The Keep 3DS Review
Walking Around In Circles Walking Around In Circles
What first caught my eye about The Keep was its simplicity. Its very name is simple, without the clever wordplay and random z’s typical of other indie games. I was pleased to find out that it’s modeled as a classic dungeon crawler – one of my favorite old school genres. The only thing that made me hesitate was the price. $15 for a 3DS indie game? That’s a little steep, especially since I could probably find something similar on Steam for less. And linear dungeon crawlers with no replay value don’t exactly make good handheld games. Of course, I get eShop funds in exchange for reviews, so it made the decision easy.
In many ways, The Keep satisfies that ever-present craving for dungeon crawlers that sits in the back of your head at all times. You know the one I mean. The graphics are a bit updated from my old Sega Genesis, but the grid movement and general atmosphere absolutely give it the feel of one of the old favorites. I enjoyed exploring and finding secret switches and gathering potions, new spells, and better equipment. There are some very simple RPG elements, such as strength, dexterity, and intelligence stats that you can increase with points after each gained level, as well as melee and spell skill levels that can be increased by attacking enemies with either.
There are, however, elements that make The Keep very different from the old crawlers. The game makes use of the touch screen in combat by requiring the player to swipe the stylus across the screen in melee combat mode in order to swing your weapon. This part of combat is not great. Swiping too fast, which one tends to do under stress, confuses the game so that it doesn’t read the strike and you just stand there getting pummeled. It’s extra bad considering how much you rely on staggering enemies with your strikes. Strikes also miss a lot. Land enough strikes and arrow prompts will appear on the melee screen for you to follow with your stylus. This sometimes works out very well. Other times the slower strike misses. Also, I could not figure out how it worked with the sword. Did it want me to run my stylus back and forth across the screen a lot? I don’t know, and there are no guides for this tiny 3DS indie game. I feel like The Keep would have been a lot better if this feature had worked well. But it didn’t.
I quickly came to rely heavily on magic. You cast spells after finding spell runes which you can arrange on the magic screen, and you find scrolls throughout dungeon (“the keep”) that will show you in which order to place the runes. Once you have them in the correct sequence, you have to swipe the stylus across them to cast the spell. You can optimize the magic screen grid by using the same runes for multiple spells. I would go back and forth between my ice spell and lightning spell, giving key runes time to recharge, so that enemies would constantly be staggered and unable to attack me. This worked less well with multiple enemies attacking at once, but got me through most of the game.
The main problem with combat, however, was how easy it was to cheat. Most of the time it was supremely easy because enemies can’t hit you without being right in your face. You can fight in a small room while walking around in circles and never get hit. Or you could simply run away and wait for your health, mana, and/or stamina to recharge. Enemy health does not recharge and most can’t heal themselves. You can even escape to another floor where enemies can’t follow and their health won’t recharge. I totally pulled this on the final boss after I got annoyed trying to defeat him without cheating.
In general, combat is not where this game shines. And that doesn’t bode well for any game. There were maybe two occasions where it was difficult, and that was when the game trapped you in a room with multiple baddies (once with fireball traps). I don’t understand why they didn’t do this with the final boss.
The game’s story is pretty generic, which is fine for a game that’s modeled after a classic genre. Actually, the story could have been more generic and probably would have been more charming. But basically, there’s an evil dude doing evil things, some crystals, and a random adventurer who goes to stop him because no one else is bothering to. Also, some secret reason that’s revealed at the end, just in case you’re not motivated to actually beat the final boss.
Apparently, Cinemax hired professional voice actors for the game. I don’t know why they would choose to spend money on this. With an uninspired story and dull dialogue and narration, good voice acting adds very little. I wish they had spent the cash making the combat better.
I did find the game to be mostly fun. Progressing, solving puzzles, freeing slaves, and finding treasure was consistently enjoyable, and it was easy to get sucked in for hours. The game probably lasts around 10 hours altogether, which is better than a lot of 3DS indie games. Spell creation and casting was at least interesting, and there was some challenge to be had. I would probably recommend this game to a lot of people, particularly dungeon crawler fans, if it weren’t for one big problem.
It’s $15! I had fun with this game, but it’s not worth that. And unfortunately, the eShop is not Steam, so you can’t count on it going on sale for 75% off someday. Because of the price, I can really only recommend it to people who get eShop funds for free in exchange for reviews and might want to review an indie dungeon crawler. There’s no way The Keep will see success at that price point. Just play Dungeons & Dragons: Warriors of the Eternal Sun on your old Sega again. Or whatever dungeon crawler you loved as a kid.