What do you do when you wake up everyday lying down on the bare stones beneath you, imprisoned in a deep dungeon and surrounded by otherworldly creatures with no one but your inmate to keep you company? Wait – where on Earth is Maggie?
Published by Digital Tribe Games, TinyKeep is the dream-come-true adventure game of Phi Dinh, the project creator at Phigames. In TinyKeep, players become the protagonist in his journey towards escaping imprisonment from the underground keep. By following the scattered notes left by the hero’s inmate, who left before him, players will destroy anything within their line of sight, turn monsters onto each other and satisfy their deepest, crudest desires of arson in an exuberant fortress.
Players start their quest in their prison cell, awaking from their slumber to witness their inmate gone, replaced with a hastily-scribbled note. Players learn to look for such narrative notes as they continue their ascent towards freedom, and while the game chooses not to dump the focus on storytelling, the evolving and occasionally humorous storyline, coupled with some excellent voice acting, is intriguing.
Throughout the game, different cinematic cutscenes give the player purpose and make the hero’s journey one vibrant quest, whereas the different notes act as pointers and ice-breakers. And while there are some episodes which just can’t be skipped, most of the cutscenes and narratives can be ignored. Nonetheless, the game’s permadeath system makes following the unimposing storyline somewhat of a chore.
The game follows closely the roguelike paradigm. Alongside permadeath, two principal ingredients are the fundamental base of TinyKeep – artificial intelligence and procedural generation. The carefully-articulated intelligence is evident in every single encounter with foes, and each playthrough is made diverse thanks to the procedural generation engine in place.
The player starts each play-through with just the clothes on his or her back, and his first personal quest is probably to find the sword and shield scattered in the introductory level. Although combat is an important system within TinyKeep, weaponry can be done without. It is indeed possible to go through the game without as much as a single swish of the sword, with players challenged to use their own intelligence in order to trump the opponents’ artificial grey matter.
There are a thousand ways how to get killed, and TinyKeep makes an astounding job of providing a thousand ways how to kill. Scattered throughout each level, traps await the player or the foolish enemy. Players can turn fiery pits, falling slabs and spike plates to their unruly advantage by luring adversaries onto them. And if players somehow miss the shield, they can always take cover behind a barrel or an unsuspecting foe.
One of the game’s talking points is likely the buff system, which allows players to exchange coins they obtain by slaying opponents with a random power-up. Coupled with the procedural generation engine powering dungeons, this characteristic system gives a borderline strategic twist to the game. Nevertheless, the game’s somewhat frustrating permadeath does come in the way of TinyKeep’s undeniable fun factor.
Players who prefer exploration and storylines to wreaking mayhem will likely find the game’s permadeath system rather inconvenient. There is no way how players can manually save the game, and exiting the game resets any progress or ingame treats achieved up until that point. Rendering thirty-minute play sessions futile, the permadeath system can become frustrating to casual players looking to follow the story or tour every nook and cranny of the generated dungeons. Notwithstanding this, every playthrough is rather refreshing and challenging from the very start.
Building on solid gameplay, the graphics bring the game to life. In the creator’s own words, he wanted “better graphics,” and the game’s unique style certainly does that justice. The marginally-comical animations, particle effects and ensnaring traps make the game feel alive, while the chibi-style characters add to TinyKeep’s amusing feel as skeletons with disproportionate heads induce a guilt trip in players when they lie slain beneath the protagonist’s feet.
Before taking on the diverse world of TinyKeep, players also choose their own hero’s gender and the outfit from a range of different articles of clothing and colors. As the game progresses, players discover new traps, different kinds of enemies and distinctly-rich environments. The procedurally-generated dungeons are laid out systematically and rarely feel empty courtesy of the myriad of props scattered around. Supported by a well-written narrative and an amusing soundtrack, the graphics bring TinyKeep to life.
The soundtrack is pleasantly composed and gives the roguelike game a unique ambiance, while the sound effects, just like the voice acting, go a long way toward giving TinyKeep its own quirky character. TinyKeep excels in various aspects, yet the balance between frustration and humor strikes just the perfect chords. Did you just kill one of a horde of barbarians? You’re treated to an amusing sound. How about when your dominance is finally imposed on that particularly-annoying archer? His squeals of terror are music to your ears, and TinyKeep spoils you with it.
Succeeding with the unorthodox combination of humour and frustration, TinyKeep is a game that will keep you panting all while pulling you in for “one last escape.” And while there’s nothing more frustrating than having to deal with an onslaught of skeletons only to fall victim of the very last bony sword, the dungeon floor covered with the corpses of your previous, failed attempts does nothing but reinvigorate you to restart your flight.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.