The Keep Review (3DS) - The game Legend of Grimrock should have been

The Keep is an old-school dungeon crawler with a perfect balance of combat and puzzles that keep you hooked from beginning to end.

The Keep is an old-school dungeon crawler developed and published by Cinemax. The game released September 18, 2014 exclusively to the Nintendo 3DS. The Keep is an excellent title that is a perfect balance between combat and puzzle solving.

Players often compare it to Legend of Grimrock. I feel that is an insult, as The Keep is a far superior title to Grimrock and modernizes the genre to a far better extent.

A well-written, well-paced, and thought out storyline

One of the strongest aspects of The Keep is its story. Very often the plot of dungeon crawlers are lacking in many regards. The Keep has quite a good story that is well-written and properly paced.

The plot for the game revolves around an evil mage named Watrys. Watrys has destroyed a small town, killing all the men and women while taking the children as slaves to work for him. Watrys is looking to collect as many magical blue crystals as possible to grant him ultimate power.

The children are put to work, digging for the crystals. Someone has to stop the evil mage before he becomes so powerful it will no longer be possible to do so. You take on the role of a man who is brave enough to enter the mages keep to stop him before it is too late.

Many have entered the keep before you, and none have ever returned. You must journey through the keep, battling monsters, avoiding traps, and solving puzzles before confronting the mage himself.

The reason the writing of the plot is so good is due to its unexpected twists and turns, along with how well it progresses. Bit by bit, the plot is revealed to the player at the beginning of each level, then snakes one way and another as it progresses.  

The story that keeps the player interested and encourages them to play further into the game. It makes them want to know what is going on and what other surprises The Keep has in store for them. If a story is what you are looking for in a video game, The Keep certainly delivers.

Fun and absorbing gameplay

The design of the gameplay of The Keep is well done, and utilizes the design of the Nintendo 3DS to perfection. It uses the touch screen to its advantage to create an exciting and fun way of engaging in combat and casting spells, along with making inventory arrangement simple and efficient.

Melee combat uses the touch screen. The player uses the stylus to swing the weapon however they see fit. Moving the stylus in a line crossways causes the character to swing to the side, or if done in a diagonal line, the character will swing diagonally.

Each weapon also has combos. Upon hitting an enemy successfully, the player can sometimes use a powerful combo attack. To use the combo, the player has to trace the lines as instructed on the screen.

How fast the character attacks is dependent on how fast the player uses the stylus. This creates an adrenaline-filled scenario, especially when combating numerous enemies at once. It is an excellent design choice to modernize the standard melee combat system of an old genre.

The magic system works in a slightly different way, yet is still as engaging and fun to use. The player finds various scrolls throughout their journey through the keep. Each scroll contains a different spell which requires specific spell runes to cast.

Once the player has the correct runes, they need to place them in the correct order as described by the spell's scroll. The player then casts the spell by moving the stylus across the runes in the right order. The spells come in a variety of different forms, including healing, fireballs, lightning storms, freezing enemies and fire walls.

The runes system is where the Grimrock comparisons come in, as a similar mechanic was used to cast spells in that game as well. The difference here is that The Keep has a far more intuitive design. Its intuitiveness is mostly due to its simplicity, and it is hard to make a mistake while casting a spell. 

Grimrock, on the other hand, is at times a nightmare for casting spells, due to it being easy to click the wrong rune. Most of all, The Keep's magic mechanic is far more fun to use than that of Grimrock's. In true dungeon crawler fashion, there are plenty of secrets to be found without exploring the levels.

The player reveals secrets by finding hidden switches throughout each level. Secrets contain extra supplies, equipment and sometimes spell scrolls. These items include potions, weapons, armor, accessories such as rings and necklaces, runes, and so on and so forth.

The gameplay for The Keep excites, thrills and gets the adrenaline pumping. It is a huge amount of fun that both old players and newcomers to the genre are sure to enjoy. There is nothing that I can complain about with the gameplay. It is just that well designed.

The perfect balance between combat and puzzle solving

One of the biggest issues that dungeon crawler games have is creating a balance between the amount of combat and time spent solving puzzles. Very often, a dungeon crawler can have too much of either one or the other, which kills the appeal of a game.

That's one of the things that infuriated me with Grimrock -- the balance wasn't there. It contained far too many puzzles in comparison to the combat. It is in balancing both of these where The Keep succeeds. The game has more than enough puzzles, which are well-designed to keep the game interesting.

At the same time, there is equally as much combat to keep both aspects of the game from becoming stale. Along with that, puzzles are not so difficult that they cause extreme frustration. Very often, dungeon crawlers can contain puzzles which are more along the lines of a guessing game than logically solvable. 

The puzzles in The Keep are all logical and easy enough to figure out, which is perfect for this genre as it doesn't have the player stuck in one place for too long. This perfect balance along with the exciting and fun gameplay, truly make for a wonderful experience.

Level variation with fitting atmosphere and soundtrack

The Keep has a nice variety of different types of levels, each with a fitting atmosphere and soundtrack. The levels vary from prison, to cave, to mine, and more. Each level has its atmosphere and a soundtrack to fit in with it. This variety keeps the levels from becoming repetitive and monotonous.

An example of a great level would be the mines. During this level, the player has to navigate the mine using different mine carts and tracks. The puzzles often revolve around attempting to figure out how to get from one area to another using the mine carts. It creates a unique experience that is only found in that level.

The atmosphere and soundtrack combine to create a wonderful ambiance in the abandoned mine.

It combines a variety of undead monsters, such as zombies and ghosts, along with an eerie soundtrack to enhance the atmosphere. It truly gets the hairs on the back of your neck standing up as you explore the haunted mine. Each level is wonderfully created both in design, atmosphere, and audio.

Are there no flaws with the game?

There is no doubt that The Keep is an outstanding game, but it does have two major issues which can be problematic and frustrating. The first would be one of the sections early in the game. The player has to avoid being hit by projectiles while being closed in a small corridor.

The issue with this is that the controls are not ideal for this section to make it an enjoyable experience. The reason being is that the projectiles are firing from the side of the player's vision. This area wouldn't be problematic if it weren't for the fact the player cannot strafe to the side.

Instead, the player has to be facing the direction they want to move. It results in some deaths attempting to figure out the pattern of the projectiles and having to maneuver to avoid them. It is easily the most frustrating part of the entire game.

The second issue comes around midgame, in a level that revolves around a combination switch puzzle. The reason there is a problem with this is due to getting the combination. The only way to get it is to find one of the children who have the combination.

The player finds the child in a secret area within the level. Despite being given a clue to finding the child and the secret area, it isn't a very easy one to find. The player cannot continue in the game without that combination. It can lead to quite a bit of frustration attempting to find it.

It is genuinely bad design having plot progression hiding within a secret area. It slows down the gameplay. Other than those two issues, though, there are no further problems with the game.

We need more games like this on the 3DS

The Keep is an outstanding game that truly modernizes the dungeon crawler genre while staying true to what makes it so appealing. It utilizes the design of the 3DS perfectly to create a fun, exciting, and engaging experience that is unique to the genre.

Its perfect balance of combat and puzzles, along with an interesting and well-written plot, keeps the player hooked from start to finish. With different levels of difficulty settings including an optional permadeath mode, it is a game that caters to players of all skill levels.

If you are a fan of the dungeon crawler genre, The Keep is a must-play game. It does have two flaws, keep it from receiving a ten out of ten. For a price of $9.99, it is an experience worth its price tag.

The Keep is available to buy on the Nintendo eShop for $9.99 through your 3DS device. 

Our Rating
The Keep is an old-school dungeon crawler with a perfect balance of combat and puzzles that keep you hooked from beginning to end.
Reviewed On: 3DS
Games The Keep Genres ActionAdventureRPG Platforms 3DS Tags rpg
Published Apr. 14th 2016

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