When thinking about naming one of the largest third-party success stories on the Nintendo DS, one particular game comes to mind, and that's Drawn to Life. Combining innovative usage of the stylus, fun gameplay and a quirky yet cool art direction, Drawn to Life is to this day one of the few games that manages to bridge the gap between young and old, allowing everybody to show off their creative side to great effect. The game was so successful, in fact, that developer 5TH Cell were able to expand their team and get all hands on deck for their next project, the Nintendo DS exclusive Lock's Quest.
Lock's Quest, at its core, is all about Tower Defense. For those who aren't quite sure what that means, check out our feature, or read this brief explanation: Tower Defense games are all about setting up turrets, walls and other obstacles to prevent attacking enemies from successfully reaching or destroying a specific objective on the map. Stop them from doing so, and you're doing a pretty good job. The game has been designed specifically for the DS, which means that you'll be using the stylus for your every action; moving your character is as simple as dragging your stylus around the screen or pointing where you want your character to move, akin to the movement in say, Phantom Hourglass. As well as moving your character this way, you'll be able to navigate the entire map using the D-pad to control the camera, which gives you the opportunity to strategically scope out your environment and become aware of your surroundings without physically having to move your character there.
Within the gameplay, there will be a series of challenges of sorts which are based on protecting a certain character or object for an allotted period of time. As each level begins, there is a building phase which is where you'll have some time to place walls, cannons and other varying types of weaponry and defenses to try and best protect the objective. The menu for building is fairly simple, using a few icons and pictures to indicate different walls, different weapons and so on. Simply tapping the object you want to place then lets you place the object wherever you'd like on the map; from here, you can rotate it so that it's on a different angle (useful for cannons and other weapons) and then place it by simply double-tapping on the spot. We found the building mode very accessible to use, but we can imagine people creating some incredibly detailed setups after spending some time getting used to the way the game works. You'll find yourself constructing strong and detailed forts in no time, as long as you have the source to do so, considering everything you build requires a certain number of source to be created.
Source is gained by successfully defeating the numerous enemies - known as Clockworks - that you will be defending against. Clockworks will come in large groups and will attack anything that is obstructing their path to their objective, so they'll be attacking your walls and weapons in an effort to destroy them and get through. There are a couple of ways you'll need to combat against this; the first is the forward approach of actually fighting the enemies hand-to-hand, which is approached by simply having you tap on the enemy you wish to attack, and from there you'll keep on hacking away at them until they are defeated. This isn't all there is to combat though; an extra mechanic has been added in to help keep things interesting: when fighting an enemy, numbers from one to three will appear on little buttons in a random order on the bottom of the screen. Tapping them as quickly as possible in the correct order will unleash a more damaging special attack, and after completing this once, an extra number will be added into the mix, meaning that eventually for stronger enemies, you may find yourself frantically trying to tap the numbers from one through to five or more, which, under pressure, is more difficult than it sounds.
The other thing you'll need to keep an eye on is just how damaged your walls and weapons are, if they are attacked enough without repair, they will be destroyed. Repairing something is handled similarly to combat, in that merely pressing on the damaged object will have you fixing it up in no time, but a small lever also appears on the bottom of the screen while you're doing this. Pulling the lever back and forth is known as 'ratcheting', and while dragging the stylus the required number of times makes the repair process go much faster pulling the lever the incorrect number of times will cause you to stumble and move a bit slower altogether in your repairs. Repairing and ratcheting also requires source, so you'll need to make sure you're collecting it from defeated enemies as you go along, otherwise you may find yourself in some serious trouble. Levels are won when the time eventually runs out, so basically you're going to find yourself defending against an endless wave of Clockworks until the timer stops.
The one thing that we noticed more than anything with Lock's Quest is how utterly addictive it is. There is a storyline involved as well, of course, which seems to be simple at best, but the Tower Defense gameplay mechanic is a lot of fun, and requires a lot of multi-tasking as you build your defenses up, defeat Clockworks and try to repair everything all at the same time as the clock runs down. The whole game feels natural and intuitive to play, and after only a couple of easy tutorials, we found ourselves building and having a good time defending our turf incredibly quickly. 5TH Cell more than possibly any other developer excluding Nintendo themselves seem to have a real understanding of how to use the Nintendo DS hardware as effectively as possible, and Lock's Quest looks to be shaping up as one of the top DS releases of 2008.