Magi-Nation Keeper's Quest Review
Developer: Interactive Imagination
Platforms: Palm OS, Pocket PC, Nokia 3650, Smartphone, Ericsson P800
Reviewed on Motorola T730
Based on the world of the trading card game Magi-Nation Duel, Magi-Nation Keeper's Quest features 60 levels of block-pushing puzzles featuring the lad at right. Travel through various lands, protecting Tony from lasers and deep waters. And all in the palm of your hand.
Rob de los Reyes
Notwithstanding its adventure game-ish title, Magi-Nation Keeper's Quest is a straightforward puzzler with an attractive disguise. You'll take the hero of the quest (Tony) on a journey through six lands, each land consisting of ten sub-levels which all contain the same basic type of puzzle. Your journey is linear both in terms of moving through lands and in terms of the sub-levels – beat step B or you simply won't be advance to step C. In other words, all the action occurs in the sub-levels, leaving the rest as pretty window-dressing. But in a game this simple, as mobile games are wont to be, the window dressing matters. With a choice among basic puzzle games, you might as well pick up one that's a little appealing to the eye. Assuming you have a reasonably challenging and interesting puzzle underneath – and Keeper's Quest does – the outward shows helps tie the whole package together.
The truth is that our little man Tony could just as easily be a penguin, a young boy's finger tip or any abstraction you can imagine. The point of each sub-level is to move Tony from the start to the finish in as few moves as possible. Standing in Tony's way are immovable boulders, laser turrets and open water. Move unprotected through the latter two, and Tony is a goner. His only protection from the lasers and only means of crossing open water is a series of movable blocks scattered about the level. As long as a block rests between Tony and the laser, he's safe. Push a block into open water, and the block forms a bridge. The concept is sheer simplicity, but, as tends to be the case with these things, the challenge (and the fun) lies in the doing.
Not only must you figure out where to push the blocks to clear a path, but you want to do it in as few moves as possible. Tony has a limited number of lives, and messing up a level (by, say, mistakenly moving a block to an incorrect and unfixable position) requires Tony to throw himself in front of a laser or plunge himself into the deep in order to start the level again. Should you beat a level at or below the "par" number of moves, you'll gain an extra life. Run out of lives, and you'll have to start over from sub-level one of whatever land you died in.
This last dynamic is perhaps needlessly punishing. You already have the "carrot" of a par number of moves which gives you something to shoot for (even without this business of added health). You also have the "stick" of the linear journey – find a way to beat the level, or you're stuck for good. In light of that, why not let people, in effect, control their own difficulty level by deciding whether to go for par or just get past the level and move on? It's easy enough to fail a given level with improper block movement, so the limited number of lives mostly acts as an artificial game lengthener. Retracing ground you've already covered is no more entertaining in a puzzle game than it is in a console platformer. Or, as an alternative, Keeper's Quest might do just the opposite and keep the lives in exchange for a little more freedom to pick the lands and sublevels. That, too, would let the gamer moderate his own difficulty level. That said, most of the time, none of the above is any bother. But should you find yourself stuck on sub-level ten, the prospect of being kicked all the way back to sub-level one can be frustrating, especially since being stuck is fairly frustrating on its own.
Yet none of that spoils what is otherwise a tight, pleasant little game. There are more complicated and varied puzzles to be found in the mobile world. But Keeper's Quest offers a package that is colorful, cheerful to look at and just challenging enough to cause the minutes to slip distractedly by as you wait for your airplane to connect, number to be called, clothes to dry or... well, you know the life of the mobile gamer.