Initial Review: The Keep (Switch)

Thanks to CINEMAX for providing GWW with this review key.

  • Dungeon crawlers are incredibly rare on the Switch – The Keep is a good one!
  • Gorgeous graphics
  • Controls are difficult to get used to

Publisher: CINEMAX
Platform: Nintendo Switch (as-reviewed), Nintendo 3DS, PC/Steam
Price: $17.99 (Switch), $14.99 (PC/Steam)

The Keep is a first-person dungeon crawler for the Nintendo Switch. It originally launched on the 3DS in 2014, and benefited from the touch display. The Switch version brings updated graphics, but is it the best way to play it?

What’s Good

Like the great dungeon crawlers of old, The Keep is a grid-based adventure where you’ll solve puzzles and battle enemies in tactical combat. After a brief tutorial, you’re promptly locked up and need to use what you’ve learned about the game’s rules in order to break out. This is a defining moment in the game as players can become frustrated with the apparent lack of direction. But, if you paid careful attention to the tutorial, you’ll be just fine. And if you’re somewhere in the middle, as I was, you’ll feel a strong sense of accomplishment. Throughout the game, you’ll need to rely on your wits and understanding of the game’s rules and habits in order to survive and ultimately defeat the antagonist, Watrys. You can expect puzzles that are solved usually quickly: adding or removing weight from pressure plates, finding keys to unlock doors, and knowing the weaknesses of enemies so you can defeat them with as little resource expenditure as possible. Your primary resources are health, stamina (combat) and mana (magic). You’re able to accumulate a critical hit meter, which you can expend once full for a more powerful attack.

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The magic system requires you to use your head. After learning a spell from a scroll, you arrange an assortment of runes that match the reading on the scroll. These steps require patience and planning. Don’t be surprised if you have to die a few times before you get into a groove of managing your mana better. Some enemies simply cannot be killed with melee weapons; making you reliant on magic. Using magic requires you to hold ZR and move the L stick through the runes in the grid until you’ve effectively selected the runes in the order that you’d like. The fireball spell is a 3-rune spell, so it can be cast rather quickly. There is a recharge or cooldown time for each rune, and some spells can leave you retreating from battle for a few seconds until the runes are recharged.

What Needs Improvement

At launch, The Keep does not support the Pro Controller. I’ve reached out to the developer team for comment. Hopefully we’ll get a patch soon that addresses it as well as the overall in-game brightness. It’s actually common for dungeon crawlers to be dark, as they have players rely on lit torches to help them see. Dungeon crawlers, including The Keep, also allow you to leverage magic to brighten rooms. If you can find that spell in The Keep, and you’re having similar challenges as I, then you’ll be casting that spell often. However, I tried to play the game while a passenger on a road trip during a cloudy afternoon. I couldn’t see the screen well enough to even know where I was in the dungeon. This needs to be patched.

Combat, in general, is not ideal. But I understand how a port of the 3DS version would turn out this way. Starting with melee combat, instead of swiping the bottom touch display of a 3DS to command your character to swipe with a sword, for example, you’ll instead hold the R button and drag the right stick to the right for a second or so. There is a visual display to remind you. While I would have preferred a more straitghtforward attack command, I understand how CINEMAX likely got here. And it does require you to be patient and calculated, as each attack uses stamina. That aligns well with the overall atmosphere of the game. Using magic requires you to hold ZR and move the L stick through the runes in the grid until you’ve effectively selected the runes in the order that you’d like. The fireball spell is a 3-rune spell, so it can be cast rather quickly. There is a recharge or cooldown time for each rune, and some spells can leave you retreating from battle for a few seconds until the runes are recharged.

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Who is it For?

Anyone who loves classic dungeon crawlers or someone looking for an indie game on Switch that can sustain them for 10 hours.

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