Review: Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors (WiiWare)

Rock-solid or balderdash?

Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors, a remake of Interplay's mid-90's first-person dungeon crawler, sounds pretty good on paper. The Wii is a bit short on quality RPGs — especially on WiiWare — and Stonekeep was a decent-looking, competent RPG back in its day. But pre-rendered 2D environments and FMV characters are no longer the norm, and the resulting polygonal translation isn't much better on the eyes.

Stripping away all the bombast of the original, you're dropped in with no story, picking one of three doors to choose an ally. This NPC will spawn into the game randomly, helping you out in battle and running you through an initial tutorial. This introduces you to the first problem: the convoluted controls. Simple sword swings are issued by holding the A button, swinging the controller and then releasing the button afterwards. Timing this is way harder than it should be, and the motion commands just get more cumbersome as you go on.

Unlike the node-based movement of the original, you instead move freely in 3D, but the game operates painfully slow, suffering some viscous slow-down in later levels. The snail-like pace makes gameplay quite boring, with random enemies popping up and droning lifelessly about the environments. They often will get stuck in doorways or around corners too, and sometimes never even react to your presence.

Battle is frustrating due to being overly complicated, and the game would be infinitely more bearable if the controls were simpler. The pairing of button and motion commands together feels forced, and it would have been far easier to simply press a button or do a simple gesture to swing your weapon. Worst of all are the spells, which require you to draw exaggerated gestures while holding the Wii Remote at a certain angle. The result is spells that require vertically pointed, counter-clockwise "lassos." If only the game had retained the menu-based system of the original, it'd be far better off.

Level designs are repetitive with enemies and textures that are just plain ugly. The game looks laughably outdated and the mindless progression revolves around collecting coloured keys and then looking on the map, which shows the exact location of the corresponding doors you can now open. There is really no sense of exploration here, and odd enemies choices like boxing robots completely kill the fantasy vibe.

Your life and magic are represented by red and blue jars in the corners of the screen. You collect potions of the same colour to restore them, which the game automatically uses if they get low. Enemies sometimes surround you, which paired with the poor controls makes dying kind of frequent. If you do die, you respawn at the last save point you crossed, which are actually quite plentiful and represented by white dots on the map.

One painfully glaring oversight is the game instructions, which are just straight up wrong at times. For example, if you check the digital manual to learn how to strafe, it says to press the C button. Do this in the game though and you'll draw your shield. If you go back to see what supposedly draws your shield, it says to press the Z button. Bingo: now you're sidestepping.

Conclusion

You'll be hard-pressed to find a game more difficult to complete than Stonekeep. Not because its design is devilishly clever or because it has fantastic AI, but simply because it is a pain to play. The game suffers from frequent slowdown, a nonexistent plot and motion controls that are completely sanctimonious. Even if a better control scheme were available, the computer you are reading this on can probably play the original 1995 release, which has no right to perform and play so much better than this port.

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