Truth be told, I never was the biggest dungeon crawler fan until the DS. I remember reading a review for a certain dungeon crawler on a website and they basically said they couldn\’t achieve anything beyond 20% completion, because it was \”too hard.\” For some reason, that motivated me to try this game out and play it, and I ended up really enjoying it. Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was that game, and while tough, really made me a fan of the dungeon crawler genre. After playing gems like Orcs and Elves and Etrain Odyssey, I was a full-blown fan of the genre. When I saw a first-person dungeon crawler hitting the eShop, I was really looking forward to it and had high hopes. The Keep has some strong points, but ultimately, has a few glaring issues that hurt the experience.
It starts off simple enough, like most any dungeon-crawler does. An evil wizard named Watrys has seized the land and only an unnamed hero can stop him. While a bit cliché, that’s part of the charm, which is a throwback to dungeon-crawlers of the 90s. The game does feature full voice acting for the story and sounds pretty well done. The story is serviceable, albeit a bit bland, and works for this style of game, which is more focused on gameplay.
Graphically speaking, the game is pretty solid. The environements, although a bit drab at times, all are nicely detailed. Magic spells have nice effects and all of the enemies look solid with nice characteristics. Everything looks as it should and the 3D effect, while subtle, is done in a non-invasive way and feels natural. It helps suck you into the game and get lost in all the lore as you explore the world and the creatures within it.
The real issue starts first and foremost with the controls, specifically the battle system. While the D-Pad controls character movement, the touch screen is the focus of the show as far as combat is concerned. While it’s great for equipping items, touching interactive things, and spell casting, it just doesn\’t work well enough for melee combat. After selecting battle mode, you have nine squares total: three across and three down. By sliding the stylus across these planes, you attack either the upper, middle, or lower part of the body. In theory, this should add some depth to the game, but when you slide across the screen many times, the game doesn\’t register it, causing you to get hit. With such an emphasis on the stylus control, there is no option for just a button press, which would really help this issue.
Enemy balance also is an issue. When playing the game, I\’ve had many instances were I was able to take out heavily armored guards, then would die from a common rat with the same weapons and equipment. I don\’t really know why, either — it seemed like the weapon was stronger against a guard then a rat sometimes, but that doesn\’t make any sense. The enemy balance issue seems to dissipate when you level up and get higher equipment, but they shouldn\’t really exist in the first place.
When these issues combine, it takes a game that could have been good down to mediocre. The Keep is not a terrible game, but it could have actually been a solid game for dungeon-crawling fans. A simple button press for a melee attack would have done wonders for this game while still keeping item management and magic spells on the touch screen. At $14.99, it does have a lengthy quest that warrants the price tag, but the question is whether or not someone would be able to handle the controls well enough to get that far. As it stands now, only the most hardcore dungeon-crawling fans should apply.