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Publisher: Caravel Games    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: Any Version

DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold
February 16, 2006 | Michael Scarpelli

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Ahh, the title screen... start of so many adventures...
It doesn't matter how many years go by, how many gigahertz your latest machine has or who's making the processor that runs it: solid game design will never go out of style. It is for this reason that Caravel Games has garnered such a faithful following and for this reason that their latest venture, Deadly Rooms of Death: Journey to Rooted Hold, is such a pleasure to play.

Unsieging Dungeons
Deadly Rooms of Death: Journey to Rooted Hold (played in this film by the acronym DROD) follows the story of Beethro, a smitemaster. Beethro's job is to wander the various dungeons (holds) of his kingdom and smite the foul creatures that may have taken up residence there. The story of this particular episode of DROD follows Beethro as he descends far deeper into the holds than he thought possible, uncovering a mysterious empire and a shady conspiracy.

Gaming in DROD is old school to the core. The action is top-down and movement is both grid and turn-based. Navigating using the keyboard, the gamer guides Beethro through rooms that are puzzlers disguised as combat scenarios with herds of nasty creatures. The game is turn-based, but not in the standard Final Fantasy-RPG style. It works this way: Beethro gets a chance to move, then ALL the bad guys move at once. While that may make things sound pretty much impossible, all the enemies have different rules to define their movements. I won't divulge too much of that info because the way many of the enemies move are puzzles in and of themselves, but some enemies will follow you no matter how you move, some will only move if you trigger their sight and some have trouble following certain types of movement. Combine keeping track of all that with endless room puzzles and DROD is one heck of a challenge.

A Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Puzzle games such as this ride a fine line between challenge and frustration and for me; DROD rode it well, but not everyone will agree. Beethro doesn't have hit points or anything like that: you get tagged by a baddie and you're done. Time to start the room over. Believe me, you'll be doing a lot of that. For the most part, it's all part of the trial and error of getting through a room. There's no limit to the lives you can spend or the moves you can make tackling a problem, but it can take a long time to work through some puzzles. To have all that effort spoiled by a single misstep that sends you back to the start of it all can really be a downer. Many rooms have checkpoints to hit, but those tend to be placed at the start or at a halfway point through a puzzle, so they're not always a help. The unorthodox keyboard layout was, for me, my single greatest enemy.

Can't I reconfigure the keyboard? I can, and I have, but it's still tricky. The controls for the game involve using the keyboard to travel in all directions including up, down, left, right and all the diagonals in between. That's 8 keys right there. Toss in the wait key to trigger enemy movement, the restart key (a great way to escape certain death and restart an area) and the keys to control which direction Beethro is facing (oh yeah, changing his orientation counts as a full move), and you're up to 12 keys to keep track of at all times. My fingers get confused from time to time and many of my deaths were a direct result of that. Caravel Games can only be faulted so much for my own incompetence, but a few steps could have been taken to alleviate this. The undo move key only undoes a single move, making it minimally helpful. Perhaps a gamer's death wouldn't need to automatically restart the room, and the option to back up a few steps could be taken. Also, the game could include a form of mouse control. Clicking to move instead of relying on total keyboard control would have much lessened my occasional frustration.

Evaluating the graphics for a game like DROD is a tricky proposition and one that will divide the opinions of gamers. DROD is basically an older style top-down puzzler and it looks it. Could it have a fancier look? With today's technology, yeah. Should it? I would say no. The look of DROD is gritty and hand-drawn with a distinctive styling to the character art. Beethro is about as attractive as his name. Adding any more graphical flair to the game would distract from the puzzling and would make the game less universally performance friendly.


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