By Scott Ramage / December 27th, 2018
Unfortunately, so much of Crimson Keep works against the player that it takes the planets aligning to get anywhere. Aside from enemy spawns and loot drops, the level layouts are also random. Sometimes it takes 20 minutes to find the exit, and sometimes it takes 20 seconds because it appears right around the first corner. The lack of a map system makes it incredibly easy to get lost. Oh, I said the levels are random, but they’re actually various pre-made sections of the map haphazardly cobbled together. Some aren’t even connected properly, as the lines between each section are often clearly visible. Even the enemies notice them; I had at least two instances of baddies falling through the floor where these rooms link together. Needless to say I laughed my ass off, until I got stuck on the edge of a boulder and had to restart the game.
Visually, Crimson Keep suffers from both bland sameness and an identity crisis. Menus and text look like generic default settings instead of anything made for the game. It’s apparent this is a port of a PC version as several items still have “Right click to use” in their descriptions. Some items don’t even have descriptions while others give short, vague descriptions of what they do. Using a scroll to recharge magic items shows a potion-drinking animation. Enemy spells are just colored light balls which disappear in a single frame after hitting a wall. As for the identity crisis, many parts of the game seem out of place with each other. Your character is apparently Rayman as he has detached, floating hands like this was originally a VR game, but it wasn’t. Some cartoon-like enemies appear alongside skinless, bloody zombies with their intestines dangling from their stomachs. Some look like they’re chiseled out of stone (aside from the one actually made out of rocks) while others have an ugly plastic sheen to them. That is, they have that sheen when the lighting effects aren’t clipping through walls or disappearing entirely. Either way hitting most of them causes a bloody chunk of meat to appear and drop to the ground. It doesn’t fly out of them, it just pops into existence at close range like several of the game’s textures.
Combat is a minor nightmare depending on what enemies you fight. You have a dodge button which will send you flying whatever direction you hold on the control stick. It works, but it takes time to recharge and some enemies have attacks so fast you have next to no time to dodge them. Crimson Keep has a weird mechanic where enemies will randomly lunge forward (with no animation) and do a melee attack. If they’re too close to a wall, some enemy attack animations don’t play properly but still retain their hitboxes. Speaking of, hit detection is atrocious. I had to frequently aim at the waist of enemies (if they had one) to get hits to consistently register. There are supposed to be weak points on some enemies, but I couldn’t connect while aiming right at them and did connect while aiming nowhere near them.
What are the positives to Crimson Keep? They’re few and far between, and each seems to have a catch. The controls are responsive, but the combat undermines them. You can quit and resume the game at any time, but it only saves what level you’re on; the map, items, and enemy type, number and placement reset. Enemies will sometimes run away if very low on health, but more often than not they try running through walls and get stuck. There’s a hunger mechanic which seems to work as you can starve to death, but the random item drops means that, for reasons beyond your control, you may never find food and die. Bosses are usually straight up one-on-one fights, but they’re often reused models of regular enemies and you can’t recharge special abilities. It’s possible to run past enemies in most areas and find the exit faster, but you’ll end up neither finding any items nor recharging your special abilities. Also, the game can’t be finished with one character. Beyond the first level progress is blocked by Soul Doors, which force you to die to unlock them, then start the game over to progress further. It performs the same docked or undocked, but the experience is miserable either way.
All of this leads to my biggest problem with Crimson Keep; it’s so buggy I’m considering covering my Switch dock in fly paper. Some are minor, like plants floating above the ground they’re supposedly growing from. Not even three minutes into this game I walked through a boulder blocking a path. This may have been intentional as a shield was placed behind it, but regardless it set the tone for my entire experience. As for more egregious bugs, weapon stats are often flat-out wrong. A two-handed mallet did the same amount of damage for me as a one-handed hatchet, despite supposedly being eight damage points stronger. Also, daggers do more damage than short swords. Death animations are mostly ragdolls, or become them if too close to any environment pieces. I’ve seen zombies turn inside out and skeletons whose swords detached from their hands and floated around on their own while dying. One ogre started their death animation, then bounced off a rock and flopped backwards, revealing what appeared to be a misshapen blob between its legs. Another enemy didn’t have a health bar appear, then died when I broke open a generic pot. I killed two mummies, only for one to cancel its death animation, regain its health and come after me again. The worst bug however, was the loading screen between bosses. After several attempts, I got to a point where the game soft locked on the loading screen before the first boss. At first this happened less than half the time, but after triggering it six times in a row I nearly threw in the towel. The last straw was falling through the map trying to get to this boss one last time.
This is unacceptable for a $5 game, let alone Crimson Keep’s $20 asking price. After dozens of attempts and five hours I will never get back, I managed to get to the third level once, then almost immediately starved to death. Crimson Keep is a thrown-together mess that feels like it only got halfway through its development cycle before being shoved into the limelight. The only people I could possibly recommend this game to are the most hardcore eShop collectors, but that’s only if my conscience stops screaming at me to take that statement back. I don’t know if the Steam version is any better, but because of this I have no desire to find out. Give this a hard pass and randomly generate your way to something better.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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