Genre: Early access sandbox adventure co-op
Publisher: Fireshine Games
Release Date: March 8th, 2022
Edited by AlexKnight2005
Core Keeper is a crafty mining role-playing style game developed by the fine folks at Pugstorm for one to eight players. Each “type” is a discreet class that possesses skills that the others lack. With seven players, each in their role can generate a hectic mess that is somehow more efficient in building up your base for further exploitation of the underground warrens you’ve been stranded in. The eighth player will wind up doubling up with someone, but depending on what that turns out to be, it can be a huge help.
Lovingly done in sixteen-bit pixel style, Core Keeper retains enough detail even at higher resolutions that, with enough light, you can quickly tell what you’re working on even at higher resolutions (I like sixteen hundred by nine windowed, personally). For your own character, you have several cosmetic options in the simplistic character builder—body type, eye colors, skin tones, clothing colors (but not style), and so on. Done in a top-down style (and a dire need for torches in the early going), it’s easy to get a feel for the map layout, even if you’re going to be a week getting enough materials together to do any solid base building.
Just you, a bunch of sand, rock, roots, and ore (with the occasional red slime that’ll kick your butt if you’re not careful), the game looks good all the way around. On some level, it scratches that itchy nostalgia spot for the SNES/Genesis (or Mega Drive, depending on where you are) games of old. You should feel right at home if you enjoy some of the other rogue-lite crafting and exploration games (yes, the maps are random except for the starting area). One of the major differences in the quality of the sound, some of the music can get repetitive, but hitting things (living or not) rewards you with a nice meaty “thunk” that gives you a feel for the amount of force you had to apply to get through whatever it was. Pulling sand walls (which you can do bare-handed) has a different sound, that of shifting… the little details make for a solid soundscape to offset the music, which I eventually muted.
As a game, it works. Mostly. There are some things I dislike here. In most games of this type, you wind up with bars that aren’t your XP, mana, and health indicators. Most often, it’s food, water, and in some cases, oxygen. Here, it’s just the hunger meter, which goes down a lot faster than I’d like. My particular protagonist (in solo mode) had the metabolism of a hummingbird. She’d eat any mushroom I could find but refused to pick up the bugs that would have given her a bit of protein in her diet.
Our premise is as simple as they get: Wandering around the jungle during an expedition, she spots a thing and, in the way of every toddler ever, decides to touch it. It transfers her (in my case) from the jungle to an underground warren full of all manner of dangerous things and then goes dead. A small pool of light, some roots (which make dandy torches), and a small area she needs to dig herself out of. From there, you have to survive, figure out what the core is, how it works, and perhaps escape your entombment. Expect it to take a while.
Fortunately, the UI is here to help. Fairly minimalistic, you’ll often forget it’s there unless you need to glance around to the corners to check your health and hunger meters, minimap, and controls, each with its own snuggly corner to hide in. You have a limited inventory, only a third of which (ten items) is accessible for equipping things at any given time. You have a crafting menu for making simple things at the push of a button wherever you happen to be. Once you get around to making some facilities (workbench, furnace, etc.), you can make better things from the ores, and such you’ll wind up digging out as you explore. Add in two difficulty levels (normal and hardcore for respawn and permadeath, respectively), and you’re off to the thwacking.
As a whole, Core Keeper has its ups and downs, but I’m seeing the real potential here for a solid game once it emerges from early access. It needs some polish, a bit more story, and maybe an optional tutorial to get the newbies to the genre started, but those are things that may appear as the game gets closer to full release. The devs have set themselves a huge goal to hit with their roadmap, so we’ll see how they do. I know I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of it down the line.
- Designed for co-op, approachable for solo play
- Sound effects have weight and impact
- The simple premise leads to hints of the story
- Intuitive controls
- UI stays out of the way for the most part
- Repetitive music
- Lack of tutorials (or at least an option for them)
- Extreme metabolism leads to babysitting the protagonist.