Dungeon crawling is by no means a new experience, with folks hacking and slashing their way through deadly caverns for as long as I can remember. Occasionally though, it can pay off to breathe fresh life into the legendary sub-genre; just take a look at the success of Moonlighter, which has you running a shop and clearing dungeons to stock it. While not quite on the same budget, Square Keeper has aspirations of creating its own spin on dungeon crawling. Are you ready to clear out room after room of enemies with only a handful of cards and your puzzling skills at your disposal in Square Keeper?
Square Keeper sees an adventurer trapped within a dungeon, and it’s going to be your mission to guide them to safety through a series of rooms. That’s the entire narrative right there, so don’t expect to be gripped by a clever story and interesting characters. The developers Kanak have put all of their proverbial eggs in the gameplay basket instead. It’s a risk of course, but puzzling experiences can often survive and thrive without too much storytelling going on.
There are forty-five rooms to escape across five different chapters. Ultimately, you just need to clear out any enemies and make your way to the exit using a limited amount of cards available. Each room is self-contained and viewed from an isometric perspective, with a selection of the aforementioned cards laid out on-screen. These cards enable the main protagonist to perform actions, including movements and attacks.
The controls are very simple and you’ll be eased in with only the movements to worry about initially. Movement cards allow you to move either one, two, or three tiles in any of the four main directions. It’s very easy to begin with, but things get a bit more exciting once enemies are introduced, because weapons are then at your disposal too. The sword card attacks in one of eight directions at a certain range and moves you towards that way too. Meanwhile, the spear card attacks a specified amount of tiles without any movement and the bow has an unlimited range, while also keeping the adventurer on the same spot.
As for the enemies, well there are slimes, rats, spiders and goblins. Each enemy type possesses different characteristics to offer distinct challenges to overcome. If you step directly in front of a spider, then you’re dead and the room restarts, so never look them in the eyes – it’s a rule to live by. The goblins move around in set routines and the rats wander off if approached. The most boring of them all is the slime, which merely exists as an easy target. I like the fact they do all bring something different to the table, however a few more enemy types would help a lot for variety as the rooms tend to feel samey and the dungeon vibe is naturally glum.
Given the limited selection of cards to choose from, poor usage can see you run out and fall short of reaching the exit. Hence, trial and error must be applied; especially if trying to figure out the enemy’s movements and the patterns for any spike traps popping up to pierce holes in your adventurer. Due to the rooms being quite small, a few minutes is the most that will probably be needed to determine the best sequence of cards to play. Only a couple will have you scratching your head for a solution though, which is both good and bad in essence. It means that the majority of players will manage to progress through the lot, but it also provides a smaller amount of joy in succeeding. You’ll be lucky to squeeze more than an hour’s worth of play from Square Keeper.
For the most part, Square Keeper runs smoothly, but there’s one recurring incident that’s just a niggling issue that must be mentioned. A few times, the main character has slain an enemy and met an early demise at the same moment. There’s no real reason for it and no enemies can claim the kill, so I presume it to be a random glitch. Thankfully the shortness of the levels ensures any restarts are relatively painless.
Square Keeper manages to create a decent spin on the old dungeon crawler genre, with puzzles at the forefront and a relaxed atmosphere to boot. It’s a nice change of pace to use your noggin to escape the rooms, but you won’t have to ponder solutions for too long and easiness is as much a blessing as it is a curse. Having a few extra card or enemy types wouldn’t have gone a miss either to inject more variation into proceedings.
You won’t come away from Square Keeper feeling like a genius, but for the low price of under a fiver, it’s a decent puzzler that can kill an hour and boost your Gamerscore in the process.
Square Keeper is out now on the Xbox Store