Warlock’s Tower is two-man development team Midipixel’s first mobile release, but it’s their fourth retro gaming homage. Their previous PC titles—W.A.G.N.E.R., Defender 88, and Soulstice—all share an appreciation for games of the past, with lovely pixel art, simple but instantly gripping gameplay, and absolutely gorgeous chiptunes soundtracks. Warlock’s Tower continues these traditions in loving detail, with its immediately recognizable Game Boy-style graphics, unique puzzle mechanics, and separate-purchase-worthy tunes.
Players in Warlock’s Tower take on the role of the heroic Mailman, Tim, who has the unfortunate duty of delivering a letter to the eponymous Warlock. For some reason the Warlock doesn’t just have a mailbox stationed outside his home, so Tim must climb the 100 floors of the tower to hand over the mail directly. Even more unfortunately, the entire building is cursed by a deadly rule: every step you take removes one of your lives.
Like any good retro hero, Tim begins each floor of the tower with three lives, which essentially translates to three steps. After taking three steps, our Mailman will keel over, dead-dead. This makes his job of walking through 100 floors extremely difficult, but the Warlock has installed helpful gems throughout the tower to make surviving it a possibility. Each gem has either a “3” or a “5” written on it; if Tim walks over one of these gems, he will receive that many more steps/lives, but the gem will be collected and used up.
The key to making it from the entrance to the exit of each floor lies in collecting these gems along the way. As long as you pick up a gem before hitting zero on the steps counter, Tim will be able to continue moving. Of course, simply following a trail of gem breadcrumbs from start to finish would be too easy, so there are a number of obstacles introduced along the way. The first of these is that gems do not stack and the last gem you pick up always replaces your current counter. This means if Tim picks up a “5” gem and then picks up a “3” gem immediately after (meaning his step counter was at four when stepping onto the “3” gem), the counter will change to three.
This creates a lot of tricky situations where a path seems obvious at first—just pick up that “5” gem that’s near the exit!—but is actually more complex due to the smaller “3” gems blocking the way. You’ll often have to take a roundabout path just to pick up a gem so it’s no longer in play before collecting the actual gem you need.
In addition to strategic gem collection, there are other challenges Tim will have to contend with on his journey. Zombies patrol certain floors, moving towards Tim one tile for every three steps he takes and devouring both his letter and face if they catch him. Slimes have a similar movement pattern but also leave deadly acid in their wake, shrinking the areas of the floor Tim can safely walk across. Many doors are locked, requiring Tim to go out of his way to pick up a key before heading for the exit. Trap doors, moving conveyor belts, darkened floors, pushable pots, and more all stand between Tim and his delivery destination.
This wide variety of obstacles keeps Warlock’s Tower interesting and its puzzle solutions challenging. The most difficult levels are the open-ended ones which allow Tim to take numerous different paths right from the start—teleporters really open up stages and the amount of possible solutions. The appearance of another character, Jess, achieves this as well: on some stages, Tim and Jess will have to work together to reach the exit. They share the step counter but can trade off control at any time, so Jess could pick up a gem to earn more steps and then Tim could actually walk forward, using those steps. One character might need to stand on a button to close a trap door so the other can walk over it, but when splitting steps between two people you have to be even more conscious of your movements.
Midipixel has been careful about not overwhelming the small puzzle rooms with too many of these obstacles at once, however, so you’ll rarely have to deal with everything at the same time. This creates a great diversity through the different pairings—sometimes you’ll have a Jess room with pots or a zombie room with trap doors or a conveyor room with slimes—as well as a lot of available approaches to the base step-counting, gem-collecting gameplay.
The puzzles and gameplay are stellar and engaging, with plenty of time to plot out your moves without any sort of timer to rush you (the step counter is based only on your active movement, not any sort of countdown) and an easy stage restart if you realize you made a mistake. You can also place a checkpoint anywhere in a level so that if you figure out the first half of a room but are struggling with the second half, you can restart at your checkpoint and bypass repeating the same steps over and over.
These modern conveniences are greatly appreciated in a game designed to obviously celebrate Game Boy era titles of old in so many aspects, with its monochromatic color scheme that changes every 20 levels, old school D-pad, and endearing character “wait” animations where Tim rifles through his mailbag or readjusts his hat if you don’t do anything for a few seconds. The Warlock speaks in an intentionally “poorly translated” garble that makes all of his dialogue a hilarious surprise, from “Pfff. You are of so dumbness I wanna eat my hat” to “No let zombie jump to you. Zombies like to eat feces. They will eat your fece off!” The graphics even have a blurriness to them that replicates the lower pixel density of older handhelds and initially made us think our iPhone screen was smudged, but it’s simply yet another exquisite attention to detail from the developers.
The chiptunes soundtrack is another area where Warlock’s Tower’s retro brilliance shines. Along with a new color scheme every 20 levels, the background song also changes, switching from slow, broody Castlevania-esque sounds to a faster, rocking tune reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden and then to a cheerful, carnival style song that would be right at home in a Disney NES title. We sometimes opened the app just to listen to the opening theme song without playing even though, obviously, actually playing the game is great, too.
The only real issues we encountered in Warlock’s Tower were occasionally unresponsive controls—the button to switch between Tim and Jess, for instance, sometimes would not switch despite appearing to be registered as “pressed”—that would force us to exit a level and restart. The rooms also have a floatiness that is intentional—you can drag a room around to center it any way you’d like on the screen—that sometimes starts stages in a weird location as they’re always centered on Tim. On smaller rooms that fit entirely on the screen we would have preferred a stationary room without the need or option to drag. There was also a bug in our preview build which prevented access to some of the later levels, but Midipixel has assured us this bug has been resolved in the release version and all 100 stages will be available.
We’re happy to hear that, because we’re looking forward to finishing Tim’s journey and finally getting the Warlock his much-awaited letter. Despite the postmanly inconvenience of carrying a letter up 100 floors of a cursed tower, we’ve enjoyed every near-death step, every trap door surprise, and every zombie-eaten fece.