Developer: A Jolly Corpse
I had a thousand and one things to do this week. Our senior editor is on holiday, my news desk runneth over and numerous preview events demand that I brave the ferocious oven-like temperatures of Central London. Much to my continual annoyance, my frail and paunchy human body also refuses to function without the occasional bit of sleep.
So the last thing I needed was a brilliant game like Wyv and Keep to come out of left field and ruthlessly hoover up what little free time I had left.
Our titular treasure hunters, the glamourous Keep and egotistical Wyv, are on a quest to amass as much loot as possible in a dangerous Amazonian temple. Though it may resemble Spelunky in terms of gorgeous retro presentation and basic premise, Wyv and Keep shakes things up by presenting an enormous wealth of platforming puzzles based around using both characters in unexpected ways. If you're a fan of local cooperative action and brain-wracking puzzlers, this unassuming indie gem could well make your summer.
In my personal opinion, truly great puzzle games do two things. First of all, they provide simple and easily-digestible core gameplay mechanics that are used in progressively more complex ways. Perhaps more importantly, they also contain numerous 'Eureka Moments' that make you feel like Einstein after applying logic and lateral thinking to seemingly impossible situations.
Wyv and Keep, then, is a great puzzle game. Each of its sixty levels takes place on a single screen; usually a murderous arrangements of spikes, traps, crates, switches, pits and even the occasional cannibal. Both Wyv and Keep can jump, cut ropes and push or pick up certain objects, which would normally be used to twitchily leap across the stage as a platforming gauntlet.
Here, however, you'll stand back and apply some serious brainpower. It's difficult to explain exactly how puzzle games excel without spoiling solutions, but suffice to say that Wyv and Keep's identical simple abilities make fora deceptively tough gamut of brainteasers. Need to get to a high platform? Move Wyv beneath it and let Keep use him as a foothold. Have to push a crate over a pit? Jump Keep into the hole and push it over her with Wyv. Facing an arrow cannon trap, spikes, dynamite, switches and piranha pits?
Well, that'd be telling.
Though each individual manoeuvre is easy to pull off thanks to effortlessly straightforward controls, Wyv and Keep quickly require players to synchronise both characters and position them perfectly. You'll deconstruct levels like an intricate clockwork mechanism, working out how puzzles fit together and how mechanics can be leveraged in increasingly surprising ways. And all the while, to co-opt Valve's mantra, you'll think in doubles.
Every level brims with gold to collect, secrets to find and even entire hidden stages to discover if you venture off the beaten track. And hat shops. Gotta love those hats. Just in case that's not enough, you'll also get free access to the most accessible level editor I've possibly ever seen.
From a gameplay perspective, my only major criticism stems from Wyv and Keep's attitude to restarts and rewards. Beating most levels takes plenty of trial and error, and it's all too easy to back yourself into an untenable position, yet there's no dedicated respawn or restart button (save hitting Escape and accessing the pause menu). On the flip-side, however, you're also penalised for restarting in the end-level scores - meaning that netting high scores basically involves returning to a level you already know how to complete and running through it again. I personally feel that the satisfaction of beating a tough challenge is reward enough, not to mention all that lovely loot, but the current scoring system is tedious and adds little value.
Wyv and Keep's two characters naturally lend themselves brilliantly to co-op. Both players share a single keybord and monitor, which surprisingly manages to be much better than it initially sounds. I've rarely seen single-keyboard multiplayer work so well, since the close proximity to the screen helps you point out particular places to stand and lightly brush hands against each other while exchanging furtive glances. I mean coordinate tactics and timing. Obviously.
Most levels are also well-balanced for singleplayer, with the ability to switch between characters by pressing Shift. I actually found Wyv and Keep to be just as enjoyable alone, though certain time-based sections would definitely be easier with a partner in the late game.
It's technically possible for a solo player to control Keep and Wyv simultaneously using both hands. If you can comprehensively master this skill, you have my undying admiration. I might also need to burn you as an ambidextrous witch.
Online co-op is also included, but it's currently tricky to get a game. A Jolly Corpse took the mode down for maintenance shortly after launch, while a few manually-installed patches are also required. I strongly feel that the gameplay is much better suited for local co-op, since you'll want to excitedly jab at the screen while discussing solutions, so I wouldn't have marked Wyv And Keep down for omitting online play entirely. Boot up a VOIP client at the very least.
Visually, Wyv and Keep favours the trademark (perhaps even borderline-clichéd these days) indie 16-bit retro look that we've come to take for granted over the last few years, but manages to distinguish itself with expressive detailed sprites and some gently amusing text banter. My only gripe would be that the graphics become grainy and pixelated if played at higher resolutions, and the soundtrack can get a little repetitive from time to time.
- Compelling two-charcter gameplay
- Clever puzzles based on simple yet versatile mechanics
- 60 levels, plenty of secrets, massive replay value and simple level editor
- Lacks dedicated restart button, paradoxically punishes and encourages trial and errior
- Grainy at higher resolutions
- Shaky (and pointless?) online multiplayer at launch
The Short Version: Fantastic fun alone and an absolute riot in co-op, Wyv And Keep is one of the feel-good sleeper hits of summer 2013. If you're a fan of logic-based puzzlers and classic platformers, don't let this indie gem slip under your radar.
NB: Wyv and Keep is currently campaigning on Steam Greenlight. Be sure to vote if you enjoy it!