Lock him up boys, he’s gearing for an escape!
Welcome to Lock’s Quest, a game that you might have played previously, and then promptly forgotten about it because it was a Nintendo DS game. You follow the adventures of Lock, an aspiring Archineer who is forced to track down his sister after his village is attacked by living clockwork creatures. You rush to defend the city, but are eventually evacuated from the town, leaving behind everything you’ve known as you make your way to the capital city, Antonia. There, you join the Archineer Guild and help bolster their defenses against Lord Agony, the leader of the Clockwork army.
The story is a lovely one, filled with interesting turns and subtleties. At least the first time around. The second playthrough you will embark on lets you realize just how blatantly obvious the whole plot is, which really is a bummer because it is such a good story.
You have two factions clashing against each other, trying to claim dominance over Source, the building essence of this world. The Antonians fought off the Clockworks during The Great War, the war in which Lock’s parents supposedly served, after they killed Lord Agony. Flash forward, and the Clockworks are back, Lord Agony has returned, and so much mystery hangs around Lock and why he has the ability to turn the tide in this battle between two behemoths. Not to mention the plots that Lock’s Grandfather introduces, and why Emi was taken.
When you get into the game, it’s an active tower defense, meaning you build and then play the level as Lock, going hand to hand with the enemy. It is brutally unforgiving at both the start and the end of the game, but is pretty nice around the mid way point, mostly because your growth of new unlocks and special abilities really plateaus at the start and end. The middle section though is when you’re unlocking most of the towers, traps, and helpers.
Now, two of the three of those categories are a staple of a tower defense game. You have towers that will shoot at enemies to defend your walls, so as to prevent you from losing the level. Plain and simple. Traps are a one round solution that you place down on the ground to either deal damage, prevent enemies from using abilities, or to freeze the enemy. Something which again is pretty common practice for games of this genre. The third category – that of Helpers – is rarely seen in Active Tower Defense games, mostly because they don’t usually have a use. Why build a tower that unveils cloaked enemies when I could just upgrade my towers to see them on their own?
Well, not in this game you don’t!
Lock’s Quest doesn’t actually have an upgrade system for the towers, unless you count making them out of different materials so they get more health. This forces you to get helpers and use them once the game introduces them, which is around Day 35 out of the 75 included. The Helpers can be quite useful, if not a little cumbersome to fit into design plans, mostly because they can’t defend themselves. But there is a way to make sure they can take more of a beating.
You see, when you build towers or Helpers, building them into your walls and not placing them next to other towers actually gives them a substantial health boost, making it much harder for the enemy to penetrate your defenses. It also makes the game a bit of a puzzler as you try to build your defenses to use the natural environment, so as to cut down on the costs and reduce the areas Clockwork can attack you from.
Now, there is a major flaw with the game’s Build phase (each day is split into two phases, but I’ll get into that shortly) and it comes in the form of the camera view. There is no way to rotate the Isometric view that you are stuck with, so the angle given is the only one you can build from. It is therefore highly advised to build from the back of your base forwards, lest you want to end up being unable to place your traps or see a hole in your wall. I realize that it was probably near impossible to make a rotational view on the DS version of the game, but that came out a little less than nine years ago, and both technology, and game ideals have progressed substantially since then. Especially seeing as this game is now on the latest generation consoles, the player should easily be able to rotate the view and prevent building issues.
After the build phase is done, we go into the battle phase. In this, you’ll face up against the endless horde of Clockworks as they try to destroy whatever you’ve been tasked to defend. They are but of a simple breed, so they will target your walls and try to destroy most, if not all, of your walls before proceeding to destroy your Source Well/People/Bluebit/etc… This means that you can usually get in and take out the weaker ones before you get swarmed by too many units, and so it becomes a game of running in and running out, taking out maybe one or two enemies (until you get the life drain attack) and then waiting for your health to respawn.
Regarding that attacking notion and Lock’s Quest comes with two attacks that you unlock throughout the campaign. There’s your special attack, which is an ultimate killer that will deal the effect to any enemy on the screen, making it great for killing or slowing massive amounts of enemies. You can fill up the special bar by using your normal attack, which also gets new options throughout the course of the game. The first is a combo attack that requires you to complete a QTE to deal massive amounts of damage. The next is an attack that sprays acid on the enemy, and the one after that is a vampire move, each one requiring a different type of QTE to be completed to action their effect. It’s a little annoying at first, but you get used to the QTEs really quickly, so it makes for an integral part for fighting off the endless Clockwork scourge.
As you’ve seen me call them endless, you’re probably sensing that this game doesn’t base off of the amount of enemies killed. Unlike most Tower Defense games, this game is a time based objective affair, so you’ll usually have to fight off the Clockworks until time runs out. I say usually, for it does occasionally throw in rescue missions, recapture missions, or even the rare assault mission where you don’t have to defend anything and just have to kill the select enemies. It really has a nice degree of variety to it, for they usually throw something new at you right when you start to get bored with the regular defend missions.
There is now a new option unlocked after making it to Antonia called Antonian Defense, and it’s the endless mode. It’s just more gameplay with a faster upscale of difficulty than the the original campaign. It works well, but there isn’t that much new about it to be honest.
The battle phase is pretty fun, and it can definitely be heart-racing when the clock starts ticking down and your walls are about to fall. It makes you feel like you’re really going up against an unstoppable force, which helps capture the disparity of the overall situation for the Antonians. They’re on their last legs, and the gameplay really perfects the ‘show don’t tell’ aspect of storytelling. Of course though, nothing is perfect and there is a big fault that accompanies the battle phase. More of the camera work.
Yep, Lock’s Quest has another issue with its isometric view, but this one is a little bit more important than not being able to place a wall in a single spot.
If you are being swarmed by enemies, next to the outside of the upper part of the map, you can be pushed out of the map. This will cause you to get stuck in terrain, but you can still be hit by your foes, causing you to wait until you die. This is a big issue because one of the achievements is beating the game without dying, which becomes more of a dice roll if you get pushed out of the map and can’t get back in.
The final thing to mention about the revamped Lock’s Quest is in regards its graphic and the audio work. The visuals are an example of beautiful pixel art, and it really surprises me how good the animations are. Usually pixel animations are par at best, but this really does an amazing job at everything except one thing – characters moving during conversations. Conversations will only start when all characters of the cinematic stop moving, and so there will be awkward pauses as the characters get in their positions, and it usually follows after a line like “I have something important to tell you”, or “We need to talk about your past.” It just gives a weird asynchronous side to things, which really grinds against the precise rhythm of the game. If the development team could work on that side of things and make the game run as smooth as it calls for, they would quite possibly be the Lords of Pixel Art.
Overall, Lock’s Quest is an exceptional example of how to do not only a phenomenal remastering, but how to tell a story that is supported by the gameplay. If it weren’t for the difficulty one could face because of the isometric view and the awkward conversation timings, this game would be the perfect little title. Throw in the fact that it has really improved on the DS version, and you have a game that nails the Active Tower Defense genre, right to its cold, cold heart. It is definitely one for both Casual and Expert gamers, though it might be substantially harder for the most casual ones out there, even on the normal difficulty setting.
Expect to wall yourself up for a day or two as your play your way through this phenomenal game.