Over the years, I've amassed a rather large collection of retro computer systems, game consoles, games and more. The Retro Reviews will feature my personal take on some of these games, systems and consoles. After all, what good is a retro computer/game themed website without some stuff about the games we used to play back in the 80s and 90s?

To start of, I will review a game for the TurboGrafx-16 (also known as the PC Engine in Japan). The game is Cratermaze, a cute game where you dig holes to stop evil monsters and collect items and keys to get from one level to the next.
The title screen of Cratermaze (source: Jeroen Knoester)
Above: the title screen of Cratermaze.
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Game
Cratermaze
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System
TurboGrafx 16 / PC Engine
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Year
1990
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Region
PAL / NTSC-A / NTSC-J (as Doraemon)
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Players
1
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Saving
Passwords or save using system memory
In Cratermaze you play the unlucky Opi who, while on a vacation through time with his friends, sees all of them kidnapped by Kublai - dedicated follower of the evil Zenzombie. Naturally, Opi decides to rescue them forthwith!

To do so, Opi travels through time and visits maze after maze (there are 60 levels in all) and collects treasure chests. After collecting 16 of them, you have to find the key to the next level. Collect that and you can leave through a rather large door.

Even though the game features a rather neat introduction, it's never explained why collecting treasure will help save your friends. My personal guess is that Kublai and Zenzombie are seriously low on cash after hiring all those goons & aliens to try and kill you and decided to ransom your friends.

Every fifteen levels, you free one of your friends from the evil clutches of Mr. Zenzombie. Levels 30 and 60 feature a 'boss fight' versus Kublai in level 30 and Zenzombie in level 60. These fights see you play on an empty field rather than a maze and have many more enemies that try to kill you.

Still, even on the boss levels you have to collect 16 chests - there is no other way to continue and you cannot hurt the bosses in any other way.

The game has two difficulty levels: normal, which is actually quite easy and difficult, which is indeed rather difficult. There is also a passcode system to be able to continue at a later time (if you have the CD-ROM extension or a 'turbobooster', you can save to their built in memory instead).
To stop monsters in Cratermaze, you dig holes (source: Jeroen Knoester)
Above: to stop monsters in Cratermaze, you dig holes.
The game starts out with a rather nicely done and quite humorous introduction, which introduces us to Opi, his friends and the evil looking Kublai - who promptly kidnaps your friends. Then it's off to maze after maze of collecting treasure chests.

Each maze takes place in one of five time periods which all have their own set of enemies and (sometimes) other hazards specific to the time period you are in. The time periods are primitive, samurai, war, modern time and future. The game rotates through these, so each new level looks and sounds somewhat different from the previous one.

While collecting treasure, the game sends various aliens and goons your way to try and stop you. To defeat most of them, you can dig holes in the ground - when the enemy falls in, closing the hole up again kills them. Some enemies (such as the flying fish or cavemen) cannot be defeated by doing this, you'll have to time your movement as to avoid getting hit by them instead.

Killing enemies leaves a little gravestone marker, these are counted at the end of the level - you get a bonus for every one of them. Those markers also block your ability to dig new holes, which can be nasty on the difficult mode (as there are lots of enemies on the difficult mode so you tend to fill up the area with gravestones quickly). Every enemy respawns eventually, so it may be best to ignore them altogether.

The mazes themselves can contain springboards, doors and teleporters to aid or hinder you, as well as water and caves. It never gets hard to navigate the maze you're in, but there can be a bit of teleporting about and backtracking to get the chests you need.

On top of the enemies and environment, the game also makes you to play against a time limit. On normal mode, this is such an incredibly friendly time limit there is no real rush. On difficult, you need to keep moving or you'll run out of time.

To even the odds, the game has a variety of power ups, including shovels to dig more than one hole every time you dig, guns to shoot the enemies, boots to speed up, freezing ice which freezes the enemies, bombs and more.
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Above: even the evil Zenzombie has dedicated followers!
On normal mode, the game takes a leisurely approach. You'll get plenty of time, few enemies, the key to open the end of level door is always located right next to the final chest and the holes you dig can be walked over.

It's a nice, almost soothing experience to play like this, though it can get boring after a while. Mainly because there are lots of levels and it never gets so hard as to become a true challenge. Even the boss fights are quite doable on normal without losing lives.

Even if you do get game over on normal mode, the game gives you infinite continues so you'll reach the end eventually.

The difficult mode, now that is a different story.

Unlike the leisurely pace of normal mode, everything is out to get you: the time limit is much, much shorter - forcing you to get a move on. There are many, many more enemies and they respawn quicker. Level lay-out is made more tricky. The holes you dig can now kill you. And to top this off, you also get fewer lives.

In essence, the game feels totally different on the difficult mode. It's much closer to a game you'd see in the arcades of the 80's / 90's this way, so if you find normal mode too easy, do try the harder difficult mode - this should give a nice challenge!

All in all, Cratermaze is a nice little collect-em-up with part Loderunner thrown in. Fun to pick up an play in short bouts, it does get a bit samey if you play it in long stretches. The normal mode is easy (and after a while, too easy), while the difficult mode is a good and fun arcade experience. Short cutscenes enhance the game's presentation above the usual fare.
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Conclusion & Rating
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My Cratermaze card (source: Jeroen Knoester)
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Graphics
Nice title screen and cutscenes. Colourful but simple in game graphics with plenty of sprites on screen.
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Sound
Great music, with lots of tunes. Sound FX are okay but not great.
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Controls
Fluent and precise, the game controls very well.
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Personal take
I quite like this game. It is rather simple, but it's cute visuals, nice sound and great controls have me coming back for more. The difficult mode has that hectic arcade feeling and the normal mode lets you play the game and relax. All in all, a solid game.
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Overall rating

7 / 10