Crystal Caves is coming back, but which other Apogee classics are worth revisiting?
Good god, they’re doing Crystal Caves HD. Just look at it. It’s exactly what I want to see from remakes – exactly replicating the play control (apparently), improving the graphics, adding a new episode of stages and – wonderfully – a WYSIWYG level editor with Steam Workshop support.
I’ve got mad love for Apogee, who in my view maintain robust foundations within my taste in “computered games”; long-time readers (and viewers of my terrible YouTube videos nobody watches) will know that I actively value aesthetics over what’s traditionally termed “gameplay”, simply because if a game doesn’t look right it can’t possibly feel right. Apogee’s platform games – the focus of this ATT – could be politely termed “janky”, or “stiff”. But because the graphics have that charming amateurisness to them, it all works. And now, I’m going to talk about which games work the best.
All Together Then!
Crystal Caves (1991, DOS)
Apogee’s simplest platformer, Crystal Caves is also one of its most iconic – hence the excellent-looking HD remake. Taking control of loser miner Mylo Steamwitz, you’ve got to intuitively jump and blast your way through three episodes of gem-hunting goodness. The movement is smooth and the PC speaker sound tickles the nostalgia gland nicely. The real trick to Crystal Caves is Mylo’s abject lack of ammunition; it’s hard to come by, so shots have to be preserved carefully. Additionally, a misplaced rocket could at any time knock out the air supply to the cave, killing the player instantly. The game is laced with traps – enemies bursting from walls, toxic corpses blocking corridors, and tiny two-pixel visual clues of spikes popping out of the ground. It’s hard, but fun, with that early Commander Keen maze-like level design that’s extremely evocative of this era of DOS platform games.
Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure (1992, DOS)
Cosmo himself is a deeply unappealing character; like a bizarre cross between a cereal mascot and Spotty from Superted, I can honestly say nothing would give me more pleasure than drowning him. But I digree. Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure is a pretty good and interesting game, with graphical eyes larger than most PC’s metaphorical stomachs of the time. It has a nice lined in multi-layer parallax scrolling, but at the cost of the game running with any degree of smoothness whatsoever. It’s jerky scrolling all the way, but not enough to make the game unfun. In essence it’s a slightly more breezy platformer than Crystal Caves, with more linear stage design and Cosmo’s suction cup hands letting him climb walls in a quasi-Mega Man X style. It’s all very impressive-looking and aims to emulate the console platformers of its day, but unfortunately it’s a touch too meandering. It’d be interesting to see this one remade with a better framerate, to truly let it be judged on its own design merits rather than as a technical flop.
Monster Bash (1993, DOS)
Possibly Apogee’s finest platformer, Monster Bash is a swell time from start to finish. Taking control of the wretched Johnny Dash, you’ve got to make your way through a series of spooky locales, rescuing kidnapped cats and dogs by shooting rocks from your catapult at their cages – not entirely unlike Cool Spot, actually. Movement is stiff, but in a satisfying way. The levels are expansive without feeling spaced-out, and there are secrets and puzzles everywhere. It’s also a bit of a looker, utilising its limited colours to create a vividly EC comics-esque horror show. The gore effects as you mow down zombies with your projectiles are genuinely funny, especially the way their heads fly off and roll after you. It’s a brilliantly-made treat to play and I’d recommend it to this day. It’s just a shame it never saw any console ports. Come to think of it, I’m not sure any Apogee projects did.
Realms of Chaos (1995, DOS)
A bizarre release, Realms of Chaos came out in very late 1995, around the same time as Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. It’s odd, then, to see such a defiantly old-school 2D video game released in the same shareware manner as so many previous games when the rulebook had been so comprehensively rewritten by Rareware’s ape-’em-up classic. You switch between warrior Endrick and sorcerer Elandra, the former utilising crushing strength and the latter able to throw out long-rang projectiles in the form of spells. Ultimately, this amounts to a rather good-looking but extremely dated platform game, which will be appreciated by genre fans but was likely met with bemusement by the Windows 95 users of the time. Before the indie revolution it became rare to see side-scrolling platformers on PC; Jazz Jackrabbit 2 and Claw basically held up the genre for a long while, though you got the odd anomaly such as the first two Oddworld games. Still, Realms of Chaos is an Amiga-esque treat and well worth your time. It’s available on Steam and GoG; all these games are, in fact. Which is nice.