Can turn-based cyberpunk RPG Keylocker unleash its true musical potential?

Keylocker is all about rhythm. If you escape a dystopian prison system where you can pay to go into invisible handcuffs, your escape can also have a jamming soundtrack. But you’ll have to bring your own, because the Keylocker world hates that kind of stuff. As in Footloose, music is an illegal activity.

Coming to fruition after a successful Kickstarter last year, this rhythm game RPG takes inspiration from Nintendo’s Mario & Luigi series. In fact, the rhythmic action of battles in this series, where good timing produces stronger attacks, is here transplanted to a more explicit musical system. The game opens with you planning your escape from prison with outside help, as you download the skills of a musician representing a different class and fighting style (your choice also unlocks new story possibilities). From there, you’re on the run, dodging machines wherever possible while trying to hack and destroy terminals for your escape.

It’s during battle that the musical elements really come to life in these early stages. Battles and attacks sync to the music while your own attacks also use the musical weapon of your choice. Pressing the attack button at the right time will increase your attack strength and can be done while your enemy is attacking to reduce the damage you take.

Adding an extra layer to this is the grid system. Similar to a smaller-scale strategy RPG, your tower can be used to move between blocks to line up attacks. By doing so, you may be able to rain down damage on multiple enemies. Considering your own position and that of enemies is crucial, as battles begin to escalate in terms of the number of enemies on screen.

While my time with the game was limited to the initial scope, the game’s potential will likely come from the characters. A robot jukebox companion only joins you towards the end of the demo, and in your rebellion against the system you’ll form a whole band of musical companions to join you in the action. It remains to be seen how battles hold up when your small fields of a few enemies expand to encompass a whole band of music on presumably much larger battle arenas.

Much of the more eye-catching content, as well as the ability to see how different instruments affect gameplay, was unavailable during my brief stint with the game. This is where the rhythmic aspects of Keylocker could really come to life, with guitar hero-like beat cards that you must perform for certain actions and broader exploration that reinforces the game’s notable inspiration from the Earthbound/MOTHER series.

Still, what was shown here at Bitsummit has potential. The pixel art styles of the game’s visuals lend themselves well to this musical dystopia, with detailed, distinctively styled character portraits, and clever writing giving the characters personalities beyond the pixels on a screen. It’s a solid model to build on, but how well it executes those musical elements and the ability to alter your destiny through your decisions and interactions beyond prison walls will determine whether Keylocker can break free from the chains of expectations to become something great. . There’s still no nailed-down release date, but you can try a free demo on Steam now.