I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first dipped my toe into Wyv and Keep. Some games I seek out, others I research before playing. This one was a mystery, but I’m happy to say that it was a pleasant surprise.
Wyv and Keep has, in what is fairly standard for indie games, retro visuals. In this particular game we’re looking at roughly 16bit era visuals, and they did a good job. One of the most interesting things that an artist can do when working with pixels is see how much expression and personality they can pack into a tiny cluster of squares, and Wyv and Keep are exceptional in this regard. Watching them read through the tutorial/story screens is a treat, with each of them cycling through a wide assortment of expressions and postures. Swooing, exasperation, concentration, mockery, embarrasment, and a dozen other emotions are made apparent by skillful facial expressions. Heck, they even go though animations like searching through a bag when commenting about a piece of equipment that may or may not have been brought along. I will say that there was a point of debt among my friend Phawx and me regarding the female character. He was of the opinion that she was wearing a ninja mask, I was of the opinion that she had no torso, her face was tucked into her panties, and her arms were sticking out the leg holes. He was probably right, but having seen it I can’t unsee it.
The environments are varied and detailed enough, though here and there I ran into situations where I wasn’t aware enough of a specific patch of ground to behave accordingly (mud prevents you from jumping, and I would occasionally forget I was standing on it until I tried to hop a pit). This probably less to do with the game and more to do with my attention span, which is kind of sh…
My friend and co-reviewer dubbed this a sokoban game, and there is definitely that element to it. You play as a pair of characters who are the size and shape of a box. Ostensibly you are seeking vast riches in a temple, but what you are really doing is pushing boxes around. You can’t pick up a box, and you can’t pull one, but you can push them around and support them if they fall or slid onto you. These boxes are used to press switches, block hazards, bridge water, help you reach higher platforms, and pretty much anything else the game my require of you. Thing that makes this game really unique is that whether you’re playing single player or multiplayer, you’re solving the puzzles cooperatively.
In single player mode, you control the characters alternately, switching between them when necessary. Sometimes the things you need your partner for are very basic, like jumping off of the other’s head to give a boost. Others are a little more closely tied with the game mechanics, like using your partner to prevent a box from ending up against a wall (which would make it impossible to move further). Something I really liked was the fact that you could toy with the mechanics of the game to find alternate solutions. The primary example of this was something my friend and I referred to as “the phantom shelf” where you would hold the box with the very edge of you character, so that the other character could jump on your head and push the box off. It led to some bizarrely simple solutions that I feel confident were not intended by the level designers.
In online mode, you each pick a player, and this mode was simultaneously the strongest and weakest point of the game. Matchmaking is stupidly simple. You enter your name in the lobby, and all other players available are listed. Pick one to invite him or her to a game and you’re ready to go. When it worked (which was most of the time) the online was pretty darn smooth. There was a little bit of lag between the two screens, but it seldom caused any problems unless a solution called for very tightly choreographed motions. Then there were the other times. On one occasion we connected, and could easily solve puzzles, but on my screen my partner wasn’t moving, nor were the boxes interactive for me. Restarting a level fixed that issue. I had a dropped connection once or twice during a multi-hour play session, but I suspect that was due to me hammering the “ready” button and accidentally quitting the game.
The standard box moving is mixed up steadily as the levels progress. Obstacles like water and spikes show up. Switches that need to be held down or toggled appear. Dynamite with timed fuzes arrive. Not only that, but on each level of the game there is a key and a special room, which show up on different stages. If you find the key, you can try the special room, and if you are like me, you’ll fail in an epic and amusing manner. In normal levels, opening the exit and reaching it with one of your characters is the success condition, and doing it with few retries, low completion time, and large amounts of loot gathered will give you a high score.
No spoken dialog, catchy music… That’s all there is to see here, move along.
The story is fairly basic. The two main characters mount an expedition into an ancient ruin in search of fame and fortune. Nothing we haven’t seen before. What I liked about the story, though, was the excellent writing. Your characters have conversations regarding the notes they find, which have been left by a professor who explored the place before you. Not only are the comments made by the characters funny to hilarious in nature (Good news! It isn’t poop!), but they actually vary appropriately depending on which of the two characters picks up the notes.
I really enjoyed Wyv and Keep. Everything from the graphics to the gameplay really hit the spot. If the online foibles can be squared away, I’d easily recommend this for puzzle game afficianados who are interested in a game they can share with one another or play alone if they choose. Loads of fun.
8.5 / 10: Old-school visuals with plenty of personality, fun puzzles, and well-made co-op make Wyv and Keep a great little game.