Monday, September 19, 2005

DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold Review

DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold, developed and published by Caravel Games.
The Good: Long and pleasingly difficult, easy to learn, map editor, surprisingly not boring
The Not So Good: Below average graphics, requires much thought (me hurt brain? uh-oh!)
What say you? An intriguing and brainy puzzle game disguised as a dungeon crawler: 7/8

I’m not a huge fan of puzzle games. Usually there is not much depth involved; once you figure out the basic premise of the game, it becomes an exercise of repetition. Of course, these games have been some of the best sellers in history (see Tetris). I think some people are more geared towards puzzle games than others. This brings us to DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold, an updated an improved version of the original DROD, released quite a while back. This game marries the classic dungeon crawler (think Zelda) with an overall puzzle sheen. Will DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold satisfy my deep intellectual needs? Do I have deep intellectual needs?

One word comes to mind when thinking about the graphics and sound in DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold: budget. The graphics are definitely archaic, and could be easily inserted in a similar Nintendo product. Of course, part of the reason that the graphics are so basic has to do with the map editor, but really graphics are not an area of emphasis with this type of game. There is a difference between old-fashioned graphics and bad graphics, however, and at least everything in DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold is easy to see and never becomes a hindrance in the game. I much rather have graphics such as these than confusing 3-D graphics with bad camera angles. The sound in the game is also very basic, and sounds like it was recorded by an individual at his home computer (and probably was). Like the graphics, this doesn’t mean to say that they are bad; I actually smiled a little when I heard some of the voice acting in the game, not out of pity, but actually because it was funny. I’d like to say the sound has a “personal touch.” The background music, and especially the menu music, is very well done and fits the atmosphere of the game.

DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold has a main, story driven campaign of 25 levels, each of which is broken up into numerous rooms. This is a very long game, and the default campaign does have enough length to satisfy most fans of the genre. With the nature of this game, there really isn’t much replay value, other than the fact that high scores on individual levels can be recorded and compared. However, once you figure out a certain level, there probably won’t be much motivation to play it again, as it’s the same every time. As I mentioned earlier, there is a map editor in the game, where you can build levels inspired by your own lunacy. If you subscribe to the CaravelNet service (an additional yearly cost), you can download other “holds” from within the game, which is an extremely nice feature and worth the extra money for people who like this game (otherwise, you can download them normally using your favorite Internet browser). You can also record demos at any time you’d wish to show off your mad skillz and upload them to the central feature. Both of these things try to make a single player game into a more community-oriented affair, and it works, as DROD has a fairly active population.

DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold has a very simple objective: destroy all the monsters before moving to the next room. The game is represented as a top-down view of your character and the room you are currently in. In each room, you must successfully navigate from one side of the room to the other without getting touched by any enemy unit. You won’t have a large array of weapons like other games; in DROD, you have a sword which extends straight out from you, and anything that travels into the square your sword occupies is killed. You can move into any adjacent square (straight or diagonally) and rotate the direction you are facing, which orients your sword accordingly. The enemies move one square toward you (if they are not blocked by walls) as you perform one action (either moving or rotating the sword). Gameplay involves anticipating the paths the enemies will take and developing a strategy in defeating the room. Usually, there is more than one solution to a map, especially when it comes down to the individual destruction of monsters. Some of the monsters are easier to fight than others; the basic ones move in predictable paths (always towards you), while the more advanced creatures can behave in more sophisticated and scary ways. Since each enemy has different behavior characteristics, this requires a different approach to successfully defeat them. Destroying enemies or throwing switches will open doors that will provide access to other areas, and eventually to the exit. Your character (Beethro) does have some special abilities he can collect, such as mimics that can act as a decoy or unlock various areas and invisibility potions.

DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold accomplishes what many games try to attempt: extremely straightforward gameplay that is deeply strategic. First, the game has very simple and easy to learn controls, which makes the game accessible to the masses. Second, the objectives are clear. The solutions are not adventure-like impossible, unrealistic answers. You won’t need to smash endless supplies of pots to uncover the one switch you need to unlock a door in a room three screens away. You certainly will not need to grind sea salt on a tombstone in order to make a building collapse. Third, the game is difficult without being frustrating. The levels seem easy, but some do require some upper-level thinking. In a world where simplistic shooting games are all the rage, it’s nice to find a game that exercises your brain instead of your itchy trigger finger. DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold borders on the obsessive, where you must try one more time to beat a certain area, and it soon becomes 4 A.M. I was very pleasantly surprised at the simple yet challenging nature of this game. I was initially hesitant about this one, but everything comes together in a neat little package. Plus, it’s called Deadly Rooms of Death. Needless repetition always rates high in my book. DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold is a rewarding puzzle game in all the important areas. Just watch out for The Living Tar.