Lock’s Quest has got the ingredients for a handheld sleeper hit on lockdown: intuitive touch screen controls, twist-filled wartime drama, low-tech but charming 2D graphics and inventive gameplay that takes a formula already scientifically proven to be infectiously addictive and adds twists, surprises and depth to it.
The formula in question is the Defend Your Castle-style game, which you might have already wasted plenty of hours playing in the form of browser-based Flash games, like Desktop Tower Defense or (of course) Defend Your Castle (PixelJunk Monsters on PSN is another example). There are waves of bad guys trying to invade your crib, and you have to erect defenses to fend off their attack or otherwise thin out their ranks until they’re history.
In Lock’s Quest, the evil castle crashers are the Clockworks, a race of machines that have been given life by the sinister magic of the power-hungry Lord Agony. When the Clockworks start banging the war drums, Lock - a plucky young lad who can create buildings out of thin air - ends up in the middle of a huge military conflict.
The story’s surprisingly mature (for all its kiddie veneer, the plot’s neck-deep in moral gray zones) and keeps the game moving nicely, but Defend Your Castle was never fun because of its plot (since it doesn’t have one). The compelling story’s just the icing on the cake for Lock’s Quest – the battles are where it truly shines. These enemy encounters play out in two distinct phases: Build and Battle.
In Build mode, you get a set amount of time to construct your defenses for the incoming enemy onslaught. You’ll place turrets, reinforce defenses and set up traps near enemy spawn points. You get plenty of options, and with a timer constantly ticking, Build keeps you on your toes as you weigh options and plan ahead. It plays like a light real-time strategy game, fast-paced and fun, but still deep and full of important choices.
Once the timer runs out, Lock enters Battle mode. The waves of enemies start coming in, and you take control of Lock. In Battle, you’ll balance the upkeep of your fortifications with actually fighting the Clockworks. Tapping an enemy makes Lock auto-attack it, and by following some simple touch-screen prompts, you can score some bonus damage. Between running around repairing walls and turrets, trying to out-maneuver Clockworks and the simple-but-fun touch-screen battles, Battle mode is seriously action-packed and a ton of fun.
Almost everything in Lock’s Quest is controlled via touch screen, and the controls succeed and fail in equal amounts. Dragging and dropping buildings and walls in Build Mode is intuitive and fun, and keeps Build a snappy and fast experience. We’d love to see more strategy games on the DS that are this easy to manage. In Battle mode (and while exploring towns and the map), you control Lock by dragging the stylus to where you want him to go, or simply tapping a spot and watching him automatically move there.
But Lock might as well be blind without you guiding him: he runs into walls, gets stuck turning corners. Even when you take control, the game’s isometric view makes it hard to tell where walls end. That’s a minor nuisance that gets really aggravating during battles, where moving around the battlefield efficiently is vital to keeping all your fortifications up and running. Even worse, the controls are imprecise – tap on a wall to repair it, and often Lock will start attacking a Clockwork on the other side.
But Lock’s Quest is just too damn fast-paced for the fussy controls to get annoying enough to really kill the fun. Lock’s Quest never gets stale or repetitive, with constantly changing mission objectives and the addictive back-and-forth between defense planning in Build mode and the fast-paced fisticuffs of Battle Mode. You’re constantly thrown new goals and new gameplay styles in small, meaty, minute-sized chunks. So even if it’s a little rough around the edges, Lock’s Quest always stays interesting and unique enough to make it a relentlessly addictive experience.
Sep 26, 2008