NOTE: The Warlock’s Tower segment in the above video begins at 29:30!
First Impression articles are based entirely upon the first roughly 30 minutes of gameplay and may not necessarily be indicative of the game as a whole. This includes the score at the end.
Warlock’s Tower is a potentially interesting puzzle game which takes a bit too long to get going. As Tim the mailman, it is your duty to delivery a letter to a warlock at the very top of his life-draining tower. The warlock himself actually appears quite frequently to give you advice, only to poof away back to the top of his tower so you can give him his mail. The Game Boy-inspired aesthetics combine with some nice little touches of animation to give an extra boost of ridiculous personalty to this game and its characters. As for the gameplay itself, that’s where the ‘life-draining’ part of the tower comes in.
You lose a life every time you take a step. That’s the main mechanic of Warlock’s Tower and the goal of each level is simply to make it through the exit door alive. Each level starts you off with three lives so you must rely upon floating orbs and diamonds to make it to the end alive. Orbs set your lives to three while diamonds set it to five. The key word here is ‘set’ as picking up one of these collectibles will set your lives to the exact number it is worth regardless of how many or how few lives you had beforehand. Thus, the real trick to each level is figuring out the exact order in which to pick up the collectibles and which ones are simply traps as you snake your way along tile by tile.
This mechanic makes for a solid starting point, though that’s also where the problem lies. Warlock’s Tower spends too much time introducing you to its mechanics. The first 13 levels are dedicated to orbs and diamonds. The only new ‘mechanic’ which is introduced throughout these levels is the introduction of big rooms which you can move the camera around in. Even when the playing area became larger, the general difficulty remained low enough that I kept wondering when the game was going to pick up.
New mechanics begin to appear starting with the fourteenth level in the form of zombies. Zombies move one step for every three of your own steps. There’s no visible counter for zombie movement, but their movement timer is easy to keep track of and zombies have a more excited animation on the turn before they take a step. Zombies will always move towards you so they add an extra layer to figuring out the path through a level whenever you need to use up lives to lure them. I’m not entirely sure of how zombies prioritize movement when they can reach your current location with an equal number of steps in two different directions (ex: if you’re one tile down and to the right of a zombie), but they are otherwise a great addition to the base mechanic.
Regrettably, Warlock’s Tower insists on holding your hand just as much with its other mechanics as it does with its primary one. After the initial appearance of zombies and two optional zombie levels, they go away for quite a while. The final level of the second floor introduces the concept of keys; you must pick up a key to unlock the exit door. Keys are the only additional obstacles you face for the first four levels of the third floor.
You meet a child on the fifth level of this floor and this creates yet another interesting puzzle mechanic. Tim and the child start at different locations in each level and you can switch control between them, but they share the same life total. This makes the correct path through each level far more difficult to see because it is split into bits and pieces between two characters. Unfortunately, after four levels (one of which is just a straight line in which you initially encounter the child) and a side level with zombies, you reach the fourth floor and you’re back to controlling just Tim. It feels like the game is afraid of combining its own mechanics. It spends one or two levels introducing you to a new mechanic, lets you play around with it a little more seriously for one or two more, and then promptly rips the mechanic away to introduce you to a new one.
The pace does feel like it starts to pick up once you reach the fourth floor. This floor introduces conveyor belts which Tim can use to travel long distances at the cost of a single life. This is once more an interesting mechanic which plays to the strengths of the primary mechanic, but this time the game doesn’t rip it away. These conveyor belts stick around for what I’ve seen of the fourth floor and zombies even come back alongside them. The only exceptions are three dark levels, two of which are optional and one of which serves as an introduction. I don’t like these dark levels at all because they rely far too much upon guess and test, which can get annoying even with the ability to set down a flag as a respawn point.
Warlock’s Tower has a lot of neat ideas, I just wish it wasn’t so afraid of using them. The game did feel like it was starting to pick up near the end of my time with it, yet I’m also currently sitting at the 34% completion mark. In other words, somewhere around a full third of the game’s content is dedicated to tower floors where nearly half the levels feel like they’re dedicated to tutoring players on new mechanics while the other half only raise the difficulty by small increments. There is a lot of potential here and I suspect that the later levels make great use of it, but as it stands I spent most of my first 30 minutes with Warlock’s Tower hoping to be challenged instead of actually feeling challenged by it.
First Impression Verdict: Decent 3/5