Most of the time I spent with TinyKeep for this review, the game was preceded by a disclaimer that what I was playing was a closed beta, not representative of the final product. I was all set to turn this into a preview accordingly, but the disclaimer disappeared earlier today. With some hands-on time with something probably closer to the release version, then, I’m diving headlong into a review. Honestly, the most recent update doesn’t seem to have changed an awful lot, but there’s some decent polish that’s come with it, so here we go.
If you’re not familiar, Phigames’ TinyKeep is the product of a Kickstarter campaign that raised £25,675 (roughly $42,070 in US dollars). It’s a somewhat unconventional dungeon-crawler, using a level-less, class-less, and mostly equipment-less system that leaves you to rely on your wits more than great loot or cool powers to get by. You begin with some basic and purely aesthetic character customization, then you’re thrown haphazardly into the lowest level of a dungeon. Your cell has just been opened by an unseen ally and you’ve got nothing to your name but a small lantern dangling at your hip. This first area contains your only means of defense – a battered-looking shield and sword.
The gameplay in TinyKeep is about as basic and bare-bones as the rest. The objective is, of course, to ascend the dungeon and make an escape. Along the way, a myriad of guards, monsters, and traps will try to end your quest. Death is permanent, and there’s no option to save your progress; in the game of TinyKeep, you win or you die. Mostly, you die. Tough bosses, swarms of enemies, devious traps, and fickle environmental elements all conspire against you at every turn, making progress a thing of true difficulty, and turning every victory into a moment to savour, if only briefly.
Most of the elements of TinyKeep are part of an intricate, procedurally generated system that keeps each new attempt fresh even though the dressing itself may not change much. In addition to enemies and traps, there’s a bevy of other prisoners locked away in the dungeon that you can free. Setting them loose results in them either joining your escape, attacking you in a blind rage, or running amok in a useless panic. There are also shrines scattered around that will imbue you with randomized “buffs”, from extra damage against certain foes to health regeneration or any of a number of other increases. The controls are responsive and simple but a lack of vertical camera control irks me more than it perhaps ought to.
All in all, there’s some flaws that still exist, but as I’ve seen updates roll in, TinyKeep has only gotten better. While I’m not sure of the niche it fills — too hardcore for casual gamers, but not in-depth enough to satisfy some of the more dedicated ones — it’s still fun. The ragdoll physics and constantly changing, living environment keep things interesting for multiple plays. Yet the lack of save and some other features that I think would really flesh it out make it a bit hard to get too involved in. I think some equipment variety would do wonders here, but maybe the lack of it is part of the point. TinyKeep hits Steam on September 29 for a discounted $9.99, down from the eventual retail of $14.99.