sphere. The background is static and uninteresting. Most of the enemy designs aren't particularly interesting. The graphics are functional, but they most definitely won't impress you. Also, the sound is dull. There's one music track that repeats itself until you go crazy and turn it off. The effects aren't quite what you'd expect: Picking up a crystal makes a squeak-toy sound, collecting all the crystals makes a bell go off, and so on. Much like the graphics, they're functional, but not all that great.
Crystal Quest has downloadable content support. Nothing is currently available for download, but updated graphics and sound packs, as well as a pack that makes the game even harder (and the scores even higher) are in some stage of planning.
At 400 points ($5 at the standard conversion rate), Crystal Quest is a solid game that could have used some better presentational aspects. When put up against the surprisingly deep competition for this style of game on Xbox Live Arcade, it falls a little flat. Still, if you're finished with Robotron, Smash TV, and Geometry Wars, and you're looking for some similar action, Crystal Quest is exactly that.