One memory that I have from my childhood, was whenever I was hyped for a title for the Game Boy that looked like an action- or a platforming game. Thanks to me looking at the cover art and rarely at the back of the box, I was often met with a puzzle game instead. This happened to me constantly and I ended up with a collection of strange games, including Mole Mania, Daedalian Opus, Kwirk, Qix, Solomon’s Club, Pyramids of Ra and Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle just to name a few. Most of these titles were at least solid, but I had yet to appreciate a good brainteaser at that point. Warlock’s Tower is a game that brought back this nostalgic memory, as it is a puzzle title made with Game Boy aesthetics. Because of this, I had to see what this was all about.
Sweet charm can get you far
The evil warlock has set out to destroy the world in an all out rage. However, this is all because of a misunderstanding where he believes that he is loathed by everyone. This is simply not true! In fact, everyone loves him and to prove this, the greatest nations have signed together a peace message in order to fix what is wrong. This is where Tim the mailman comes into play, as he takes on this dangerous task to simply deliver the message. What a nice guy Tim is.
Warlock’s Tower is not at all a story-driven game and focuses on rather providing a plot that is more akin to a simple 8-bit title. However, this game also takes into consideration on what made them so memorable: their charm. For instance, the warlock is a grumpy fellow with adorable insults, like calling you a stamplicker. He really adds to the setup by being an entertaining villain that you want to interact with as often as possible, giving you something comical to strive for. It is also lovely to have a hero present who is not snarky or has a complicated background. Tim is just a nice guy who does what needs to be done. What more do you want from a hero?
This is all great, as it really adds to a simple and fun charm that is easy to be adored by. What is then a slight shame, are the odd and trivial supporting characters. They are charming and good for a chuckle, such as the singing warrior, the brave little girl or the confused apprentice. However, they are all given one scene each and never return again, making them just one-note jokes. It is terribly unfortunate that more were not done with them, when they have such good and endearing setups to them.
Speaking of, the charm also exceeds to the adorable names of the stages as they are either references to the level’s gimmick or cute puns, with my favourite being Gears of War(lock). There are a lot of minor, but nice details in general, such as how the limited amount of steps you can take is actually integrated into the tower’s lore. Overall; the story might not be a focus, but Warlock’s Tower has enough charm to make you smile whenever a fun dialogue appears. This is all topped with a twist ending that is delightful and really makes the whole experience feel accomplishing.
Story Score: 7/10
Watch your steps!
Every level in this tower is an overhead puzzle stage, where the goal is to reach the exit. While the concept is simple, this must be done within the amount of steps you are allowed to take, showcased in the upper left corner. Take too many steps and Tim vanishes from existence. The game starts out fairly easy, as the first couple of stages are rather tutorials on how the upcoming gimmicks work, like a good puzzle-title should provide. You are introduced to how life gems replaces the number of steps you have and not adding to your current amount, that you will need keys to open the doors at the end, the different enemies’ behaviours, and contraptions like conveyor belts and traps to name a few.
Every new concept is clearly explained throughout Warlock’s Tower, and all are creative ideas that never makes the game dull or uneventful, forcing you to experiment and plan ahead with every possible solution. The game ramps up the difficulty in a fair manner and becomes a demanding challenge towards the end. The difficulty curve is not perfect, as the stages can vary in both length and the amount of mechanics that are utilised within the same stage. However, it is rather an uneven curve that still goes upwards with its challenge, just with some minor tilts. To make sure some stages do not become too daunting, you will eventually gain the ability to put down a checkpoint marker whenever you wish to in a stage, making it so have do not have to restart from the beginning of one. This is a lovely upgrade that I hope becomes a staple in other puzzle games.
The only real issue I had with this title, were the few stages where the lights were off and you had to wander through the darkness with minimal visual view. While these stages are easier (most likely done since you cannot see much), this is just an unpolished gimmick added inn for the sake of giving the game even more variety. This is the definition of trial and error, as you cannot plan ahead or study the stages when everything is pitch black. Otherwise, Warlock’s Tower is a great brainteaser that has some smart design-choices, such as making the right stick utilised for controlling the camera.
Warlock’s Tower is a creative puzzler that has enough to be engaging, which is impressive when it contains over one hundred levels. The stages will become longer, and contain plentiful of diverse and varied ideas to take into consideration, but they are always challenges worth getting over. It does stumble with its difficulty curve and with the few levels that are just trial and error, but the rest presents a solid challenge that mixes things up to provide good variety and elements to take into planning. Warlock’s Tower never reaches for the sky, but it is still able to stand tall.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Simple, but effective
Warlock’s Tower tries to mimic the original Game Boy by presenting a 4:3 view for the levels and just four versions of one colour, which is just wonderful. I especially love how it goes further with this concept, where it mimics the colour coding you could do on a Game Boy Colour with old Game Boy-titles, by having each floor in a different colour. The ground floor of bricks in green, pipes consisting of a chilling blue, the library painted in warm pink and so on, adds to the variety and the nostalgic charm of the old hardware this title represents.
The maps’ and stages’ backgrounds are decorated to make them thematically appropriate, but the stages become similar to each other thanks to the lack of varied furniture. It does not make it repetitive due to the different floors, but it makes the stages visually uninteresting. Cute, but not much else. Luckily, the designs of the characters fares better. The different death animations, adorable monsters, and the people you meet in the tower being nicely designed with cute portraits and funny animations, adds to the charm. Tim is especially adorable with his small idle animations, such as fixing his hat and checking his bag. His design is overall simple, but appealing since he represents his characteristics perfectly: just the average nice guy.
The music is a nice mix of classical and chip-rock that uses an 8-bit sound quality, and it works well to highlight that this is an old house from a forgotten era, both through its hardware mimic and the medieval tower. While the tracks are often short, it works due to the stages being about the same length. Some of the high-pitched tunes can be off, but it all works to create a nice atmosphere and contains enough variety to be enjoyable. In the end, it perfectly represents an old Game Boy puzzle-title, with a little extra added inn to make it intriguing.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Some minor extras
Whenever you have met a required percentage of completed stages, you will unlock more levels that are tougher versions of those you have encountered. These are nice extras that correlates with the challenges you have already finished on specific floors, which is very clever. It is a good showcase for how you do not need more variety for the stages to be good, just a great design for them. There are few unlockable stages and they are not needed to unlock anything interesting, but are nice challenges to take on. Like with Tim: you do the tasks because you can and want to, nothing more.
Extra Score: 7/10
Warlock’s Tower hearkens back to a simpler time fairly well. It is a humble game that is nothing spectacular, but never tries to be so either. For anybody wanting to get into the puzzle genre or are in the mood for some generally good puzzles with a nostalgic charm to them, this is a good choice. It provides a nice challenge that ramps up the difficulty to the end and is simply cute. Think of it like this: for 4 euros, you can either get cheap fast food, a big cup of coffee, or a fulfilling puzzle-game. I know what I chose, and I am glad I did.