My quest for time killing DS games that aren’t infantile and minimize the use of the stylus came to an abrupt end when I purchased Lock’s Quest. Lock’s Quest does use the stylus, but in a manner which doesn’t offend my manly lifestyle of sex with supermodels and drinking rye whiskey (when drawing rainbows in Kirby, I pick up a hankering for an appletini) but feels familiar, in a very mouse-like style.
This is helpful, because Lock’s Quest is a tower defense game – you construct defenses in an RTS-style world against unintelligent, persistent, and most importantly plentiful, clockwork monsters – a genre that would be unplayable without a touch screen (or a mouse).
I was unaware that tower defense was a game genre that extended beyond Warcraft 3 custom maps, but seeing as I enjoy those, I decided to see if THQ could turn them into a meaningful DS experience. The game is fairly straightforward: the bulk of gameplay revolves around constructing defenses, keeping them upright, and beating the crap out of the Clockworks.
Lock is an Archineer (pronounced Ark-in-eer, as opposed to Arch-in-neer, which is the title of the guy who builds McDonalds arches for a living), tasked with building stuff, most notably scary towers that blow shit up. Evil Lord Agony, a once good archineer who’s research tastes ran into the “creating life” field, was ousted by a saner monarch who lacked the courage to put a bullet between his foe’s eyes and save his kingdom an inordinate amount of grief.
Lord Agony didn’t take kindly to his exile, and constructed an army of mechanical monsters to pillage a kingdom that naturally isn’t quite as noble or good as it should be. After a brave but mysterious defeat some years ago, Agony is back, and he’s very concerned about the state of the kingdom’s derivatives and credit markets.
The game features a fairly engaging, if linear plot. The character development is solid, but there’s never any particular question as to where you’re going next. The flip side is you don’t need to talk to everyone and their mother to ensure you unlock side quests or bonus items: really your goal is to advance the plot and kill more clockworks. This is a great example of a game Etrian Odyssey could learn from.
Although there is next to no choice in the plot of Lock’s Quest, the characters are likable, and there’s enough intrigue and personal motivation to make you want to see what comes next. Which is good, because what comes next is usually more of the same: slaughter of mechanical monsters.
Battles alternate between building phases and combat phases, both of which are time limited. Although one of the tenets of a tower defense game is the pressure of getting your defenses up before the next wave, some of the build phases feel particularly frantic, giving you less time to appreciate or leverage the options available to you.
Unlike some tower defense games, your character plays a more active role in the battle phases; he is not only able to actively repair, but capable of fighting toe to toe with the enemies. Additionally, you have a variety of special attacks you can unleash through stylus mini-games to assist you in the slaying of Wall-E’s deranged cousins.
One of the biggest letdowns is that although there is a fairly large assortment of towers, traps and utility items to build, what’s needed for a successful defense is usually fairly rote. Many of the defenses function as “nice to have,” such as acid attacks, whereas others are “need to have,” such as anti-air towers. The result is that your defenses tend to be more about layout than actual content, because the content is a fairly static formula.
Level design is well varied, with choke-point style defenses, and others where you have to protect against a wider area. Some levels require you not to defend but rather attack, and still others involve a combination of defending one point while capturing another. Periodic bosses also mix thing up, although most of them are defeated in a similar style of “kiting” them around your defenses. But in general, the game tries and succeeds at mixing it up enough to keep things reasonably fresh.
Although it would have been a large diversion, it might be interesting if there were ways to upgrade Lock, or sacrifice repairing for martial skill so you’re not always kiting and to allow for more play-styles. But they can save that for the sequel, unless they go the Atlus route of game development and make the next installment crappy.
Lock’s Quest is solidly entertaining, and with most battles being 2-5 minutes and setup phases 2-3 minutes, it’s well suited to on-the-go entertainment. The biggest flaw of the game is that it’s a bit repetitive, with similar defenses and kiting tactics winning the day. In terms of gameplay, there’s probably about one too many battles per plot segment with less variation of enemies than is needed, but in the age of game-filler, it’s probably to be expected.
If you enjoy time-sink games with good plot and heavy stylus-use, I highly recommend picking up Lock’s Quest–you’ll find it an example of a well put together game in an era where that seems to be increasingly rare.