Development crew 5th Cell make a return to DS with Lock’s Quest, a strategy game that breathes new life into the genre. You may recall their other outing on the handheld – Drawn To Life, another (mildly) genre-bending romp of the platforming kind – and if one thing is now abundantly clear, the team have a lot of fresh ideas they’re ready to bring to handheld gaming.
The story in Lock’s Quest, however, doesn’t break any boundaries and it’s a tale that is all too familiar, though perhaps perfectly suited for a general DS audience. You play as Lock, a young archineer in the making – an archineer basically being a tower builder. The game throws Lock immediately into the fray when he comes upon a desperate stranger pursued by the Clockwork army. Thankfully, the dialogue here transcends the corniness of games like Summon Night: Twin Age and Luminous Arc. Though the theme in Lock’s Quest is nothing new, there is some surprisingly well-written prose for a game meant to be played on the go. There’s also a slight bit of character development, and the overall progression of the story has a definite RPG feel.
The gameplay foundation of Lock’s Quest is built upon the Tower Defense formula, but there’s much more under the hood here. When Lock first enters battle, the player is afforded a short time in which to build and repair towers, as well as research new tower defenses – the Building Mode. The game walks you through the basics, and you’ll acquire new tower pieces along the way. Everything you build and repair is paid for with “source,” which can be accumulated from downed enemies. Once this phase is complete, you’ll move into the Battle Mode.
You have full control over Lock during this phase, and while your towers are doing their thing to repel the Clockwork army, Lock will be battling soldiers face to face. Additionally, you’ll command Lock to repair tower segments. Lock has limited health (though it replenishes over time) and the tower pieces are destructible, so you’ll have to weigh priorities during battle in order to prevent the enemy from taking over the areas under your protection. The Battle Mode is also a timed event, and you’ll only need to ward off the enemy for short stints before getting a reprieve.
The most interesting and undeniably fun element of the battle phase is the implementation of micro games. When Lock goes head-to-head with an enemy, he can use one of a number of special attacks, which are executed by playing a micro game. At the onset of your adventure, Lock will have the ability to increase the power of his attacks by playing a quick, sort of Elite Beat Agent-style micro game in which you tap numbered-circle markers in sequence. Most of the special attacks are simple and straight forward, but they’re also a whole lot of fun, especially when there are many other things demanding your attention on the battlefield. Repairing towers, too, will oft call upon you to engage in a bit of DS-centric touching, and these little extras go a long way to making Lock’s Quest quite a unique experience.
The game also manages to throw in a bit of Defend Your Castle-style gameplay when Lock is called upon to man a tower. During these portions of the game, you’ll fire cannon balls at various types of enemies as they attempt to breach your structure. You play through several days (rounds), and at the end of each day, you’re able to make repairs, upgrade your tower, and purchase power-ups. As simple as these mini games are – and they are pretty basic – they’re made fun and interesting by the different ways in which enemies engage your tower.
That said, the gameplay is not without flaws. Though the game follows a neatly shaped story, presented with a fair amount of polish, you’ll be doing a lot of the same things throughout the duration of the experience. Additionally, as with almost all real-time-strategy gameplay on DS, there are issues with pathing. Because Lock’s Quest is based greatly on Tower Defense-style gameplay, there are plenty of obstacles on the field for Lock to navigate, and he’ll get stuck often when trying to move about. This issue is sometimes easily remedied by manually guiding Lock out of whatever areas he might get hung up on, but it does slow things down a bit. In some of the later missions, however, the pathing can get pretty bad and make for some truly frustrating moments. Lastly, there is no way to switch the top and bottom screens, allowing you to utilize the mini map to more quickly guide Lock to his next destination. With so much going on in a given skirmish, it’s an oversight that’s sorely missed.
On the production front, Lock’s Quest is something of a mixed bag. The sound effects are especially fitting and add a lot to the satisfaction you get when repairing towers and whatnot, but most of the music throughout the game is quite cliché. The game’s presentation is lovely and reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, but the in-game graphics are simple, 2D renderings with bland colors and little detail. On the flip side, character stills during dialogue sequences are nicely illustrated, and the overall production of the game is quite polished. The story, gameplay and other elements of Lock’s Quest are rationed out in nice, little bit-sized morsels, which make it easy to pick up for a quick burst of fun on the go.
When tallied up, this is a really fun strategy adventure. Some practical design choices, along with a host of inspired gameplay ideas, make this a title well worth checking out. There are a ton of missions and a local multiplayer option for when the single-player journey comes to an end. The game, of course, is not without flaws, but in spite of its shortcomings, Lock’s Quest is mostly a joy to play.