Inside Pulse 12

Review: Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors (Nintendo Wii)

Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors
Developer: Alpine Studios
Publisher: Interplay
Genre: First Person Action RPG
Release Date: 01/19/2012

Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors is a remake/sequel of Interplay’s 1996 first-person PC based dungeon crawler for the Nintendo Wii. Available on Wii Shop for 500 points, the potential to wax nostalgic was too much for me to resist at least trying. The original incarnation had live action cinematic sequences with a variety of voice actors, a rune based magic system allowing for some creativity, and a somewhat tinny but engaging soundtrack. Coupled with a story that gradually guided you through the available levels and allowed you to meet character NPCs (with names!), and you had the makings of a mid-ninety’s classic.

On starting, the familiar Interplay logo is flashed across the screen along with the logos of the other developers and producers of the game. The similarities to the 1996 version, aside from generic RPG elements, are now over. After choosing to be male or female, you are dropped into a room containing three doors, each leading to a different ally to choose from. After battling a few single skeletons to get your bearings with the finer points of the Wii controller, you begin a very linear, very predictable crawl (dungeon that is)…

Story:

Ummm, none. You’re the descendant of the original clan that owned the keep. You’re there to find out why an evil power has driven everyone out and why the skeletons are moving about under their own power. That’s the extent of the story. Occasionally a big boss skeleton type will pop up and tell you he can’t figure out what’s going on here, and that you should turn back. There’s no other mention of the history or the story’s past, present, or future.

Graphics:

This does have the feel of the old Stonekeep game sans the live action cinematics. The environments are not interactive, deceased enemies disappear after a few seconds, and the walls look very well done for a game if it’s trying to achieve a retro feel. Some of the air and water spells have nicely animated effects, even if they do get a little pixelated. The only drawback would be that if you have multiple spells active at once, there is a possibility of the game lagging as the processor chugs through the lightning ball spells you just cast after having previously filled the room with falling refuse, poison clouds, slowing mists and lightning storms. Even if you didn’t play the original, but you’ve played some of the earlier “3D” titles (Wolfenstien 3D for example), the repeating wall sprites will feel familiar.

Sound:

Bad. Aside from the sound of spells being cast or the swinging of swords, there are very little other sounds at all. There is no in-game voice acting aside from the introduction. None of the races that interact with you speak a single syllable. There aren’t even any sounds when you fall to your death. It’s nice that the spells all seem to have a sound component to them (the area effect spell that pelts enemies with refuse and rotting food comes to mind), but this small bright spot doesn’t make up for a almost complete lack of auditory stimulation.

Control and Gameplay:

Well, if you consider yourself to be a Wiimote and nunchuck ninja, or are at least proficient in getting your Wii to recognize what you are trying to accomplish, you probably won’t have too many troubles. For the rest of us however, the demands of controller manipulation will certainly detract from any pleasure derived from playing the game. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to call up a spell to attack your enemy and instead you’ve grown vines with flowers on them for the enemy to smell…as it hacks you to bits. Holding the A button and executing one of the ten different movements will allow you to attack, holding the B button and using the same ten different movements allows you to throw projectiles. Finally, holding a direction on the D-pad along with the same ten movements will cast one of four different categories of spells. If this sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. It starts to rival tax codes after a while. Now while there is an in-game menu to review the available spells and their instructions, without taking notes of your own, it can get frustrating trying to first remember which movement corresponds to which spell. Then of course there is the matter of perfectly executing said movement. Any slightly missed position either ends in nothing, or whatever the closest related action is. The first time you try to heal one of your allies, and you blast them into oblivion, you’ll really wish the controls were smoother.

Speaking of the allies, Whether you choose the dwarves, the elves, or the sharga (goblins), your ally is pre planted in a few rooms on each level, and will frustrate you by not living long enough to actually help you unless you’re able to heal them (without accidentally blowing them up). They move slowly, they don’t communicate with you and sometimes you don’t even know they are there until you hear someone hitting them. They can get stuck in doors, sometimes not move at all, and other times will march in step next to enemies that are also marching a route that haven’t noticed you yet.

Movement and interaction is another sour point. Allies aren’t the only folks that have difficulty getting through some of the doors/doorways. Once you’re stuck, you have to level the nunchuck and back away from the door in order to become unstuck. At which time you can try to get through again. This was very frustrating. Your character is half the width of the doorways folks.

Replayability:

I suppose you could replay the entire scenario as the opposite sex as when you started. Once you complete the individual levels, you can go back and replay any of them instead of going forward with your main adventure. You can’t save replay levels but you can goof around in them.

Balance:

If you’re prepared for a traditional dungeon crawl with few bells and whistles with a retro feel, it’s balanced well. If you were expecting something else, it’s lacking in a number of areas and the levels become terribly repetitive after a while.

Originality: None. There is nothing here that hasn’t been seen before.

Addictiveness:

I struggled to get through this game because of some of the very frustrating jumping sections. With the other controller problems and generic feel, it didn’t get me very excited. Anytime you weigh playing a game versus doing your math homework, and the homework wins….

Appeal Factor: If you are going for an old school feel linear RPG dungeon crawler, you will find it appealing.

Miscellaneous:

In lieu of any vocalization, all interactions with NPC’s and any instructions to you are delivered via scroll. It stops gameplay cold and doesn’t always match what you are doing. The jumping sections are a royal pain given that you can’t easily see your feet or the end of the platform and if you die, you go back to one of the many save points. The lack of walking distance doesn’t matter when you’re trying to make that last jump onto a pillar of air to levitate into the next room. For the fifteenth time.

The Scores:
Story: Worthless
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Dreadful
Control and Gameplay: Dreadful
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
Final Score: Bad Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:
Much like the levitate spell in the game, Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors is something that starts with a little flash, then raises your hopes high, but ultimately the crash of reality (onto the Keep’s floor which kills you) sets in.