Overall Score 82%
Zamby and the Mystical Crystals
Perhaps one of the most difficult Bytten reviews for me to date comes to you this week as I set out to extol the virtues of "Zamby and the Mystical Crystals". It is akin to asking somebody who doesn't like the taste of banana at all to judge the world's best banana bread. Truth be told, Zamby is not the type of game that I enjoy playing very much. Obviously, this does not make it a bad game in my opinion. On the contrary, I feel that Zamby does many things right and a few things exceptionally well. It is such a complete package that I almost feel guilty for not enjoying it. Plainly, a lot of work and dedication has gone into its production.
As a turn based puzzle game, the object of Zamby is for the player-controlled main character (that would be Zamby the Quonk) to collect all of the magic crystals strewn across numerous levels. Attempting to foil his plan are various enemies that must be avoided, such as wizards, trolls and spiders. Each of the enemy types has a distinctive attack or ability which the player will need to come to terms with on the path to victory. For example, the Medusa can turn Zamby into stone simply by fixating him with her gaze, however she cannot move and, as long as Zamby does not face her, she is harmless. There are the standard boxes which will need to be moved around the map in order to block enemies or to achieve progress through a level, and bombs that can be used creatively to blow away obstacles or otherwise manipulate the environment.
Enemy movement occurs straight after Zamby has moved, however the concept takes a little getting used to, as it does in games such as DROD. Certain enemies will react to the movement patterns of Zamby in specific ways, even though at first it can seem that both move simultaneously. The game introduces new concepts as the story progresses, and while some of the puzzles themselves are quite fiendish, the learning curve for the game mechanics is well managed. All of the maps are made up from square tiles but the optional grid that can be toggled on or off was a welcomed feature for me. If the player is completely stumped on a level they can first get a hint, and if that doesn't help, the solution can be viewed immediately and in real-time. There is an unlimited undo feature that can be used to trace back to the point of error on any map, but if all seems lost, the level can be easily restarted from scratch at any time.
A superfluous yet imaginative storyline accompanies the game, details of which I will not spoil you with. Levels must be completed in a somewhat linear nature, but there are two separate campaigns. One is definitely for experienced puzzle gamers and one is for the "kids". The kids campaign does contain some tricky puzzles and is not completed as easily as you might think. Also shipping with the game is a fully featured and easy to use level editor that can be utilised to create your own maps to be shared with other players.
I like the way that control can be via the mouse or keyboard - different players will feel more comfortable with one or the other. Speaking of which, multiple player profiles are available to be created on the same installation. All option and interface screens are clear and easily navigated.
The artwork used in-game is very attractive even though by today's standards the graphics are kept simple. The sprites are well drawn and the animations are reasonably good. The game looks attractive and is colourful and cute. Coupled with the fact that Zamby boasts non-violent gameplay, this could make it an ideal game for the whole family. The background tunes and sound effects are well suited and of good quality.
Dig only slightly beneath the cute and furry exterior of Zamby and ironically you'll find a puzzler that demands concentration and analytical thinking in the order of some of the most tricky games out there. On the personal level, the game feels a little too abstract for me and confuses and frustrates more often than it provides fun and enjoyment. To its credit, the undo and hint features make this a little less painful, but watching the 20 second solution to a puzzle that stymied me for half an hour made me want to head-butt my PC.
If you, like me, are not a true puzzle game afficionado, buying Zamby and the Mystical Crystals is not going to magically turn you into one overnight. Regardless, it is one of the best (if not the best) example of its genre available because it brings together gameplay and features that should be but sadly aren't standard fare on the majority of puzzle games out there.
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