Typing games are not a new idea, obviously, but they remain a rare pleasure. Clearly the greatest of them all is Typing Of The Dead (okay, it's not actually that great, but the concept is), and 2011's Z-Type was a nice spin on a shoot-em-up. But Epistory [official site] is, I think, the best execution of typing-as-game I've seen - a really sweet, superbly atmospheric action RPG where all the controls are on your keyboard. Here's wot I think:
This is apparently the tale of a writer with block who asks her muse for help, but I confess I picked up none of this by actually playing the game. What I played is an adorable game about a girl riding on the back of a three-tailed fox (take that, Sonic), trotting around an origami world. Controls are either WASD, or a slightly more strange scattering of keys supposedly designed to have your fingers already resting in the right place for typing words. I ended up promptly forgetting what those controls are, and finding it far more comfortable to stick to the known, my right hand jumping in when needed. And it certainly is needed, as you'll need to type words in order to remove obstacles and attack incoming enemies.
At first you're plodding around a few squares of quiet countryside, your only opponents being inanimate logs that require woody words to be removed. You press Space and anything interactive is highlighted with a word above it, and you type it to remove it. The more typed words you can string together, the more points you can score via combos, and with points you gain XP for expanding your skills. At first you'll be wanting to speed up your slow fox, then adding the ability to sprint, perhaps extending the time period for combos, improving magic, displaying more information on the map, and so on. (Rather splendidly, the menus can be navigated by typing in, say, "OPTIONS" rather than clicking on them with your mouse.)
Soon enemies will appear, crawling toward you with words floating above their heads. Easy foes are taken down by a couple of three-letter words, while far tougher beasts might require you to hammer out a few 12-letter jobbies. I am very excited to report that early on I was able to kill a slug-like creature with the word "WEE". Guaranteed positive coverage.
It's all very pretty, but not as pretty as I think it ought to be. For some reason the characters appear very scratchy, which I think is a result of having been designed to look much better when seen closer up, and not well surviving the distant camera necessary for letting you see the wor(l)d around you. However, the presentation is undeniably lovely. As you roam around, the esoteric story is told by a narrator, with the words appearing as text on the land. Typed letters go black and then completed words fade away, with additional magical abilities adding further effects to the mix. Fire, for instance, means every other word for an enemy will burn away, allowing you to take on multiple encroaching bads by judiciously typing on one, then another, then another, balancing their deaths before they getcha.
To prevent your travelling too far, too soon (and as such presumably to prevent your seeing the whole of the moon), different coloured words are in different unknown languages - only when you've learned the language will they appear in English, meaning you need to solve one area to progress to the others, each sprawling out from the central starting area. There are also sections that will only appear once you've scored enough points, which is a lot less elegant, but again ensures the game opens up as you're ready for it.
Rather brilliantly, this isn't limited to QWERTY keyboards, either. It supports AZERTY, QWERTZ, DVORAK, COLEMAK, WORKMAN, NEO2 and BEPO, and comes with adaptive difficulty if it recognises you're banging out the words too quickly. Words are often thematically linked to whatever they're attached to, sometimes amusingly, giving the game a sense of curation rather than just being a series of random typing tasks.
Whether it actually improves your typing I'm not sure, but it gives you statistics on your speed and so on, which you can compare before and after I guess. I'd not see the game that way at all, though, and instead recognise it as a novel (fnarr) way to play a cute, gentle third-person action RPG.
It really is a lovely thing, offering a good amount of game for a tenner, rising above its own gimmick to be a little bit special.
Epistory is available now on Steam for £10.