Confusion. My overriding memories of watching Channel 4's The Crystal Maze are ones of confusion, with the endearingly nutty Richard O'Brien leaping around the set, talking at a hundred miles an hour and shoving contestants into small rooms where they had to divert water flow or solve Egyptian maths puzzles. For the only-recently-schooled, that's confusing.
This was part of Channel 4's teatime family output, and it became something of a national institution. Its mini-game nature also means that it's the perfect material for an appearance on the mobile, and Dynamo Games has certainly taken steps to rekindle memories of the show; namely, the confusion remains. Confusion, and perhaps a new tinge of disappointment, because while utterly faithful to the original TV show, The Crystal Maze doesn't quite deliver as you might expect.
First things first, of course, and anyone looking for an authentic Crystal Maze experience will have little to complain about here. As in the original show, teams of six enter the Maze's four areas: Futuristic, Aztec, Industrial and Medieval. Presented by original host and creator himself O'Brien – complete with his nonsensical but nevertheless entertaining ramblings – players choose one of 16 characters seemingly scooped straight from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon to take on the role of captain.
Five other randomly picked characters then join the line-up, each with particular skills that you have to bear in mind when choosing who to shove through the door. Each of the game's four sections comes with five different games, of which three can be played. With mental tasks, mystery games, skill tests and physical challenges, the aim of each game is, of course, to pick up the crystal and escape each room before time runs out.
This is where Dynamo's The Crystal Maze often serves up its portion of disappointment. While it would be unfair to suggest that The Crystal Maze's package of mini-games aren't true, at least in spirit, to the original TV series, the truth is that the majority of them just aren't much fun. In fact, a fair selection feel like more trouble than they're worth.
That's because the instructions that precede the games – instructions that frustratingly cannot be viewed during actual play – are more descriptive than they are practical, meaning you'll often be thrust straight into the quagmire without a clue as to what you're meant to be doing, the clock ticking away as you blunder.
This is, of course, a problem that diminishes with each play through as you familiarise yourself with the ways of each challenge – and there are certainly enough nice touches to encourage a re-run. For instance, friendly advice from teammates scrolls across the top of the screen during each game depending on your performance, nicely echoing the original TV show, and O'Brien's famous 'Mumsie' (that's code for an old woman sitting in a chair) even makes an appearance.
The challenges themselves vary in terms of difficulty. The Physical tests are mainly platform in nature, with players having to traverse a small level, picking up the crystal and making it back to the start before time runs out. Skill contests are similar, though the difficultly level is ramped up. Mental games often revolve around piecing a puzzle together, while the Mystery levels range from mazes to copying a light sequence or pattern.
Each crystal won gives you five seconds in the final game, while failing a challenge – either by running out of time or exhausting the three lives handed out with each task – results in the player in question being locked in the room for the rest of the game. Unless, that is, a crystal is traded in to release the character. It's just as difficult a trade-off in this game as it was in reality.
The final Crystal Dome game is very well realised, with hands at the bottom of the screen able to move left and right to catch as many falling gold tickets as possible in the time available. However, true to O'Brien's original concept, catching silver tickets is inevitable and to the player's detriment, as each silver ticket takes one gold off the final total. But, as with the rest of the package, it's nothing if not authentic.
Indeed, The Crystal Maze's only problem is that some of the games are, though imaginative, frustrating to play and a little fiddly in practice. Dedication is needed to get the best out of Dynamo's package, with most gamers likely to fall short of success on their first or even second play. That said, as an ode to a TV classic, The Crystal Maze makes more than a decent attempt at recapturing the spirit of the original. Confusion and all.