Indie Quickie: TinyKeep

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? A not-quite-so-hardcore dungeon escape roguelike layered with humor and broguish charm.

Who made it and where can you get it? Successfully funded through Kickstarter, developed by Phigames and published by Digital Tribe, TinyKeep is available on Steam for Windows PC at a regular price of $14.99. (Until October 6th the game is on sale at a 34% discount for just $9.89.)

How much did we play? I attempted five dungeon escape runs in two hours of play. Four prisoners perished deep inside Pershdal Dungeon, but on the fifth attempt I finally managed to survive all nine floors and reach the surface, at which point I decided to stab fellow prisoner, Maggie, in the back to achieve but one of the game’s multiple endings. Completing a run unlocks New Game+, but I have not tried that mode to see how it alters the experience.

Any technical concerns, hardware requirements or other details you should know about? I haven’t come across any glaring issues aside from one or two momentary–and inconsequential–framerate stutters. The game would benefit greatly from the addition of custom controller/keyboard mapping as well as a save-and-quit option. Even though the game is best played in small chunks, and an escape run shouldn’t take more than half an hour, it’d still be nice to have a suspend function just in case, because players shouldn’t be penalized for when real life comes calling. Fortunately, both of these small UI holes seem easily patchable for future updates. I’m not sure if this is something that can be changed at this point, but the object physics could use some tweaking. The game world is populated with tons of props (barrels, crates, stone blocks, tables, even dead enemy corpses) that have their own physics and are easy to get hung up on while trying to dodge enemies or simply walk through a room. Sometimes gold coins dropped from defeated enemies get trapped under these objects and can’t be looted. Navigation would be smoother if these objects were less abundant or at the very least destructible.

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Why should you play it?

    TinyKeep looks and plays a lot like any other isometric hack-‘n’-slash action-RPG, and it does have the basic traits of a roguelike (namely permadeath and randomly generated maps), but in execution it is a simplified–dare I say casual–take on the genre. A rogue-lite, if you will. After a quick character creation process, you wake up on the floor of a prison cell deep inside a dungeon crawling with skeletons, orcs, living rock golems, exploding fire demons and other baddies bent on keeping you from seeing the light of day ever again. A fellow prisoner, the aforementioned Maggie, leaves a note saying she got her hands on the key to the cell and made a break for it without you–but hey, at least she was kind enough to leave the door unlocked! Thus begins the dungeon crawl to freedom.

    Actually, it’s more like a dungeon sprint. The twist here compared to traditional action-RPGs, is the emphasis on speedrunning (the game doesn’t have a leaderboard, but runs are timed), the main goal simply being to stay alive until you reach the exit to the surface. There are no experience points. There is no leveling up. There is no inventory/loot management. You get one sword and one shield (which you don’t even need to pick up if you don’t want to) and use whatever potions and food pick-ups are found throughout the dungeon to restore any lost health. Defeated enemies do drop gold coins, which can then be spent at shrines to randomly learn ability perks, such as increased defense or attack damage, health regeneration, a chance for one-hit execution kills, quicker movement speed, or a more profitable gold coin drop rate. Shrines offer abilities at prices of either 15 or 100 gold, so you can buy a lot of cheaper upgrades or save up to potentially gain something more powerful. You never know which upgrade you’re going to get, though. Combined with the randomized dungeons, luck of the draw is a factor as far as getting a favorable map layout and perk loadout to make the escape less daunting.

    However, the trick to the game is knowing when to fight and when to get the hell out of dodge. If you’ve played a lot of these types of games, your natural instinct likely will be to engage every enemy in sight and explore every nook and cranny of the dungeon map. At times you will be forced to do this in order to find colored keys for matching doors or defeat a boss for the key to the next floor, but on many levels the exit gate is open, so the best course of action is to avoid combat and exploration and find the stairs leading up to the next floor as quickly as possible. Obviously there is some tradeoff here, because the only way to earn gold is to kill things, and the only way to buy shrine upgrades is to loot coin drops. Of course, the other neat thing about the game is the fact that the dungeon can be cleared without having to directly kill a single enemy (there’s an achievement for doing so). As deadly as traps like spring-loaded spiked floors panels and wall-mounted arrow shooters can be to you, they are just as hazardous to enemies. Luring foes into traps is a helpful strategy to weed out large groups and avoid direct combat. Braziers and torches can even be knocked over to start fires within the environment. Just watch where you step!

Parting Thoughts: TinyKeep is a simple rogue-lite delight, but it’s actually more challenging than its silly humor (enemies will sometimes become so frightened that they’ll let a panic fart rip before fleeing in terror) and cute, bobblehead characters let on, especially during the first few runs while you figure out the nuances to the map and enemy progression and adjust to the game’s unique fight-versus-flight speed escape approach to dungeon crawling. Successfully fleeing the dungeon doesn’t take very long from start to finish, so how much value you’re able to extract from the game will depend on your level of interest in rerunning the dungeon multiple times over to discover secrets, see all of the endings, play New Game+, and attempt to earn a tough set of achievements. This isn’t a game of complex mechanics, deep character building or rich storytelling, but the limited time investment per run and streamlined gameplay provide a fun, fast, less stressful alternative to the typical dungeon crawl without losing the core elements that make the genre such an addictive crowd-pleaser.

Disclosure: A free Steam key for TinyKeep was provided to VGBlogger.com by the game’s publisher.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!