Review: Warlock's Tower09 Feb 2017 2
Review: Warlock's Tower
Released 31 Jan 2017
"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" is an unofficial motto of the United States Postal Service. Aggressive canines and inclement weather aside, mail delivery in our time is not overly perilous. Look no further than Cliff Clavin—perched on a bar stool season after season on Cheers—as proof. This has not always been so. Carrying mail for the Pony Express, for example, wasn't exactly considered a particularly safe occupation. When it comes to danger, even those skinny orphans have got nothing on Tim, a heroic mailman in the world of Warlock's Tower.
In Warlock's Tower, an indie puzzle game with a retro style, an evil warlock and master of the dark arts has decided to destroy the world. This warlock has a beef with the world and feels shunned and belittled by its populace and in his anger, has decided to destroy nature and extinguish all life from the planet. Unlike Kim Jong Un, this isn't just bluster, the warlock really can do it. The nations of the world have opted for a pragmatic approach of appeasement. They wrote up a letter professing the world's love for the warlock and desire for a peaceful and happy coexistence with him. He's not loathed at all, and belittled…never that! The problem is the warlock never leaves the very top of his life draining tower, so getting the letter to him will prove difficult. Back to Tim, the bravest of mail carriers (or maybe lowest of seniority), who is tasked with delivering the letter and saving the world. No pressure Tim.
Warlock's Tower is a puzzle game by Midipixel Studio, an indie outfit based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It has a dungeon-crawl aesthetic to it, however, as Tim makes his way up the tower and to the warlock. The game is also roguelike in form with turn-based play and a grid of squares laid over the indoor terrain. Every step Tim takes sucks the life right out of him, literally. Moving one square in the game reduces Tim's life total by one. If he runs out of life, well, Tim dies and you must restart the level—just the level though, the rougelike comparison only goes so far. Luckily, for some reason, there are life giving gems scattered all over the place in the tower. I guess it's hard to retain a good janitorial staff with the whole soul sucking, life leeching vibe going on. Grabbing a gem will add either 3 or 5 life to Tim's life total, earning a brief reprieve from the deadly ambience of the place. To get past a level and move upward and onward Tim must weave his way from gem to gem and finally to the exit.
The game has over 100 levels that span the expanse of the warlock's tower. Tim will enter through the dungeon and make his way to the factory floor and then the warlock's warehouse. From there he'll enter the warlock's library and private chambers. Like most progressive puzzlers, Warlock's Tower layers in new mechanics to keep things fresh and continually up the difficulty as you go. There are zombies that will drag their way toward Tim seeking a bite of his tasty brain as well as amorphous blobs of slime that will absorb him and leave troublesome trails of caustic, mailman-eating acid behind them. Some levels require recovering a key to advance, others make use of conveyer belts that feel a lot like moving walkways at the airport. There are levers that open gates, buttons that close pits in the floor, and levels that are submerged in near-total darkness. On some levels, you must coordinate movement between Tim and fellow mail carrier Jess (they both must survive to advance).
Many levels are easy, especially at the beginning and as new game mechanics are introduced. Then you land on a particularly challenging one, and there's plenty of those, especially as you get closer to the warlock and must face more of his tricks. There seems to be a pattern of letting you build up some momentum with a couple easier levels before crashing into a challenging one at full mental tilt. It gives the game a good flow.
Warlock's Tower really emphasizes planning ahead and picking your path through obstacles. Winging it really won't work out in the more tactically challenging levels. A helpful feature for those difficult ones is the ability to drop a flag. When Tim dies, you start over at that flag rather than the beginning. This is nice, but I found myself wishing for a basic undo button for dumb mistakes as well.
As for look and feel, Warlock's Tower has an old-school aesthetic with 8-bit graphics and a soundtrack and sound effects to match. There's a digital d-pad to move Tim from square to square which is a stylistic choice and fits the theme but takes a bit to get used to. I continually wanted to touch a square to move to it, at least at first. The retro feel is well implemented and really does make your phone feel like ye olde GameBoy.
There's also more than a little humor mixed into this game. The warlock doesn't sit quiet and still in his tower, oh no. He knows you're coming and is a bit of a smack talker. Amid his taunts and jibes he also serves as a tutor, introducing both levity and instruction into the game. Other characters appear as well, including a bardic knight from "pixels afar" who has been stuck unmoving in the tower for some time. He even shares a song of his experiences with Tim, and by extension, you.
Warlock's Tower is a fun and challenging puzzle game. The take-a-step-lose-a-life idea is clever and the game is well built around it. New tricks are thrown in regularly which add to the fun without getting tiresome and they combine to make some truly tough levels. Tricky levels lead to some clever solutions that give a big dollop of the feel-goods when you figure them out.
The retro aesthetic is fun and will be a kick for those of us who remember the GameBoy, or gaming in the 80s in general. The game offers over one-hundred levels—which will take many hours to play all the way through—and is a premium title, so none of the annoying ads or the like that often accompany games in this genre. You can play through a level in just a few minutes, making this a great option for short bursts of play. If you're a fan of tactically focused puzzle games, Warlock's Tower is well worth your time and consideration.