As gamers of Image & Form’s wonderful SteamWorld Dig games will know, there’s something innately calming about chiselling your approach by a hunk of rock. In each of these western-themed platformers, you had been attempting to find gem-like treasures to take again to the floor so you would get larger and higher tools to start the dig cycle anew. Now think about that floor is consistently underneath menace from waves of alien assaults and that is just about Dome Keeper in a nutshell, a moreish, meditative mining game that sees you steadiness digging for assets and attempting to find all-important relics whereas defending your eponymous dome from being smashed to smithereens.
Having first clapped eyes on Dome Keeper again at PAX East earlier within the 12 months, I used to be immediately struck by its attractive pixel artwork and spectacular sense of scale – neither of which have dimmed on its last launch. The alien worlds you go to throughout every run are incessantly beautiful to behold, and I usually wished I may break freed from the bounds of my protecting little dome and go exploring. Not that I’d survive very lengthy, thoughts, because the black, beady-eyed monsters inhabiting these lands pack a stunning punch. As the well being of your dome depletes after repeated bashings, its glass surfaces splits and cracks the place it is suffered probably the most injury, offering an immediate, visible reminder of how lengthy you’ve got obtained left earlier than it shatters. You do have a extra conventional life bar to maintain tabs on as properly, I ought to add, nevertheless it’s a lovely visible element nonetheless that helps to make the perilous nature of your scenario really feel all of the extra fragile and precarious.
There’s additionally a countdown timer displaying you ways lengthy you’ve got obtained left till the subsequent wave hits, though the actual fact it is comparatively unobtrusive means it is generally simple to overlook you are about to come back underneath assault – that’s, till you are assaulted by a high-pitched bleep alarm urging you again to the floor. Your little astronaut strikes comparatively quick as they fly by the tunnels you’ve got carved out, however their actions could be slowed relying on how a lot cargo you are hauling again on the identical time. Your drill energy, motion pace and carry power can all be improved and upgraded over the course of a run, however there’s nonetheless a tense risk-reward issue at play everytime you’re reducing it notably high-quality. Do you abandon your gems to the underside of your mineshaft to get again to your base quicker? Or do you persist and hope your base would not take an excessive amount of of a beating within the course of?
Sometimes you may select the latter so you’ll be able to end an all-important improve to your dome’s defences, which at the moment extends to both a laser or an extendable sword that may slice or be javelined outwards to hit longer-range enemies. The sword is by far the tougher of the 2, requiring a bit extra dexterity to achieve its pesky, ghost-like flyers, however each dome varieties really feel pleasingly distinct from each other, and have a satisfying vary of improve paths to select from that helps to maintain issues contemporary on repeat runs.
For probably the most half, although, every Dome Keeper run feels just about the identical. You’re looking for a similar three assets, in just about the identical, amorphous underground divided into more and more dense layers of rock strata, and combating the identical handful of enemies on every planet you go to. There are unlockable devices to assist shake up the rhythm of particular person games, together with lifts, teleporters, water condensers, useful resource converters and pets with drills for noses, in addition to eventual modifiers that may fluctuate monster power, wave pace and the maze-like nature of the map, however most solely present mild twists in your basic goal: to dig deep sufficient to seek out the alien-destroying relic that may allow you to stay on this planet with out fear. There can be a ‘status mode’ that is extra of a rating assault type-deal, however even this does not stray from its rinse-repeat digging and defending.
Personally, I’m wholly happy with what Dome Keeper is providing right here – particularly contemplating the dimensions of its tiny husband and spouse dev crew. While a bit extra selection within the kinds of underground locales you go to maybe would not have gone amiss, I’ve additionally been taking part in this virtually continuous all of final week, gobbling up its small, 30-minute maps in addition to luxuriating in its massive, 90-minute plus ones. It took me one of the best a part of six hours to unlock all of its beginning domes, modes and devices, and I’m excited to see how the promised ‘assessor’ keeper that is supposedly ‘coming quickly’ switches issues up farther from the default astronaut.
Some will little question chafe in opposition to the actual fact there’s no more to do right here, however for me Dome Keeper is quick turning into my new Dorfromantik – which is ironic contemplating its authentic Ludum Dare prototype was previously often called Dome Romantik. Ultimately, it is a chill, calming survival game with simply the proper frisson of rigidity to maintain issues fascinating between waves, and navigating its myriad improve choices in opposition to the rising escalation of its superbly paced hazard ranges is all the time an exhilarating deal with. It’s the kind of game I can see myself booting as much as unwind with on the finish of the day, particularly when it performs so properly on the Steam Deck, too. It’s actually sunk its claws into me over the previous couple of weeks, and similar to its morass of creepy shadow monsters, has smashed its approach proper into my coronary heart and fully disarmed me. It’s an actual keeper, all proper.