Review: Lock’s Quest (Nintendo DS)

Lock’s Quest
Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Release Date: 09/08/08


Rookie developer 5th Cell impressed more than a few of us about this time last year with their quirky, charming, and almost totally customizable NDS platform adventure Drawn to Life. The company looks to make its mark again with the equally quirky Lock’s Quest, a frantic build, defend, and destroy real time strategy game.

Story:

It shouldn’t surprise you that the protagonist of Lock’s Quest is a boy named Lock.
Lock is what’s know as an archineer, a job description that hybrids the talents and abilities of an architect with those of an engineer. The story opens up with a beautifully executed introduction sequence that explains some of the key elements involved with the game’s plot. The villain of the story, “Lord Agony”, a once noble and respected archineer, has, according to his own logic, been betrayed by his kingdom. In response, the wicked mastermind has assembled a clockwork army, which exists to harvest the valuable “source” from the realm.

Young Lock is thrown into the fray of things when Lord Agony’s clockworks discover a wellspring of source in the young archineer’s village. From there, Lock and his companions trek from location to location holding off the clockwork assailants from whatever source stealing or general dastardliness they may be up to. There is reasonable character development to be had, and steady flow in regards to the plot, but it’s nothing Shakespearian. The plot takes itself a little too seriously, honestly, but it’s not hateful, and works as passable filler for the games premise.

Story: Mediocre

Graphics:

Much like 5th Cell’s previous NDS effort, Drawn to Life, Lock’s Quest features some very nice character designs, colorful graphics, and detailed animation. Even with all the blazing cannons, crumbling walls, and massive amounts of sprites, the game retains its general smoothness, and the animations of not only Lock, but the invading clockworks are expressed in meticulous detail.

The game looks great, and obviously provided they keep up the trend, I believe visual presentation will be next in line behind innovation in qualities 5th Cell will come to be known for.

Graphics: Great

Sound:

Lock’s Quest features some fitting, and melodically good sounding music, but much of it sounds dated, as if it was composed on equipment several generations before its time. The NDS isn’t a sound powerhouse, that’s for certain, but given the work that went into the visuals, and compared to a game like The World Ends With You, I believe the score accompanying the game could have done with some technical tweaking.

The sounds effects, on the other hand, are appropriately delivered in Lock’s Quest. Ratchets clank and whirl when you repair your structures, and explosions and other miscellaneous sound effects come out as they should. It’s not groundbreaking, but it certainly does its job to an acceptable caliber.

Sound: Mediocre

Gameplay:

Having heard about Lock’s Quest some months ago, I was instantly interested solely because of the developer creating it. I was one of many who found thorough enjoyment in Drawn to Life’s mechanic that allowed you to literally bring your little doodles to life, even considering the heart of the game was nothing more than a simple, by the numbers platformer.

Lock’s Quest, from what I gathered from when I originally read about the product, talked about a real time strategy game format, designed from the ground up by 5th Cell, which also contained the creative and customizable elements of Drawn to Life. It’s quite possible that this was merely speculation, as truth be told, Lock’s Quest is pretty much devoid of the charming fun that made Drawn to Life what it was.

Instead of being able to “build” your own robotic designs and battlements either through a drawing mechanic as used in Drawn to Life, or through being able to assemble various things free form with available pieces, like building blocks, the game merely allows you to drag and drop available walls and gun turrets to make what will be your base before actual battle commences. New weapons, traps, and later your own clockwork defenders become available in your arsenal, and the game hints at the element of design by having you build such additions with random scraps that you collect from enemies during the battle phase. Unfortunately, these elements aren’t custom made. From a pool of available pieces, you drag and drop individual parts to form whatever item it is you’re able to create. The mechanic, in its entirety, consists of your pool of parts and an opaque image of the turret/trap/etc. in question. The challenge, if you could call it that, comes about while working with the more minuscule pieces and placing them in the right position amidst the opaque diagram. Successfully accomplishing this will grant you a new item to incorporate into your forces.

As a fan of games that allow you to create your own elements, (RPG Maker, Graffiti Kingdom, hey, even Fighter Maker), I was thoroughly delighted with what Drawn to Life offered me, and in return, disappointed with what Lock’s Quest didn’t. Now I’m not saying that 5th Cell should permanently adhere to making nothing but games that involve allowing the player to be artistic and creative with its elements, but it feels like such mechanics could really have made Lock’s Quest that much more interesting, and it seems the design of the game was originally conceived to allow the player to do as such, but somewhere along the way, 5th Cell decided to swap out what would have been these creative elements with a more generic, preset mechanic that allows you to do things but one way, and one way only. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but the lack of such customizable elements was really disappointing in Lock’s Quest.

Personal thoughts on the game’s elements aside, I can wholeheartedly say that Lock’s Quest has a lot of what fans of its predominant genre are into. Regardless of the missing creative elements, the game does have a good amount of its own nuances and special touches that make it all its own. The actual gameplay of Lock’s Quest consists of several different mechanics. The first involves exposition, wherein Lock investigates his current location prior to the upcoming battle, talks to civilians, and gains various information pertaining to the game’s plot. Next is the build phase, which has you using the touch screen to drag and place pieces to build your defenses against the approaching army of clockworks. Each piece placed requires a certain amount of source, which can be acquired by defeating enemies in the battle phase. Walls will keep clockworks out and fortify the durability of various gun turrets you might have as part of your collective defense, and as such are also integral to your building designs.

The battle phase occurs when the clockworks actually reach Lock’s base, as they attempt to destroy it to get to the source it’s defending. This section of the game is often frantic and full of insane stylus action, as all aspects of the battle phase are conducted via the touch screen. Tapping on land will move Lock to that position. Tapping on invading clockworks will send Lock into auto attack, and thereafter enables you to perform special moves in succession by way of tapping numbered circles on the bottom of the screen that are in a jumbled order; pressing the circles numerically before the associated gage runs out will have Lock attack with more power. Touching your various wall and turret assemblies will have Lock attempt to repair them. Similar to the auto combat initiated with enemies, Lock will constantly increase the item’s durability after you touch it, and by moving a little ratchet icon that appears in a half circular motion effectively before the gauge empties, you will see Lock repair the battlement faster. Yes, it’s a heck of a lot of tapping. The map can be observed by using either the control pad or by holding the stylus at the edge of the top, bottom, left or right of the touch screen. Yes, I know, it sounds like a whole heck of a lot of tapping, and it is, but save for some expected pathfinding issues with moving Lock via the touch screen (he sometimes gets snagged on buildings), the battle phase is fast-paced fun that is very enjoyable, and works very well.

Your installed gun turrets will fire a various array of ammo to either destroy or deflect the invading enemies; your set traps will hinder the enemy in a variety of different ways, including poisoning, stunning, and more; enemies will surround your battlements to take them down with melee attacks and ranged weapons, and the whole time, you’re frantically dashing around repairing and fighting amidst the madness while keeping in mind a myriad of possible mission objectives, which range from rescuing civilians, overcoming enemy squads, and of course, protecting the valuable wellspring of source. Seeing as most battles will last over several game days, alternating between build and battle sequences, allowing you to replace, repair or reposition battlements, the flow of this section of the game is constantly intense, and a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Later in the game a siege scenario is introduced, which plays an awful lot like the flash game Defend Your Castle. This mode is presented by way of a side view, and has you firing cannon balls down onto clockworks from a rampart. It’s set up much like the actual build and battle sequences of the game, but in between skirmishes, you can power up your rampart’s durability, purchase various special shots, or increase the amount of cannon balls you can fire consecutively. It’s amusing, but all in all, these sections really feel unnecessary in comparison to the other elements of the game.

The gameplay is where it’s at with Lock’s Quest, and even though I personally would have really liked to see a more creative mechanic in regards to customization, what’s here undoubtedly works with little flaw, and the experience is chaotic, fast paced strategy goodness that’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Gameplay: Great

Replayability:

The single player campaign in Lock’s Quest is quite lengthy, and given the terrific gameplay throughout, you’ll likely want to keep getting back into things until it’s over. Lock’s Quest also features an exceptionally entertaining multiplayer mode, provided you have a friend with a copy of the game. You can set up a match with an extensive number of options, including maps, time allotment for building, and even how many days the battle will go on for before an ultimate victor is declared. In this mode, you’ll send your clockwork soldiers via a specific route that you choose prior to the actual battle, into your opponent’s camp. Maps on top of the upper DS screen will show your base’s layout, as well as that of your opponents. Both armies will attack the opposing base for the allotted battle time, and a winner will be declared thereafter based on how much durability your base has remaining collectively. It’s a surprisingly good amount of fun, and considering how I’m personally not the biggest fan of the likes of multiplayer Starcraft, the enjoyment I got out of this mode is a true testament to the high quality gameplay associated with Lock’s Quest.

Replayability: Great

Balance:

Lock’s Quest holds your hand through the entire first battle of it’s main campaign. The built-in tutorial explains how all pertaining attributes of the build/battle mechanic work, and it is quite easy to grasp and remember. As progress is made through the game, the difficulty steadily increases with the introduction of different clockwork invaders with more detrimental abilities, more objectives to keep in mind amidst the always frantic gameplay, and of course through the sheer number of attackers surrounding your base in attempts to bring it down.

Lock’s Quest is easily one of the more balanced products I’ve experienced in some time. Never did I get frustrated with the game through its difficulty, nor did I ever feel as if I was just grinding through it aimlessly. This is most likely attributed to the very well composed gameplay herein.

Balance: Great

Originality:

While I personally may have been disappointed that certain elements of Drawn to Life did not make their appearance in Lock’s Quest, I still cannot undermine the considerable abundance of originality that radiates from this product. Though all the parts that make Lock’s Quest the collectively unique experience that it is are essentially borrowed concepts and gameplay mechanics from titles we’ve played time and again, most of which I’m certain I don’t even need to mention, the meticulously crafted unity of all of said elements are what really mold the game into the one of a kind endeavor that it is.

The concept and execution is also heavy with a specific retro vibe that is reminiscent of the unique RPG’s and simulation games ENIX released on the earlier days of the Super NES, and to those who are familiar with and fans of such titles, Lock’s Quest will come off as even more of an interactive treat.

Originality: Great

Addictiveness:

The fun and frantic gameplay of Lock’s Quest will easily make you want to keep the game around until you finish its main story campaign. The gameplay is so good, as a matter of fact, that I felt the impulse to start yet another new game of it shortly after completing the story mode in its entirety. If you can convince a friend to grab a copy of Lock’s Quest, there’s even more to keep coming back to with the dynamic multiplayer component, and the wealth of customizable options and maps therein.

Addictiveness: Great

Appeal:

With the exception of Drawn to Life, the development company 5th Cell isn’t known for much.
I’ve seen sporadic coverage on Lock’s Quest here and there mostly in the way of coming soon blurbs, and upon the games release on Sept. 8th, THQ raised publicity for the game with a very attractive flash advertisement on several frequented gaming websites.

It’s also been mentioned elsewhere that Lock’s Quest might have benefited from a more mature art style, and though I really like the way the product presents itself visually, I am inclined to agree. At a glance, Lock’s Quest is most likely not going to catch the attention of RTS fans who would really enjoy the clever and effective way the game goes about things, as this is probably because the game really doesn’t seem as such upon looking at screenshots or even reading a small product summary. The game comes off as a colorful RPG of sorts, which can be misleading to potentially interested gamers who need to be grabbed by something first before deciding if they’re going to take the bait at all.

While the colorful RPG style will most likely get a few people interested off the bat, and then those expecting a RPG might investigate Lock’s Quest further and decide it’s something they’d be interested in, a more chiseled and for lack of a better term “grown up” appearance might have gotten even more people excited about what truly is a great product, and unfortunately what has a lot of the markings of being an under the radar title.

Appeal: Poor

Miscellaneous

Though it’s a very good game on its own, I would like to again express how I would have loved to see a more creative mechanic incorporated in Lock’s Quest. The actual base building is amusing enough, and I honestly can’t see them doing any more with those elements than they already have, I just wish I could have literally built my own contraptions out of scraps and pieces obtained from enemy clockworks, rather than have to follow exact blueprints to make additional arsenal items. This would, of course, have to incorporate some kind of statistic system based on the quality of the parts the player builds their items out of, but it’s not so far fetched of an idea, and I honestly believe it would make what is a very good game all the more interesting. Perhaps this is something 5th Cell can consider in a sequel.

Miscellaneous: Mediocre

The Scores:
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Great
Sound: Mediocre
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Great
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:

The fast pace and chaotic nature of the gameplay in Lock’s Quest is executed brilliantly, and is a blast to play from start to finish. The game features a great, if slightly off concept, visual presentation, and a multi-player mode that really compliments the game’s stellar gameplay. I can honestly recommend Lock’s Quest to even gamers that aren’t RTS fans, as the mechanics of the game are easy to understand, and the micro managing therein is established in fun and innovative ways that are hardly reminiscent of the sometimes tedious nature of the genre. Those who were hoping for the creative freedom offered in 5th Cell’s previous effort Drawn to Life will be sorely disappointed, but even for these particular people, Lock’s Quest is not one to miss, and should be on your list of must plays regardless.

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