The old-school dungeon crawler can be a cruel mistress. First-person movement, gameplay that basically drops you in the middle of a world and tells you to figure it out - it’s certainly a far cry from the handholding that most RPGs do these days. Coldfire Keep [$4.99], the latest title published by Crescent Moon Games, does a decent job of recreating the basics of the classic genre with a large world that kept me wanting to return, explore, and conquer. However, it left me wanting more in terms of combat and controls.

If you haven’t checked out our preview, Coldfire Keep offers the basic package in terms of first-person dungeon crawling. You create a party of four, enter into an abandoned keep, and take on its enemies in search of loot, gold and glory. Like other similar games, Coldfire Keep’s visuals, music and sound take somewhat of a backseat to more important elements such as exploration, loot and combat.

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While Coldfire Keep starts slow, the game eventually reveals itself to be a pretty engaging game. Hidden passages, puzzles, and traps join the standard elements of finding loot, killing baddies and getting to the next floor. Eventually, Coldfire opens up into multi-level objectives that have you searching for keys on one floor to open a locked door on another floor which will allow you to flip a switch that allows you to continue further, and so on. Truly optional secrets rooms and treasure also make checking exploring each nook and corner rewarding. Sure, the game’s class system and actual mechanics aren’t too in-depth, but for the most part it works well.

There are, however, two facets to Coldfire Keep that could use a bit more work: the control scheme and the turn-based combat system. Coldfire offers two different control options: swipe-based controls and a traditional virtual button overlay. Unfortunately, I found the touch controls to be not as responsive as I’d like (with a noticeable lag between swiping and moving), and while the overlay was smoother, the button placement was too cramped on my iPhone’s small screen. With built-in support for MFi controllers, I’d wager that Coldfire Keep probably plays best  with physical controls instead of having to deal with its on-screen controls.

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The combat system, meanwhile, felt a bit too simple for my tastes. Enemies are numerous but lack variety, meaning you’ll be fighting the same baddies over and over again with some variation. There’s also not a lot of feedback in terms of actually scoring hits against enemies. I also wish the game offered more information in terms of damage done and how your stats affect combat. There isn’t even much in terms of a tutorial or help section, although I realize that may be a deliberate homage to the genre. There are plenty of weapons, armor and stat-boosting items to (eventually) find, but most items didn’t really stand out and I found it hard to get excited about new upgrades (probably because of that lack of information feedback).

Still, I enjoyed my romp through Coldfire Keep in spite of my concerns above mainly due to how well it executes the actual exploration of the world. The puzzles were easy enough to keep me engaged and I found myself wanting to find the next key, open the next door and see what the next floor would bring. The game’s story, told via discovered journals and the occasional conversation between party members, is pretty standard but worked well enough to maintain that level of engagement that the rest of the game instills. Even the ration system (which forces players to eventually eat before they starve and take damage), while rough at the onset, can be managed and adds some strategy to the game (hint: buy the fishing tackle as soon as you can).

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Coldfire Keep isn’t going to overthrow the likes of The Quest as the premier iOS dungeon crawler, however it still offers an experience worth playing through. If you look beyond the control issues, you’re still left with a full-fledged (if a little basic) adventure that succeeds at capturing the essence of dungeon crawling. Whether that’s enough in an age that typically offers more than the basics is up to you.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • cofunguy

    Obviously you folks don't know a good rpg when you see one. The developer has a fix for the controls but of course no mention of that in the review. Quick to judge in my opinion.

    • shdwstar2417

      This is a review of the game as is I'm sure . And 'as is 'the review is spot on .

    • Bytebrain

      That's not true, actually.

      The developer have a fix submitted to Apple for the extremely spotty item pickup.
      As it is, I have to rigorously tap the screen repeatedly to pick anything up on my iPad Air.

      There's no mention on the forums from the developer on improving the actual controls which isn't optimal at all, especially the touch controls.

      This review isn't a bad review and the score is above average, and is pretty much spot on.

      This is a nice little game, and I don't regret buying it at all, but it sure ain't Legend of Grimrock for iOS!
      Not even LoG Light...

      • FivepastTA

        It's certainly got potential, and for that reason I don't regret buying it, but it needs a little work. It needs damage numbers (which were in the game at one point according to a gameplay video) and health bars for the enemies. The minimap needs to show wall, and it would be very useful to be able to make map notes. Weapon and spell effects are a little weak. The fact that you don't see your weapons swing - or even your arrows flying - feels very odd. Other oddities include your brave band of dungeon crawling adventurers refusing to rest unless they find a nice, cosy bed, and talking to each other when they're dead.

      • Morgan01

        Why bring up Legend of Grimrock for IOS? There was talk of an IOS release which never came to fruition.

    • riChchestMat

      The fix for the controls won't fix the dull gameplay. The combat is really dull and it's frustrating having a rat nearly wipe the party of 4 adult adventurers without realising why. Combat is instead just tapping the weapon button over and over again with little feedback if the attack has any effect whatsoever. The bow and arrows are completely broken. The graphics are nice though.

  • Kevin897

    I'm just gonna stick with "The Quest".

    • Biowhere

      Does the quest have any additional title or do you know the company that makes it? I can't seem to find it on the App Store.

      • c.ihls

        Try searching for The Quest Gold - publisher is Chilingo - still the best dungeon crawler with a lot of expansions for me!

      • gothmog

        You could try the iOS game undercroft by jagex game publishing : an excellent dungeon master like.

      • Papa Deuce

        I did after your comment, and I can't find it.

      • OneHanded

        You find it, if you switch to IPhone search. This is not a universal app. The same goes for undercroft.

      • lll Anubis lll

        Why can't they have universal versions? I know it's really old but I miss it :P

  • tommet

    The controls to pick stuff up are horrid. Hopefully there's a fix soon. Really disappointed in this. :(

  • http://www.onebagtravel.com/ OneBagTravel

    I honestly love this style of game and wish there were more of this quality out there. makes me wonder why Legend of Grimrock isn't on iOS.

  • ASFx

    How did the developers of this game release it with such horrible item pickup capabilities? This looks like a neat game, but wow, it's like they didn't even test it before releasing it... definitely a sign of a rushed game when it's released with such obvious problems.

  • PadreTomasito

    Looks like a great potential, great visuals. But why a very first rat I encountered killed my whole team :D ?

    • Zenfar

      Old school rats are vicious heal your party every turn.

  • Carlos Yoder

    Since nobody has said yet, I'll bite -- EYE OF THE BEHOLDER.

Coldfire Keep Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 3.5