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Keepsake: my mouse wasn’t made for walking

Although we love our video games here in this blogging circle, there are things we don’t like about them too. There’s at least one game mechanic which frustrates each us and causes us to swear at the screen each time we see it within a new release. So what’s yours?

There are a couple that exist for me. I’ve written before about how I really dislike character-switching and can’t enjoy titles where you’re forced to do it excessively (take Little Acre with its 19 switches in 90 minutes as an example). I also hate it when releases don’t make it clear they’re a sequel, so you enter them thinking you’re starting a new series and then end up having the story spoiled for you (if it wasn’t for Silence, I wouldn’t have been forced to play The Whispered World and had the experience ruined thanks to blatant foreshadowing).

Another of these annoyances appeared a month or so ago after picking up Keepsake on Steam one day. The adventure genre is my thing but here was a point-and-click I’d never heard of before, despite the page description stating that it was ‘a labour of love developed ten years ago’ by Wicked Studios. The art-style gave off The Longest Journey vibes although it was published six years later, and its story sounded as though it would have a certain innocent charm. It seemed like it would be a great addition to my collection – but I was wrong.

If you haven’t yet played Keepsake and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are some minor spoilers in the following paragraphs which may spoil your enjoyment of the game.

The narrative opens on Lydia’s first day at the magic Dragonvale Academy. Hundreds of scholars should be there for lectures but, as she enters the huge entrance hall, she discovers the place is eerily deserted. Curiosity turns to worry when she stumbles across something she hasn’t seen in a very long time: an old doll given to her best friend eight years ago as a token of their friendship. Images of Celeste’s life begin to fill Lydia’s mind as she touches it and she realises something terrible must have happened here.

Shortly after the start of the game, the protagonist rescues a companion named Zak who’s currently in the form of a wolf. His revelation about actually being a dragon who was turned into the four-legged animal by horrible students made me cringe; were we soon going to start seeing the use of a character-switching, or was there going to be a clichéd plot-twist where he turned out to be the villain? Fortunately, neither of these turned out to be the case over the following 12 hours so at least there’s something positive I can say about Keepsake.

I went into the game expecting standard point-and-click fare after reading the blurb on Steam: talking to other characters through conversation-trees, combining items in my inventory to solve puzzles, perhaps even doing a bit of pixel-hunting. But I was in for a bit of a surprise. A lot of the usual mechanics didn’t make an appearance and when they did, they were incredibly light-touch. I can only recall coming across two characters other than Lydia and Zak and I don’t remember inventory-manipulation of any great extent.

Keepsake, video game, girl, Lydia, castle, academy

Instead, most of the puzzles were more the sort you’d find in a release like Myst. You put gears into the right places in order to operate a machine; divert the flow of water around a room for power; and move pieces across what looks like a chessboard for example. That’s not to say they’re as good as the challenges in Cyan’s classic though. Some in the latter half of the game are horrible with solutions that don’t make a lot of sense, and it feels as though the solutions to those involving riddles were lost in the translation.

So is this the new annoyance I was referring to in the paragraph above? Sadly not. It’s something I found to be far more frustrating and is a mechanic you’ll have experienced yourself if you’ve ever played an older point-and-click title. Although many of us love them, the classics of the genre are well-known for frequently making players backtrack to locations already visited to artificially increase the length a game. On most occasions we can overlook this though, because we understand the technological or budget constraints the developer was up against back then.

But backtracking is taken to a whole other excessive level in Keepsake. Because Lydia didn’t want to pick up an item when I first came across it, even though it was obvious she was going to need it later on, I found myself moving through 19 screens to return to it and then running through those same screens again immediately to make my way back. I’ve just checked the video of my playthrough and discovered that I spent over five minutes on that chore alone, which might not sound like much now but felt like an age at the time.

I dread to think how many of the 12 hours I spent on this title were filled by needless backtracking. Sometimes the mechanic can be well-integrated into a storyline and even add something to the gameplay, like when it’s necessary to wait a certain amount of time before returning to a location to see if anything has changed. But here it was painful and added nothing worthwhile at all. Sure, the graphics might be nice in a decade-2000 kind of way, but I got sick of the sight of the same rooms while being asked to do nothing as a player except click on the entrance to the next one.

Combine the backtracking with two game-breaking bugs and a over an hours’ lost progress both times, and you’ll understand why I was so annoyed (and why I then started saving every ten minutes to cover myself). I should have given up but for some weird reason, I wanted to reach the end of the game to find out just what Zak’s role in the whole story was and whether my assumptions were correct. I resorted to turning to a walkthrough to help get me through the whole thing more quickly because I just couldn’t be bothered enough to do it for myself.

Some people may read this post and think it’s just a case of the game being mislabeled: call it a walking simulator rather than a point-and-click and that would solve the problem, right? It’s not that simple though. With the former, the narrative is communicated through the journey itself and that’s where the genre’s strength lies. With Keepsake however, the story is told through lengthy expositions – ones which really aren’t well voice-acted – and it’s ultimately one which is full of saccharine and clichés.

If you’re thinking of picking up this game, here’s myself advice: do yourself a favour and don’t bother. Unless you feel like stretching your legs digitally during the COVID-19 lockdown for several hours, because that’s pretty much all you’re going to end up doing.

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

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