The purpose of Buried Treasure is to highlight unknown or barely-known indie games, to give them a review (and a score on Metacritic) that will hopefully lead to people buying the game, and other outlets to notice them and give them wider coverage. As such, the site has a very strong bias: it only covers really good games.
The consequence of this is the unmentioned piles of squillions of games I play every week that don’t make the cut. What would be the point in drawing your attention toward a game you’ve never heard of, only to say, “…so don’t buy it.”? Warning people off buying big-name or high-profile games is a worthy cause, and one I’ve spent the bulk of my critical career doing. But pulling something out of obscurity to say it should have stayed there is the act of… well, let’s not name names, but it’s pointlessly cruel.
Every week I install dozens of games from Steam and Itch, most of which I play for less than five minutes before discovering they’re broken, dross or dreadful. When you’re looking at games based on a screenshot and paragraph description, rather than via an orchestrated PR campaign or cacophony of word-of-mouth, there’s no quality filter, but it’s also how I’ve discovered some of the best games I’ve covered on this site.
However, more problematic for me are the almost-made-it games. For two very different reasons. The first is they likely would be of interest to a lot of readers, albeit with caveats. The other is it takes up hours and hours of my time, playing something in the belief that it’s going to make a good candidate to review, only to find things fall apart, or fail to improve, or never expand from their early ideas. This week I’ve posted one review, despite spending every day playing a shed-load of games. It’s enormously frustrating!
I fear that backers feel the minimum amount of effort is being put in, especially at a time when the site is haemorrhaging money. Buried Treasure is down nearly £300 a month from where it was at the beginning of the year, as people are very understandably looking for ways to save monthly outgoings. Of course, as my own living costs soar, this is a lot of money for me to not be receiving too.
I’m obviously thinking about ways to bulk up Buried Treasure, to make it more of an appealing project to back, and ways I can put out more content for people’s money without burning myself out. (I do this at the same time as two other jobs.)
But I thought, this week, it’d be interesting to write some mini-reviews of the games I looked at that I decided I didn’t want to give a full review to, just to give an idea. This is a normal number for any given week. I in no sense want to throw shade at any of the games below, because they all have stuff going for them. (I’m not including the five-minute blunders for that reason. As much as I want to rant about some of them.)
This is the closest I came to reviewing, a big, interesting first-person puzzle game, in which you attempt to solve the mystery of a building taken over by a strange plant life. You have a “gun” that can take electric charges from machines, then fire them into others, on which the game’s puzzles are based. How do you find three charges to open that door, without closing the one behind you, and still be able to transport them back later to open the nine-charge door in the large chamber…
There are a bunch of issues, the most significant being the jumping. You need to do an awful lot of clambering about, leaping between platforms, and it’s just not well enough implemented to be satisfying. I spent far too much time retreading steps because a jump missed, or sliding off a platform, to the point where I was properly sad that it was spoiling this fun, if not spectacular game.
The English translation isn’t great, but that’s easily gotten over. I was also a bit disappointed that puzzles only got bigger, rather than evolved in their complexity, but in the end it was the frustration of the movement that held the game back for me. Still, for just £4, if you’re after a first-person puzzler, you could do a lot worse.
I’m always on the lookout for the first Vampire Survivors clone that evolves the idea to somewhere new. I didn’t find it in Project Lazarus, but I can’t pretend I didn’t lose a whole bunch of time to this. It is far, far too similar to VS, it’s only really big change being the graphics. But at the same time, more VS but with pretty 3D graphics seems like a good thing, right?
The main issue here, however, is that the mechs that you play as move far too slowly from the start (they can be sped up, but only after too long), and their hitboxes are far too big. Trying to gloriously navigate your way through gaps in the vast crowds of enemies rarely works, because they appear to clip you without actually touching, which is a huge bummer.
This is Early Access, so there’s plenty of time for some significant tweaks to improve things. I love the enemies, and was blown away that having hundreds of the things on screen at once didn’t cause it to drop a frame. It’s just, since it copied everything else, it really needs to copy Vampire Survivor‘s movement speed and ability to slide between enemy hordes. Oh, and it’s only two quid.
Oh my goodness, I so wanted Neon Blight to be great. It is an absolutely ridiculously blatant Moonlighter rip-off, but then, good! There should be more Moonlighter rip-offs. But this one just isn’t finished.
It’s not often I wish a game were in Early Access, but Neon Blight really should be. This doesn’t feel anywhere near done, and yet there’s a lovely game idea in there. You’re a former cop, who becomes a black market weapons dealer! You go out at night, attacking creatures of a blight in the woods, gathering their dropped weapons to sell in your shop during the day.
The issue is, it’s far, far too hard right now, combined with a whole litany of bugs, and what feels like a half-finished store system. Unlike Moonlighter‘s excellent system for setting prices and taking advantage of scarcity, here you’re told the never-changing market price for a gun, and then just set your price near that. Customers come in and buy absolutely everything, with no rushing about management fun, making the whole aspect very hollow.
Silly things, like coins dropped by monsters landing on higher ground being impossible to collect, seem like the sorts of things that should have of course been caught before release.
It’s such a shame! If only this were in EA with another six months before an intended full release, I’d be suggesting you keep a close eye on it. As it is, despite persisting for longer than I probably should have, it’s hard to recommend. Not least when it’s £15.
I was keen on the Lunar Axe demo, in that way where I thought, “Once this and this and this is fixed…” Unfortunately, none of it seems to have been fixed. This is a mix of puzzle adventure and hidden object, hand-drawn, with a pleasingly creepy atmosphere. But sadly there’s poor signposting for knowing where you can exit a location, and too many puzzles feel arbitrary. Still though, it looks great, and there’s definitely an adventure to be had here.
Oh Gloomgrave, I wanted to like you so much! A good old-fashioned first-person dungeon crawler, but randomly generated, rogue-like in many ways!
The trouble is, it seems that purpose in design is a pretty damned important aspect to a Dungeon Master-like, and randomly generating the levels really takes away something. It doesn’t help that it then lacks key elements like hidden switches, Grimrock-like puzzles, trapdoors, and so on.
However, this is Early Access, and as such I have high hopes for lots more to be added to it as time goes on. I love the art, the monsters and combat are fun, if very simple, and the roguey aspects of not knowing what different coloured potions will do on any given run is a splendid addition. Definitely keeping an eye on this one.
Here’s another game into which I put a huge number of hours, and so very nearly wrote about, only to find myself ultimately disappointed that it just wasn’t heading anywhere interesting enough. It’s properly good in many ways, has fantastic cartoon art, and tells a neat little tale of crash-landing on an alien planet.
You gather resources from all around the planet, in order to repair your ship, but also to help the locals, ever-growing the areas you can reach with your new tools. Which is also a pretty good description of Crashlands, which the game represents far too closely. This is the big issue, really: it’s not as good as Crashlands at anything it does, despite doing everything pretty well.
Well, that is until its soft-ending, where it feels like they just completely ran out of money/ambition, and have an excruciatingly long series of static, uncaptioned images, from which you’re supposed to piece together some notion of narrative. Then you carry on playing, but doing the same stuff as before, this time without motivation.
If Crashlands didn’t exist, I’d be all over this. But it does, so I’m not.
So, there you have it. I’ve kind of shocked myself by how many games I had gotten through this week, and let’s not forget this isn’t including the actually bad ones. Hopefully it gives an idea of what goes into finding those one or two games that I highlight every week.
If that’s something you want to support, please do consider backing the Patreon. I get how tough times are, but my hope is a couple of pounds a month for some won’t hurt as much as the hundreds of pounds a month I’m down just now.
All Buried Treasure articles are funded by Patreon backers. If you want to see more reviews of great indie games, please consider backing this project.
Thank you Mr Walker, I really enjoyed this peek behind your creative curtain. I’m a bit of a sucker for the almost ran underdogs, or the too ambitious hubristic nosedivers. I’ve investigated all six of these not quite recommendations, and I’ll definitely be picking up a couple of them right away.
This crop of nearly great games is, in my opinion, more interesting than a larger piece on a definitively fantastic game. Quite frequently I am already aware of your big recommendations, but I hadn’t come across any of these six titles before this lovely article.
I am sure I wouldn’t be alone in hoping you might make your faithful readers aware of some more of these 4,5,6 and 7 out of ten games. At the very least, it might give some sense of meaning to the time you invest in these less than stellar experiences.
Best wishes to you in these tough times. I hope I can remain as your supporter through these grimdark days, and that by 2023 we’ll collectively look back upon the last three years as a hilarious practical joke by a jaded cosmic entity.
Peace and love to you and yours.
I am with you on simply not reviewing something if you don’t like it. There is a food critic I like in my city that only posts reviews of places they enjoyed eating so as to not pour gas on the flames of already struggling restaurants.
I also looked Lost Nova but I already spent way too much time in Crashlands
I really like this mini review format. It shows how much effort you put into the site and gives more exposure to more games. I wouldn’t mind hearing your opinion on the bad games as well, if there are interesting ideas hidden in them.
I think you should make posts like this a regular thing.
I like what you do here. I’ve been putting off backing for some time. Sorry. I blame my ASD.
Anyhow, I did it today. Lowest tier. I’m affraid that’s all I can afford right now.
I wish you luck.
I appreciate you.
Gosh John, I’m a terrible person and have been reading your lovely words without contributing for quite some time. Consider that rectified.
Also, if you do make this particular review round-up a regular feature, may I suggest calling it “Bottle Caps”? As in, you see a glint in the muck and go to pick it up, thinking it was a buried treasure, but it just turns out to be a bottle cap.