The Dark Crystal (On-Line Systems) - 1983

This review is part of the “Let’s Adventure!” series. See all reviewed games sorted by rating here.

The Dark Crystal is a graphic adventure game based on Jim Henson’s 1982 fantasy film, The Dark Crystal. The game was designed by Roberta Williams and was the first Hi-Res Adventure directly released under the SierraVenture label in 1983.

The Dark Crystal is closely based on Jim Henson’s film of the same name. The game is set in Thra, a world with three suns, which come together every thousand years in an event known as “The Great Conjunction”. The player controls Jen, the last survivor of the Gelfings, a race of mole-like people. He must find a dark crystal and its broken shard, and repair it to end the reign of a tyrannical lord.

Like other installments of the Hi-Res Adventures series, the game is entirely text-based, with non-animated graphics to illustrate the areas. Movement between areas and interaction with the game world is performed by typing commands consisting of either one or two words (a combination of a verb and an object).1

You interact with the game world via the text parser. Though the verb/noun combinations you need to identify to progress from screen to screen are pretty easy to figure out, I did find myself getting stuck on occasion when the game expected an obtuse sequence of commands. Navigation is handled by going in a direction (EAST, NORTH) and typically when you enter a new screen (or LOOK at it) everything you need to know or interact with is called out pretty clearly.

This screen took me forever to get past

This game follows the plot of the movie The Dark Crystal, so I’m guessing if you’re a fan - or have seen it recently - maybe some of these puzzles would make a bit more sense. There is one section where you need to get into the castle where the solution is to get Fizzgig to climb through the bars of a door to get a key that’s on the other side.

On the surface this type of puzzle isn’t really challenging, but up to this point in the game you have not had to interact with a multi-part prompt where you issue multiple commands with no feedback after entering the first. You have to SEND FIZZGIG through the bars, but when you send him it just says something like “Where?”. The response is then SEND BARS (or maybe just BARS) but if you do this wrong you have to start over and it’s not clear you were even on the right track to begin with.

Oh look, I’ve died again

Being such an early adventure game I’m ok with slightly obtuse puzzles, and being a Sierra game, I expect death around every corner. And you will die on most screens.

Though there isn’t any music throughout the game and limited sound effects, the scene drawing for a game released in 1983 really isn’t that bad. My main complaint would be that there are so few colours presented that it’s basically monochrome, but this is likely due to the Apple II only having 6 colors to choose from (Ken Williams would enhance the ADL interpreter to support dithering and expand that palette to 21 colours2).

There are a handful of items you can pick up and use throughout the game, but these are few and far between. It does vary the gameplay a little and add some depth to a couple puzzles. Unlike later Sierra titles you won’t find yourself overwhelmed with options, and every item you pick up is almost immediately useful, so try everything you pick up on the screen you found it!

The movie this game is based on isn’t something I have fond memories of (or really any memory of), so playing through this game doesn’t really stir up any nostalgia. I’m sure it follows the plot pretty closely, and if you enjoyed the movie you’ll likely enjoy the game.

For a very early graphical adventure game it’s definitely well done and really shows off the power of the ADL engine. If you’re an interactive fiction fan you’ll likely enjoy this experience, but otherwise this one’s probably not worth playing through.

Game Information

GameThe Dark Crystal
DeveloperOn-Line Systems
PublisherOn-Line Systems
Release Date1983
SystemsApple II, Atari 8-bit
Game EngineADL

My Playthrough

How Long To Beat?3 hours
Version PlayedApple II via ScummVM


See here for a refresher on how we’re scoring these games.

Atmosphere (20)9
Story (25)13
Experience (15)6
Impact (10)3


This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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