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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: The Keep

Why yes, I do want to Keep playing. Sorry, that was bad.
Well. I guess I've been playing a lot on the eShop lately.

I've also come to the undeniable conclusion that I have spent the majority of time on my 3DS in dungeons. I don't even mean dungeons in the typical RPG terminology. I mean straight-up, dank, dark, stone-walled, spider-infested dungeons.

Case in point: The Keep by Cinemax! After Etrian Odyssey came in and did first-person dungeon crawling all cute and ridiculous, and Crimson Shroud did dungeon crawling all board-game-y, this indie developer decided it was time to take the genre back to its roots. They even included permadeath to make you bash your head against a wall in frustration!


-Impressive visuals for an eShop title- even a first-person dungeon crawler.

-With real-time touchscreen combat for both melee and magic, The Keep features intuitive and enjoyable combat systems.

-Satisfying localization and many modes of play.


-Brief playtime if save states are involved, not much variety in melee combat.

-Tutorial skips a few controls


I'll get right to the point: The Keep is awesome, and don't let my bare-bones Pros/Cons section make you think otherwise. Though it might be a bit steep in price, The Keep is the kind of downloadable game I want to see from the eShop- high in quality, solid in gameplay mechanics, and wholly enjoyable.

The game is a traditional, western-styled dungeon crawler, featuring a medieval plot about a hero that kicks ass because no one else well. While the story in The Keep isn't very deep, its delivery is very satisfying, with voice-over interludes and dialogue that manages to not take itself too seriously. It's hard to say why the protagonist is so enjoyable in this game- maybe because he is an extension of the player, or maybe it's because he's just a guy doing the right thing. Either way, he, and the story of the game, are very satisfying.

The gameplay is just as novel. All the staples of a traditional dungeon crawler are in place, and the player has the freedom to distribute points and customize their play experience whatever way they want. However, what adds an extra edge to combat are the real-time traps and combat throughout the game. While adding real-time combat may seem a tad strange, it works largely because of the grid-based attack patterns used to perform melee and the spell formations used for magic. This present element lends itself well to the tenseness of the dungeon itself, keeping the player on edge in case a rat is around the corner, or if zombies that force them to switch tactics are close by.

If I could recommend one thing, it would be that people play The Keep as I did- with permadeath on. I know it seems archaic, and it totally is- but the truth is, it's there to give the player a more satisfying experience. You don't die forever, but are merely transported back to the beginning of the last chapter with all changes made after that point lost. It forces the player to memorize their surroundings and learn to tackle each challenge one at a time. It is a less punishing version of true permadeath, and one that, while frustrating, also makes the entire journey feel much more worthwhile. Of course, if you're a fan of dungeon crawlers, you were probably planning on doing so in the first place.

My complaints are minor, simply that save states ruin the longevity of the game, melee options don't extend beyond different variations of stabby/clubby things, and that the tutorial decides not to tell you about strafing, which is a crucial skill later. That's pretty much it, though. Wow. I can't believe how positive I am about this game. Maybe its because of the variety in visuals, or the number of elements in the design of each chapter, or the great combat, or the balanced difficulty. Or maybe The Keep is just a good game.

Final Verdict: If dungeon crawling is your thing, you can't go wrong with The Keep. a pocket-sized RPG with enough content to make the purchase feel worthwhile and land a sizable playtime in, With great presentation and a fresh take on combat, The Keep emerges as a top-notch eShop title.

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