Best Games - Cameltry
Sometimes games get lost. Even great ones.
A singularly brilliant idea and design, a game that should have spawned endless sequels and copycats, just disappears.
Cameltry is one of those. A forgotten gem.
The game itself is beyond simple to describe. A marble is dropped in a maze. The only thing the marble will do on its own is fall. The player of the game has no direct agency over the marble. The only thing the player can do, is spin the maze. By spinning the maze, you direct the path of the marble. Get the marble to the goal, repeat on the next maze. That’s the whole game.
There are, of course, some additional wrinkles. You have a limited amount of time to reach the goal. You can press a button to hop the marble a bit, or hold it down to speed the marbles fall. There are different obstacles and bonuses spread through the mazes that you will need to deal with.
There is no story to speak of. No indication of where the name comes from. There is an appearance from a goddess of space and time, but the reasons for that are never provided. None of the backgrounds seem to have anything to do with the maze game happening in front of them, and none of them seem to be connected to each other. The strict, beautiful, mechanics of directing a ball through a maze is the only through line for Cameltry, and that’s all that it needs.
The game, designed at Taito and released in 1989, sets out to do one thing, and does that one thing so extraordinarily well. It is almost unbelievable that we aren’t playing Cameltry XV right now. And yet, here we are, living in a world where most people have never even heard of the game.
When the arcade game got its eventual computer and SNES ports, it was renamed On the Ball. A slightly more memorable name, but nothing that stuck as a franchise. There was a version for the DS and iPhone called Labyrinth, but none of them gained any traction.
Maybe it’s because the game is so singular, so perfectly unadorned and uncomplicated, that no one ever tried to resurrect it or create new versions of Cameltry.
It could be argued that something like Monkey Ball might be a spiritual successor to Cameltry, but that’s a stretch. I think that maybe the game was so perfectly formed on the first version that no one ever tried to improve on it.
Lost or not, Cameltry is still one of the best games.