Fantastic combat system; Perfect level of challenging difficulty; Lots of puzzles; Secrets reward exploration.
Every room looks the same; No automatic save feature; The combat system can easily be exploited on slow enemies.
If you love dungeon-crawlers, then you’re going to want to check out The Keep on the 3DS eShop. The game features everything you’d expect from the genre: first-person action RPG combat, dungeon exploration, and a plot with an evil wizard trying to rule the world. But in addition to executing these traditional elements well, The Keep also introduces a few new concepts to keep things fresh.
One of the greatest strengths of The Keep is its combat system, which is controlled completely by the touch screen. When engaging in physical combat with a weapon, the bottom screen shows a three by three grid. By swiping through three squares horizontally or diagonally, you’ll determine the exact path that your weapon follows. The direction that you swing your weapon in is very important because every opponent has different kinds of armor for their hit zones. In some cases, you’ll even find that enemies are immune to attacks in a specific hit zone, so you’ll have to figure out their weak points in the heat of battle. But, you cannot swing your weapon aimlessly in this process, as you have a stamina gauge that limits the number of attacks you can execute. This mechanic is fantastic because it pushes you to make strategic decisions when conserving stamina in battle.
Like other RPGs, you also have a bunch of magic spells at your disposal, but this is also implemented in a completely different way. In order to use a magic spell, you need to collect different runes and place them in the magic matrix on the touch screen, which displays a four by five grid that’s similar to the weapon grid. However, the runes themselves are worthless without scrolls that tell you the order that the runes must be placed in. For example, if you have runes of levitation, fire, and injury, the fireball scroll will tell you to swipe them in that order to execute the spell. Because you can only fit twenty runes on the magic matrix grid, you’ll have to figure out the best placement for each rune that lets you utilize all of your most powerful spells.
When you gain enough experience to level up, you can allocate the attribute points to any individual statistic. If you want to be a warrior, then you can pour all your attributes to strength for power and dexterity for faster health and stamina regeneration. If you want to be a mage, you can focus on increasing your intelligence for stronger spells and increased mana capacity. Or, maybe you want to focus on both equally so you can utilize your mana and stamina effectively for long battles. This makes things a lot more interesting than having predetermined statistic increases because it allows you to create a character to your liking.
However, no matter how high of a level you reach, you’ll still be able to die easily from enemies that attack in massive groups or are extremely powerful on their own. The high difficulty is done intentionally in order to make every fight meaningful and challenging. This reinforces the importance of conserving stamina and mana, as a few mistakes in battle can easily lead to your death. Yet, none of the battles feel completely impossible. Even in situations where my HP was dangerously low, I always had hope that I could prevail with a few well-placed attacks. This sets the game’s challenging difficulty at the perfect sweet spot. When you die, you’ll blame yourself instead of the game and restart with a better strategy for that battle.
Each of The Keep‘s ten levels are incredibly engaging because they are not limited to fighting monsters. When you’re not in combat, you’ll be solving puzzles within the dungeon in order to progress. The puzzles employ simple mechanics, such as pulling levers and using rocks to hold down buttons, but they can become pretty challenging as the game progresses. Some of the lever puzzles in particular can get a bit frustrating, but there’s nothing that’s overly challenging by any means. Every level also has a bunch of secrets that encourage player exploration. For instance, some walls are breakable with weapon damage or have stones that you can push with your hand, leading you to hidden areas. You’ll want to seek these out too, as secret areas often have the best equipment and magic scrolls.
Even though The Keep has a lot of great things to offer, it’s held back by a few issues. One of these issues is the overall presentation since the dungeons look incredibly similar to each other. Aside from two levels with blue brick walls, the majority of the game features the same green brick walls in every level. I get that The Keep takes place in a dungeon, but it would have been better to see levels with different aesthetics to enhance the game’s presentation. Another issue is the lack of an automatic saving feature, as you’ll have to save manually in order to record your progress. Because it’s so easy to die, you’re going to want to save a lot to prevent yourself from doing the same actions over and over again. This makes continuous saving habitual for the player, which is very tedious to do.
If you’re fighting against slow enemies that have physical attacks, the combat can easily be exploited as well. When you come face-to-face with one of these monsters, strafing back and forth will cause the enemy to walk to your current location and neglect attacking you. This is a pretty big deal because The Keep‘s combat is all about managing your health, stamina, and mana effectively. Because these three things regenerate with time, strafing back and forth against a slow enemy will let you regain these statistics over time, removing the challenge from the fight completely. Of course, this is harder to do when enemies are faster, shoot projectiles, or are in groups, but this exploit is still present throughout the game.
Regardless, The Keep is still one of the best RPGs on the eShop. The touch screen combat is intuitive, the difficulty makes every battle interesting, and the levels are expertly crafted by the developers at Cinemax Games. The game also mixes traditional and new mechanics very well, creating a new yet familiar experience that’s perfect for dungeon crawling veterans. There are a few issues that hold the game back from being truly exceptional, but RPG fans will still enjoy what the The Keep has to offer.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.