|Posted by Morpheel on September 14, 2014 at 8:20 PM|
Guru Morpheel here to talk about The Keep by CINEMAX.
By the images on the eShop page for this game, my first thought was "it's probably a puzzle game with RPG elements mixed in". Yeah, I was completely wrong. Maybe I should start reading the text instead of just looking at the pictures.
The Keep is, for the lack of a better word, a first person action RPG with puzzles. It is very reminiscent of old PC games, you go around exploring a series of dungeons and caves moving in a grid in 4 directions, solve some puzzles, find secrets and treasures, kill monsters... You know, fun stuff.
As an RPG, you can level up your character and his melee and magic capabilities by battling enemies and finding secrets. Every time you level up, you gain three skill points you can spend in three categories: Strength dictates your health and the damage you do, Intelligence your mana and the effectiveness of your magic and Dexterity how fast your health, stamina and mana regenerate. Depending on which stats you decide to raise, your game could end up being very different.
Of course, being a 3DS game, the top screen is completely dedicated to showing you the nicely crafted, fully 3D dungeons, items and enemies, while the touch screen manages everything else: map, inventory, magic spells, you get it. Managing your items and equipment with the stylus can be slightly clunky at times, though.
Additionally, it's worth mentioning that the touch screen is also utilized to attack your enemies. This is accomplished by tracing lines in a grid, depending on the enemy you're facing, certain "swipes" will be more effective than others; for example, you can't damage a rat by swiping on the upper tiles, only the lower ones.
Magic spells are managed in a similar way. You have another grid, known as the rune matrix, in it you can place and organize your runes (tiles you can find), once all your runes are in place, all you need to do is swipe them in the right order with your stylus. To know how to organize them, however, you also need to find scrolls, these special items teach you a rune configuration and it's effects. Coming up with a good rune layout and mastering it's effects is a big highlight of the game.
Now, combat is not as easy as spamming physical attacks and magic spells like some sort of super human! Normal attacks are restrained by your stamina meter in the same way magic spells are limited by your mana: use up all your mana and stamina and you will be left defenseless. Those two meters and your health can take a while to regenerate, so you better spend a good amount of skill points in your Dexterity stat.
The Keep itself is filled with secrets, traps and enemies. Some puzzles require you to move quickly or throwing stuff to press far switches. The "throwing" mechanic is pretty nice and feels very natural. Enemies don't regenerate, so you can't grind for experience in most of the levels.
The game itself can be pretty short with only 10 floors or chapters to explore, always the same in each playthrough. All topped with a short last boss battle (if you know how to deal with him) and a short "I'm too good to be bad" speech by our hero, that's all, then you go back to the menu. It felt really... Inconclusive, specially after all the build up and epic story bits that happened between chapters.
The Keep tries to compensate by giving you three difficulty levels to choose and the option to play the game with "permadeath", or in other words, a mode where if you die all your progress is lost. And that may actually happen a lot, even in the lowest difficulty setting the game will offer quite a bit of challenge, with a constant influx of new enemies that will resist most of your current attacks and deadly traps plaguing the latter chapters.
While the many options and decent amount of character customization mean you can enjoy the game differently more than once, the fact that the dungeon, treasure and enemy placement are always the same hurts its replayability. After one or two playthroughs you'll know everything there's to know.
If you need to know, I thought that the soundtrack was great great. Every floor of the keep has its own mood and enemies making their distinctive sounds in the background, giving it a lot of character and... Huh... Scary feelings. It is also fully voiced, with the exception of item descriptions and menus, everything in the game is voiced quite nicely, even signs and chitchat. It's safe to assume that most of that price tag comes from this.
The graphics are likewise very good, there are some noticeable "that texture is stretched" moments with the walls when you are right in from of the, but every object and enemy is nicely modeled and animated.
All things considered, beyond the limited scope of the game and minor issues moving around at times (inherent of the control scheme) and although the game can get overwhelming with the difficulty if you don't prepare, I actually enjoyed this game a lot. Of course there's a lot of things that could've been better about it, but in the end it's is an enjoyable little retro RPG to play on the go.
I give this game 8 giant rats out of 10.
Review copy provided by CINEMAX.