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Solomon’s Boneyard Review: Lots of bones, but few to pick

Solomon’s Boneyard appeared in the App Store this afternoon, the follow-up to Raptisoft‘s excellent dual-stick dungeon crawler Solomon’s Keep.

Solomon’s Boneyard is a prequel to Solomon’s Keep, taking place 23 years before the events of the previous game. Players step into the boots of one of seven young wizards selected by the Wizarding College to end Solomon Dark’s burgeoning reign of terror. Unfortunately for you, failure is inevitable. Anyone having already played Solomon’s Keep already knows that Solomon survives to become a powerful and malevolent sorcerer, and so it makes perfect sense that the Wizarding College’s initial attempts to put him down should come to naught. Indeed, the college’s High Wizard hardly imagines him to be a threat at this point, saying “There’s no promotion in a job this small … [but] maybe our young Mr. Dark will even put up enough of a fight for you to gain a level or two.” And so it is that the Wizarding College, rather than sending a more qualified wizard to perform the task, instead sends a junior wizard: you.

The nature of the game makes perfect sense within the context of the history of the Solomon series. Solomon’s Boneyard is a dual-stick survival action game in which you fend off ever increasing hoards of undead and demonic creatures for as long as possible. Ultimately, you die. And die you must so that Solomon shall live to appear in Solomon’s Keep twenty-three years on. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put up a good fight.

To begin, players choose from amongst four wizards: Sirmin the Wizard, Lucritius the Fire Mage, Aliss the Witch or Morth the Icebender, each possessing different primary and secondary attack skills. Sirmin fires enemy-seeking magic missiles and Aliss casts lightning magic; as their names would imply, Lucritius and Morth cast fire and ice magic respectively.

Despite its lackluster and repetitive environment, Solomon’s Keep managed to shine in having one of the deepest, most robust leveling systems of any game of its kind. Solomon’s Boneyard dutifully follows in that vein with more than thirty skills to master, a new perks system, and the new ice-based primary skill set. On attaining a new experience level, players are offered a random selection of skills from which to choose a single upgrade for their character. Upgrades include the ability to strengthen or otherwise improve attack skills, increase life or mana, increase mana recovery, casting cost, movement speed and more. And because skills are presented at random, your character will never grow the same way twice!

Gold collected during play is persistent and accumulates over the course of many games. When beginning a new game, gold may be spent to unlock perks with which to customize and strengthen your characters, allowing you to increase in power the more you play the game. Gold is also used to unlock the games three additional wizards — Wegnus, Griselda and Vorpus — who possess multiple primary attack skills and who can, beginning at level 5, weld their attacks into powerful new magics.

Likes:

Leveling: Solomon’s Keep had one of the best leveling systems of any game of its kind, and Solomon’s Boneyard takes the concept even further with perks. Mixing and matching skills and perks, developing your character into a devastating beast of a wizard, and smashing the undead hordes beneath the forces of your spellcraft is simply awesome.

The Boneyard: My only complaint against Solomon’s Keep was that the floors of the keep were all identically bland, consisting of nothing more than cold gray stone. By comparison, the boneyard is a magnificent environment. Massive trees surround the boneyard, their branches hanging over and obscuring attackers from view. Gravestones and statues stand solemnly in place, cutting into the glow of your staff and throwing long shadows across the cold earth. Open graves yawn in darkness, and cobblestone footpaths swarm with skeletons and their ilk.

Characters: Solomon’s Boneyard generously provides you seven characters from which to choose after unlocking the three hidden wizards, each with different primary skill sets. I just wish six of them didn’t insist on wearing the cliche, pointy wizard’s hat. Morth at least has good sense to wear a cowl.

OpenFeint Achievements: Ten achievements await, totaling 1,000 points!

Dislikes:

Only One Environment: Like its predecessor, Solomon’s Boneyard has only a single environment, that being the titular boneyard. And while that boneyard is a good deal more atmospheric and impressive than Solomon’s barren keep, it does get old quickly. A few more maps could certainly do the game some good.

Not Much New: If you’ve played Solomon’s Keep, you will be well familiar with nearly all of what Solomon’s Boneyard has to offer. The same enemies and skills as before make a return, and I’ve seen nothing new in my time with the game aside from Morth’s ice spells. Rather than a full game unto itself, it plays more like a amputated bonus mode from Solomon’s Keep.

Overall, Solomon’s Boneyard is an excellent title and well worth its $0.99 price tag. Fans of dual-stick shooters, survival titles or Solomon’s Keep will definitely want to pick this one up. The depth of the skills and perks makes this one of the coolest survival games in the app store, and beats the hell out of Minigore. While it offers little new content over its predecessor, there are few bones to pick with what’s here. It would have made an excellent DLC survival mode for Solomon’s Keep, but stands just as well on its own as a separate app.

My only remaining hope is that the third iteration of the series will dispatch our wizards on an epic RPG journey through new and varying environments, full of exciting new foes and challenges! How about it, Raptisoft?

Solomon’s Boneyard is developed by Raptisoft, and available for $0.99. Reviewed at version 1.0 on an iPhone 4.




  1. Raptisoft on Wednesday 8, 2010

    Hey, just so you know, the third will be “Son of Solomon” and will be the quest to resurrect your father and clear his good name… since obviously all the history about Solomon Dark must be the sour grapes of lesser wizards!

    That one will be a while in coming though… while Solomon’s Boneyard is one graveyard, and Solomon’s Keep is one keep, Son of Solomon will be an entire countryside. Also, Solomon’s Keep for Windows/Mac/and iPad will be coming out first, and I hope I will be addressing your complaints about a drab, dull keep in that environment where memory is more or less infinite. :)

  2. Szeiden on Wednesday 8, 2010

    That’s great news. I, too, wished for an epic journey through varying environments utilizing the Solomon gameplay style. I’m sure Raptisoft will produce yet another quality game. Good luck!

  3. Matt on Wednesday 8, 2010

    I’m a fellow iPhone developer and fan. Great job with the system! The primary skills complement nicely and allow great replayability. We’re all looking forward with rapt interest for Son of Soloman.

  4. f0EzAlES on Wednesday 8, 2010

    I really like this game, though i dislike how it is just a survival mode type of game. I like how you level up but not how it takes a long time the further along the game goes, and the monsters that appear don’t increase in experience points when you slay them and that is a real drag. Besides that, I am really excited for the Son of Solomon (: what is the eta of its release?

  5. eli the great on Wednesday 8, 2010

    what are the other 3 wizards combos ive already got the withe one and dont know wich to get next?