A few weeks ago we were sent Lost Caves to take a look at, a small indie game focused on exploration, survival, and becoming rich. What started as a delightful experience quickly turned into a rather tricky, yet addictive, adventure which I didn’t want to stop playing until I had beaten it and reached the end credits. However, I’ve had to pull myself away from the game temporarily so I can give my impressions of it here – I’ve also died on the final boss numerous times, so I think I need a short break!
Lost caves was developed by Adam D. Smith, a solo developer who created the game as a class project in college over the last few years. This may be his first major commercial release but he has worked on other titles in the past, including helping out Thomas Brush with the Pinstripe port whilst interning for him. One thing I love about indie and solo developers is that you tend to feel the love and passion in their products more than you would in a AAA game, Lost Caves is no exception.
So, after around four hours of gameplay (yes, I’ve been playing it longer than Adam suggested it would take to beat!), what do I think of this new, surprisingly cheap, exploration game…
Lost Caves has a story but it’s not really represented in-game, however, it’s on the developer’s website and the Steam listing page – this is my interpretation of it… You are Michael Miner, a young guy who decided to try and get rich quick by mining for gold in California (such a convenient name!). However, due to excitedly digging at the walls of a cave, thinking he’s found gold already, he inadvertently causes the entire mine to collapse upon him, sending him down into the depths of this pitch-black tomb.
Don’t worry, the game doesn’t end as soon as you begin! Michael survives this fall, but is he now trapped in a fate worse than death? He finds himself a prisoner in a labyrinth of caverns and pits, complete with creatures, monsters, and even ghoulishly floating skulls. But, it’s not your usual set of underground caves (apparent by the aforementioned floating skulls), as here lie the ruins of an ancient subterranean civilisation, four separate caverns to explore which are locked behind doors which only open if you’re deemed worthy by the creators (basically, only the wealthy may enter).
Although Michael’s day has clearly turned into a disaster, what with being stuck within this underground nightmare, he sees the ‘bright side’ of his unfortunate accident – if these are ancient ruins and only the wealthy may enter, this means there must be treasure simply waiting to be found! So, with this new spark of hope and determination in finally achieving his goal of becoming rich, he sets out to not only escape his dark dungeon but to also make it out with his pockets full of treasure – and his life…
Lost Caves reminded me a lot of Spelunky, mainly because you are technically playing as a spelunker within the caves. However, there’s no trapped girls, hidden shops, or adorable pug dogs which you can throw around, you’re simply armed with your trusty pickaxe and the ability to jump as high as a basketball player. Also, the four main caverns you’ll be exploring aren’t randomly generated, it’s all pre-built with an interesting level design which has you both confused and frustrated at certain points (in a good way).
Your main objective within the game is to get rich – if you’ve not figured that out already – this is achieved by killing enemies which you encounter by either hacking at them with your weapon or stomping on them with your axe facing down (like a butt-stomp), or by finding the many treasure chests which are scattered around. Whereas the enemies respawn, the chests don’t restock once you’ve opened them – the coins you get from killing enemies are only worth 5 ‘wealth points’ compared to the hundreds you get for each treasure.
As your wealth increases, you can open the other doors and explore new areas of the underground caverns. Each ruin gives you an indication of how many chests you’ve found and not found, so you know when you’ve exhausted a particular area, but it doesn’t say how much wealth you need for the next tier. Once you’ve amassed enough wealth to unlock a new area, you can either move there straight away or continue to explore the ruins you’ve already explored – providing there are some of the 80+ treasures left to find in there.
Other than requiring a certain amount to progress, the game doesn’t actually hold your hand and tell you what to do and when to move on.
The enemies and puzzles
As mentioned above, there are a variety of foes which you’ll come across whilst exploring – but not too many different types. Some such enemies are skeletons which guard the ruins, giant moles that I imagine don’t want to simply hug you, floating skulls, and there are a few variations on the mole creatures, such as ones that fly and others that roll around like armadillos. Another enemy, which I enjoyed, is an eyeball on the end of a tether – it spits green goo at you if you get too close, which is nice. I like this ball-shaped enemy as it’s not only a hazard, you can also chop it down and use it as a puzzle mechanic!
There are puzzles in Lost Caves, they aren’t difficult as they usually just require you to use local eyeballs or switches to open passages, but some of them are well-hidden and one of them (a switch-based puzzle) took me quite a while to solve due to one of the switches being hard to find. Aside from obvious ‘puzzles’, you’ll also have to traverse moving platforms whilst avoiding falling off, a simple task which becomes quite difficult when you’ve not saved for a while and falling results in instant death and having to do it all over again…
Yes, saving in the game is manual and only at certain points, but you get used to it after a while – even if the above moving platforms can lead to replaying the same part over and over again until you realise there’s a much easier way of doing it!
Lost Caves also contains two bosses, one is fairly straight forward and the other, the end boss, is a bitch! I’ve fought the final one about eight times so far, trying to learn it’s patterns and dodge the various attacks it throws at me. But alas, I’ve yet to conquer it and claim victory against the creatures of the night – but, I won’t give up!
The addiction and value
I personally love collect-a-thon games, give me a game with a number of things to pick up in order to claim a trophy on my PS4 and I’ll spend the vast majority of my time simply collecting everything. Just look at my Ys IX review, I spent the majority of my 100+ hour playthrough simply looking for the collectables. Lost Caves gave me the same addiction – sure, I don’t really care about Steam Trophies as much as the ones on PSN (this game has trophies), but I still felt like I had to 100% each area before I moved on.
Later in the game you find an object which, once you ‘fix’ it, allows you to buy health upgrades with your hard-earned (stolen) cash (gold coins). Little did I know that spending your coins at this point would actually reduce your wealth points, meaning I accidentally made my tier go down and lock me out of progressing to the next level! However, I was having fun so I just went back into the level and found a few more treasure chests. I liked that I could finally put my money to use but I wished I had the option to maybe use it on new abilities, boosts, or weapons earlier on.
Maybe, if the developer makes a sequel or a reimagining, he’ll introduce more progression and unlockable enhancements?
In terms of value, Lost Caves is 79p on Steam. Seventy-Nine Pence! that’s less than the price of a McDonald’s Hamburger. Considering I’ve spent around five hours in total within the game (I restarted it earlier this week), it’s hard to argue with the price. The game consists of four caverns to explore, over 80 treasures to find, a bonus cavern leading to the final boss (which is very tricky) and awesome music and visual design. What more could you ask for?
Lost Caves, obviously, ran great on my PC with no issues. It has a retro pixel-art visual design which looks great on a big screen. Michael himself is very charming, almost like a Rayman-syle with a floating head, hands and feet – maybe the fall into the caves actually did hurt him, chopping off his limbs in the process?
The music within the game is great, I love the chiptune format as it sounds exactly like you’re playing the game on an NES or Master System – these were created by both the developer and Aardbei. A lot of retro-inspired games these days have great visuals but modernised music, Lost Caves nails both aspects. Also, the sound effects are very punchy and impactful, allowing you to almost feel the force of every hit.
There’s one thing I thought of when I first started playing this game – I would love to play this on a console. The intro screen itself recommends you play the game with a controller for the best experience – funnily enough, this is also what Thomas Brush‘s games state as well. Due to the simple nature of the game and the pick-up-and-play gameplay, Lost Caves would be perfect on consoles such as the Switch or the PS Vita, even home consoles like the PS4/5 and the Xbox One/Series would feel great with the addition of controller feedback and possibly a higher resolution.
If the developer hasn’t got anyone in mind to help with the console ports (there has to be one), I can honestly see Rataliaka Games or Poppy Works being very interested in helping out.
Lost Caves is a very addictive and solid exploration platformer which delivers lots of entertainment for its very cheap price. Both the pixel-art visuals and the chiptune music combine to create a nostalgiac retro-inspired game which is easy enough to pick-up-and-play yet challenging to 100% complete. Although certain parts of the game can be a little frustrating and difficult, the open-ended format means you can ignore parts you find too hard and simply look elsewhere for the elusive wealth points. For the price, you can’t go wrong with this game – it’ll provide you with an evening of entertainment for pocket change.
- - Great pixel-art visuals and chiptune music
- - Great value for money, will keep you entertained for an afternoon (or more)
- - Although it gets tricky, nothing felt unfair
- - Despite only having one attack, the gameplay was enjoyable throughout
- - The game forces you to explore with little to no hand-holding
- - I would have personally like a little more character progression to keep the game varied
- - Due to the positive of the game not holding your hand, I sometimes felt lost and unsure of where to go (not fully a negative)
- - Only one save slot, you'll have to overwrite it if you wish to start a new playthrough
- - The game has a fun story but it's not told within the game itself, only on the store page