Wyv and Keep

Ancient temples and hidden relics have long brought treasure hunters of all sorts into murky depths and more often then not, imminent danger. Dangle the carrot of riches or knowledge in front of the right person long enough and you end up with the likes of Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake, or Lara Croft, all of whom know their way around both an abandoned temple and a tight situation.

Wyv and Keep are not those people. Any of them. In any sort of way. But... they can push a box with the best of them.

Wyv and Keep is the story of Wyv, Keep, and the trouble they get into on their first real treasure hunt. Wyv is, by all accounts, a lummox. Keep, on the other hand, is rather intelligent, a brain surgeon in comparison to her companion, but manages to let Wyv talk her into this expedition into a hidden temple in the middle of a rain forest. I'll let you argue about the fool and the fool who follows him on your own time, but suffice it to say, Wyv isn't a very strong planner, and Keep is annoyed by this constantly, but continues to let him do his thing.

So, as I was saying, Wyv plans this expedition (though, honestly, its a lot more of an expotition) to a hidden temple in search of treasure, Keep goes along for the knowledge and the experience, and we get to play 60+ levels of box puzzles. During those levels, presented through very retro 2D sprites and backgrounds, our protagonists run into pages from a previous explorers diary. While the information delivered is the same, the way it's given differs depending on whether Wyv or Keep picks up the page.

Their relationship, which is akin to constantly fighting siblings, is without a doubt the most enjoyable part of the game. The dialog is quick and natural, and their reactions to the various plights borne both by the previous explorers and of their own circumstances is both cute and endearing. When taken with the puzzle gameplay, and the need for both of them to work together, their infighting takes on the qualities of a buddy cop film.

The puzzles themselves each represent a single level, which itself is a single screen, and involves maneuvering both Wyv and Keep from their starting point to an exit. To get there involves every combination of pushing boxes, stacking boxes, dropping boxes, and walking on boxes that you can think of, and probably a couple more that you haven't. To add to the puzzles, the spaces Wyv and Keep occupy also serve as a kind of box, allowing/requiring you to stack and manipulate both characters to reach higher ledges and prevent boxes from butting up against a wall and becoming immovable.

The puzzles are all pretty logical, requiring no real slight of hand or magic tricks to make work. Through the first 30 levels, most puzzles are actually pretty serene, and it helps acclimate you to the gradually increasing difficulty. Once you pass that hump though, and get into to the real core of the temple, puzzles begin to require quick hands and tons of forethought. I would often find myself using my first few attempts just to see where things move, as it's easy to get caught thinking one thing only to find that what you needed to do was something else entirely. The later levels also start to work in obstacles like shooting arrows, patrolling natives, crumbling rocks, and even lava pools. This is where a lot of the “error” portion of trial and error makes its appearance, and unfortunately, leads to staleness rather than providing the need to push forward.

When you make a mistake in Wyv and Keep, fixing it is as easy as hitting pause and selecting restart. This resets the level to the beginning and you are free to start again. This resets the level to the beginning. Resets to the beginning. Resets. Beginning. So if you are in the middle of a 20 part puzzle, and you accidentally leave Wyv holding a stick of dynamite above his head, while standing on a box, which puts the dynamite in the path of a firing arrow... you're starting over. Finally figure out a pattern and forget you need to have Keep next to you to catch the falling box, so it gets stuck up against the wall... you're starting over.

In the beginning, restarting seems appropriate for learning and adjusting. The number of necessary moves is relatively low, and it's easy to keep where you are going and what you are supposed to be doing in order. As the game progresses, though, restarting suddenly becomes more of a punishment, with some levels taking on an almost masochistic quality. With the length of the game rivaling 15-20 hours, this tedium begins to take its toll. After 10 levels, the puzzles seem fresh. After 20, you begin to wonder if you have seen everything they have to offer. After 30, you know it has. After 40, the box puzzles have officially worn out their welcome.

Wyv and Keep also ties your time in a level and the amount of resets to an arbitrary score. It's fairly meaningless, and can be easily gamed once you figure out how to do a level by just going back into it and doing it again. The grades you get are funny and in tune with the rest of the humor in the game, but they are entirely unnecessary, and as such, add very little to the game itself.

If you are looking to try adventuring with a friend, Wyv and Keep does support co-op. It, thankfully, requires you to know the person, and if I may, I would recommend some sort of voice chat with whoever you are playing with. Trying this with a random person seems like it would be incredibly frustrating, and it looks like the developers anticipated this. Also of note is a map editor which allows you to design your own levels. I didn't spend an awful lot of time with this, but it was easy enough to work with, and imagine that someone seeking to devote their time to it could come up with designs that are just as evil as those the developers designed.

With a constant battle raging over the time spent to dollars spent value proposition, it's rare that I find a game that seems simply to long. While the puzzles are great throughout, and it's clear that an enormous amount of time and heart has gone into it, the one note nature of Wyv and Keep prevents it from holding your attention rapt all the way through. You will want to stay to see what happens to the odd couple, but each step towards the end will make you question whether or not finding out what happens is actually worth it.

Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!