Perhaps the tiny robots and adorably destructive weaponry implemented by the folks at Three Rings help to bind the game to our hearts, because I found myself worrying that the little robot I was aiding would never find the materials he needed to escape from the dreadful gearworks and steam engines I was forced to investigate.
Confused? Well, go log in and try it out or click past the cut to hear my explanation! Spiral Knights, brought to us by Puzzle Pirates' Three Rings, you play the role of a stocky robot, armed to the chin with guns, swords and bombs. Customization is not very robust at the beginning, but thanks to my press-pass goodies, I found that customization truly opens up as you gain more gear. After I was done looking through all the cool stuff I had, I decided that I liked the volcano set of armor the best. Soon after, I resembled one mean little hot-spirited robot.
After going through a series of basic tutorials, you are released into the greater world. If you've played lobby-style games like Guild Wars that feature open social areas that act as hubs into content, then you will be familiar with some of the gameplay behind Spiral Knights. You can run around town meeting new players and selling items and then jump into one of the many strange clockwork dungeons by yourself or with a group. If you go alone, the game makes a group for you automatically, and other players are automatically joined with you. At first I thought that this would be annoying -- being thrust into groups with strangers -- but it worked smoothly, and most players wanted to play the game correctly. After all, there's nothing more satisfying than chopping or shooting your way through scores of blocks and enemies.
"I found myself on a graveyard-themed level, surrounded by much tougher zombies and ghouls. With a hit of the space bar, I switched from my sword and shield to my blaster and found myself walking backward while slamming lasers bolts into slowly moving undead."
If I did come back, though, the level might look different. The game promises that the gears that were visibly running in the background were changing the layout of the level and that only the most experienced adventurers would see all of the area. Perhaps because of the promised changes going on in the background, I never once felt as if I was repeating content over and over. I think I might have been hypnotized by the pretty blocks and laser beams, but even with all of the -- well, grinding -- I didn't feel I had been grinding. If a game sets up the grind as part of the design and keeps the grind fun and exciting, then it feels more like playing Mario Bros for 10 hours straight -- repetitive but really fun.
As you defeat baddies in spectacular fashion (I had a wolf sword that barked and growled!) you can also pick up bits of stuff to sell or to craft with. You can craft weapons and armor, which provides incentive to go back into the clockworks to gather more material. The more you go into the clockworks, the more the area seems to open up. It's a glorious cycle. At the minimum, journeying into the clockworks is worth it just to view the neat art design. The world is obviously inspired by 8-Bit and Mario-esque blockiness, but it doesn't feel unoriginal or ripped off. There are numerous tiny details, from the massive gears running in the background to the pixel-art minimap. Sound design was also top-notch and satisfying. I was tempted to record the sound of the technology blocks disappearing (almost like a cross between a robot and a lightsaber) to use for my instant message tone. Trust me, it's cool.
Go explore the official site if you'd like. Sign up, and get in whenever you can. Don't be surprised if you look up and you've played for hours on end -- just like we did when we were kids.