Lock’s Quest is one of those games that crosses the boundaries of genre; in the strictest sense it is only strategy, but it also has elements of action, resulting in it being a “strategy-action” or “action-strategy” game. Whatever you call it, Lock’s Quest manages to amazingly blend turret-building, wall-repairing, character-positioning and special move attacks into a you-versus-the-world frenzy.
Lock is a young, blond, plain, Japanese-RPG kind of fellow who is branching out: he bears no sword, amnesia, magic, or great regrets, but he does have his village come under attack. Somewhere in the madness he loses track of his sister, but no other tragic events occur except the needed evacuation of the village.
Combat is patterned after tower defense games: hordes of robotic clockworks attack Lock’s position, making the selection and placement of towers and walls an important strategical element. Lock has 2 or 3 minutes to place these in the building stage. After this, the fight commences, which also lasts 2 or 3 minutes. Unlike in typical tower defense games, however, Lock himself remains on the battlefield to repair or to clash with the clockworks in person.
This is all done using the stylus. Lock’s Quest is commendable for managing to feel like a computer strategy game when everything about it takes advantage of the platform. Sometimes placement is a little uncomfortable, but the building stage gives enough time to make up for it. Pathing, the system through which game units know the shortest route from point A to point B (and how to get around walls) is a bit flawed, at least where Lock is concerned; look away, and you may find he’s still in the same spot, running in place. Combat is also stylus-driven and requires a lot of coordination to really excel at it. Lock has four different kinds of attacks, all of which require unique stlyus manipulation. One of his later moves is a life-stealing attack: to perform it, a bar will appear with a tab on it. The direction the tab needs to be pulled will be random, so reflexes are key. After the first attack, two bars will appear, then three, and then it resets to one. All the moves are, in the strictest sense, easy to perform–but it is much harder to do them quickly when there are 4 towers that need to be repaired and 3 other sets of clockworks that are unattended.
The level of challenge here is one of the best features of Lock’s Quest. For a DS strategy game that is going for broad appeal, Lock’s Quest manages to nail it. Success is not out of the reach of children, at least intelligent or older ones, and adults can still find it challenging. I managed to find strategies that worked consistently, but learning those strategies took time, and it was time well-enjoyed. I’m 27 years old, I’ve played over a thousand matches of Starcraft online and won over half of them, and yet a few of these levels beat me more than once.
The icing on the cake for Lock’s Quest is the story—Lock and his sister Emi lack depth in personality, but the rest of the characters are surrounded in mystery. There are 100 “days” to get through to get to the end of Lock’s Quest, and at day 96, I thought I knew the rest of the story, but the plot twists and surprises continue through to the very end. There’s nothing deep here, but it was engaging enough to keep me curious as to what would happen, and there were some armchair philosophy and juvenile-lit lectures to boot. This is likely the only other game this year besides The World Ends With You that tells a tale you hope teenagers see; if Final Fantasy feels like a soap opera, Lock’s Quest feels like a darker Disney Movie.
Lock’s Quest manages to cross strategy and deliberation at the speed of pencil and paper with live combat, then add an involving story where every single character has a secret or surprise. To do all this and make it appealing and fun for a broad audience across genre-preferences and age is no small feat. Lock’s Quest is one of the best reasons to buy a DS.
Plays like: Zelda, PC real-time strategy, and tower defense all at the same time.
ESRB: E for everyone. Some serious themes here, including death and life, but nothing offensive.
Pros: Good for both extended and quick play, story is unique and well-told, lots of opportunity for creativity, very well-balanced challenge that engages both young and old, newbie and expert
Cons: Lock’s pathing is sometimes off, placement is awkward, seems like there are only six music tracks, and they get old quickly; sprites hardly have faces