The degree to which The Dark Spire is directly based upon early Western RPGs -- particularly Wizardry -- cannot be overstated. From the unforgiving difficulty to the minimalist presentation, this title is a naked homage to antediluvian dungeon crawls. It's very well crafted for what it is, but gamers with no nostalgia for the early '80s will likely be bewildered by its archaic design.

With little graphical fanfare, players create a group of faceless adventurers to brave the perils of an ominous tower. Exploring the numerous secret passages, dramatic encounters, and puzzles within each level's sterile grid is amusing, but the experience is accompanied by a tremendous amount of grinding. With limited options for restoring your health and spells inside the tower, you can expect to retread the same ground dozens of times in an effort to uncover deeper secrets.

The combat system breaks actions up into discrete rounds and puts very typical fantasy tropes at play. Fighters bash skulls and absorb damage, priests heal them back up, mages deal with otherwise untenable situations, and thieves pretend to be useful until you come across a trap or lock. Nice touches like being able to sacrifice speed for power in attacks or spellcasting improve the otherwise limited options at your fingers, but this is no tactical masterpiece.

Antiquated concepts limit this title's appeal by requiring repetitive tasks and enforcing a punishing difficulty level. However, players who don't mind grinding and reloading may find themselves eagerly pursuing the tower's many hooks. Well-designed puzzles and interesting encounters, like a mid-tower gambling den and a pirate hideout, await the patient adventurer. Still, this is far from a game for everybody. RPGs have changed a lot in the last quarter-century, and there are reasons for that.