Nostalgia is often cast as the enemy of innovation, a weighty chain around the ankles of gaming that drags us back to our old haunts and stops us taking flight into wild and wonderful new realms.

But this characterisation ignores one vital fact: for something to have earned nostalgia value and fond memories, it must have been pretty damned awesome in the first place.

So it is with Finder's Keep, a stripped back role-playing game engine that adds precisely nothing exciting to the genre, but which manages to be exciting nevertheless by dint of getting all the basics of the genre right and adding in a smidgen of style and humour.

Starting out

Mechanically, it's very much a bare-bones affair. You pick an avatar and get given some pathetic starting equipment, including a disturbingly filthy loincloth, and off into Finder's Keep you go.

You can choose from a variety of different floors in the keep, each with an "adventure point" cost that's deducted from a slowly refilling total in standard free-to-play fashion.

There are frequently changing special quests which are pretty expensive, but the game is incredibly generous with standard adventures: your meter refills every ten minutes and on every level up. I rarely hit the limit in my whole play time.

Exploration itself is, sadly, the weakest part of the entire affair. The dungeon starts covered in fog which clears as you walk through it, so you can't see ahead and have no idea what you're going to blunder into until you already have.

Mostly you'll find treasure or monsters. Occasionally you'll find a piece of treasure you can use elsewhere in the dungeon, normally just to wake a monster, but it makes for a slight change of pace.

Gaining experience

Combat is an odd quasi-real time minigame where you select one of three moves, each of which is on a timer that needs to refill before you can use it again. Before each incoming attack there's a message telling you what the monster is planning so if it's going for an all-out blow you can raise a defensive stance in time, if you've got one.

So if the adventure and combat in the game is so simplistic, what makes it worthwhile? The loot, that's what.

Loot is everywhere in Finder's Keep. Careless monsters leave it strewn about the dungeon like so many dirty socks. More careful ones carry it with them. You can accumulate gold and gems to buy more yourself. And at the end of every successful level clearance you'll get keys to unlock chests for yet more shiny things.

Magical items

These items are the heart of the game. What you don't want can be rendered down to dust that can used to upgrade what you do, and later in the game you'll get the opportunity to fuse old items into interesting new forms.

The gear you've got determines your entire character. It gives you your stats, a variety of special powers and dishes out and protects you from a variety of different damage types like crushing, fire, and poison.

Different dungeon levels tend to contain monsters which favour particular attack types, so you can change your outfit to work best against what you're likely to face. However the game limits the amount you can store between adventures unless you upgrade it, so it's better for casual players to just don their best equipment and be done with it.

Hoary adventurers

Given that Finder's Keep is a pretty simplistic game at heart, it's surprisingly engaging. It does the whole kill monster, level up, kill more powerful monster loop with exquisite skill and is often incredibly hard to put down.

There's a few minor interface niggles, but mostly it's accessible and enjoyable, helped hugely by a health dose of irreverent, jockstrap-related humour and some stylish graphics and sound.

You'll probably have played many, many games just like Finder's Keep before, but seeing as it's free without pushing the free-to-play into your face, you might as well find the time to try just one more.