Thoughts on Master Key (Steam Next Fest 2022 Demo)

A sleek black-and-white look. Obvious homages to classics of old. Dropped off into an unfamiliar world as an unfamiliar figure. A rekindling of a more rigid, challenging time of video games brought to life once again. Master Key spoke to me without needing to say a thing, and the demo made sure to remind me of how games used to be. Whether or not that’s a good thing heavily depends on your disposition.

Quick structure disclaimer: Given this (and all the others) is only a demo, I won’t be too in-depth with my coverage, and will only reflect on the good and the bad. No overly long personal history or filibuster. No nonsense. That said, I will provide a synopsis for the game below.

Game Summary

Master key is a top down adventure game with a strong focus on item based exploration and secrets. Embark on a journey to discover what that key could be used for and meet colorful characters!

Steam page

The Good

Just to get it out of the way immediately, this is very much inspired by The Legend of Zelda. Playing for less than a minute is all it takes for the vibes to become apparent. Hell, even the very title, Master Key, could very well be an allusion to the Master Sword. Using this particular key as a weapon is all the more evidence of that.

One’s mileage with this hinges upon how much the LoZ formula works for you. In my near-hour of playing the demo, the amount of comfort I had with it simply due to my experience with the renowned franchise likely aided in my understanding of how the game functions. And when I compare this to The Legend of Zelda, I’m talking about the actual, original title (maybe a hint of A Link to the Past, too).

Hidden stairways to little mini-dungeons with goodies; full-fledged dungeons that house items that aid in your overall progression; collectible gems to use as currency in towns; cutting grass to reveal health pick-ups and said currency gems. The concept similarities are almost blatantly ripped, though it’s not like this hasn’t been done before many, many times. For what it’s worth, they still work splendidly here, as they generally do in most other cases.

Dark room with an explosive trail.

Yet a very distinct change is the black-and-white aesthetic, which can even be changed to a variety of different hues in the options menu. It reminds me quite a bit of Radio Squid, only not as arcade-esque. Such simplicity works in its favor, tying together the retro feel of the entire package in a concise manner. Those fond of a more expressive, blockier look to their adventures will find little to complain about.

The Bad

Oh, how the cruelty of retro games persists sometimes. Master Key, in its capacity to adhere to its own style of anti-modernity, suffers from some of the drawbacks that becomes inevitable with it. One of which is the assumed… assumption that the player has played games before, especially that of The Legend of Zelda or its clear inspirations.

This is not, per se, the best option for one’s “first game.” There lies a sort of vibe that this is directed to those who would rather reject the flow of time and return to something more challenging or less hand-holding. (I need to think of a better term for that.) While I mostly found my way without hassle, there was one instance where I couldn’t fathom what to do.

Hopefully you can read this handy instruction manual.

In one dungeon, there are these heavy-stoned baddies that seem invulnerable to anything. In one room, you are tasked to face three of them, with but a room surrounded by a consistent stream of water at your disposal. I tried attacking them normally, from all sides, with a charged-up assault, pushing them into the water, and using the item received earlier in the dungeon—nothing worked. I died. Perhaps I missed an item? Was there some other method I wasn’t aware of? I never found out.

Situations like this I can see becoming cumbersome to new or burgeoning plyers. There’s very little communication in what is necessary to do in these circumstances, reminiscent of games of the era it tries to emulate. Trial and error seems a mighty focus that is sure to irritate those wishing for something more intuitive.

Though minor, there are occasional bouts of ye-olde-fashioned garbage that can also occur. For example, I died once because a bloated enemy pinned me to a tree and sapped all my health within seconds. That didn’t feel great. Again, the aspects of trial and error, combined with memorization of enemy patterns, asks for more than what some players may be accustomed to. Master Key certainly isn’t easy.

I’m getting a sense of deja vu.

Conclusion

For a specific type of player, most likely fond of those that came before. Hugely inspired by a particular franchise I’ve mentioned several times, it doesn’t do too much with the foundation to make it its own. However, there’s enough in place regardless to have those willing to challenge themselves a potentially grand adventure. Just be prepared for the worst, but maybe that’s a given.

Master Key has a demo you can play now on Steam. (Link under “Game Summary.”) A Kickstarter campaign is soon to follow.

If reading this compelled you to give me a dollar, feel free to tip me on Ko-fi.

Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.

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