DARKGEMS Review

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It doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination to splice a roguelike with a mining game. We have Spelunky after all. You jump into a mine with a piddly pickaxe or drill, gather up as much ore as you can in the timeframe, then return to the mine with a better axe, a better drill. Bish-bash-bosh: you have a mining roguelike.

DARKGEMS adheres pretty firmly to this formula. You start in the corner of a grid of squares, a lone miner surrounded by ore and the odd passage between them. There’s no gravity at play here, like you might expect in a Spelunky clone: you are effectively looking at DARKGEMS top-down, moving about in a maze.

DARKGEMS review 1
Go hunting those DARKGEMS

Except mazes aren’t much of a problem when you have a drill in hand. With a press of A and a direction, you can merrily blitz through the rocks and gems that surround you. They pop satisfyingly and coins start accumulating in your wallet. The more colourful and glittery the gem, the more cash that crunches out of them. Soon, you’ll be scanning the fringes of the screen for all that glitters.

A fog of war, attached to a battery system, adds a bit of pressure. You can’t stay in the mine forever, so you’re reliant on your battery. The more you use your drill, the more the battery empties. As this dwindles, you can see less and less around you, which makes things a tad claustrophobic. Luckily, you can stop things going a bit Descent by picking up some yellow glowing balls that represent a battery (even if they look more like PAC-Man pills). They boost your visibility as well as let you stay in the mine for longer. Once your battery is exhausted, the run is over.

It’s not the only way you can fail. Creatures roam the mines, and they can snatch away a life heart if you’re not quick enough at evading them. We made the mistake of thinking we were defenceless to the zombies, ghosts and demons, but that’s far from the truth. Your drill can pop zombies, while upgraded drills can also munch through other enemies. It feels a little counter-intuitive, but this is something you should be doing: killing them delivers you the best cash that you can get in the game.

DARKGEMS review 2
Just remember to hit up the shop

If you’re doing it right, a run will more likely end because of a lack of battery than a lack of hearts. And then it’s off to the shops: something we all do just after we die. Upgrades come in a few different flavours, from extra hearts to extra battery, new levels to access and a spread of modified drills. Then it’s back into the mines, and into a new mine (one of three) if you have purchased access to it.

For a game genre that’s known for being a joyful timesink – my hours in Spelunky and Steamworld Digs will testify to that – DARKGEMS is not a long game. There are four levels in the menu, but this is somewhat sneaky as the fourth ‘Cruise’ level is purely a credits sequence. We played each level three or four times for no more than five minutes a pop, before the upgrades and achievements were rinsed. So don’t expect to get much more than a couple of hours out of DARKGEMS. It’s a budget indie, so perhaps we shouldn’t expect more for the price, but this is a genre that traditionally absorbs more time, and we couldn’t help but imagine how easily levels could have been added.

At least progression feels good. The new drills in particular get ludicrous quickly. There’s a Master Sword thing going on with the Magic Drill, which fires beams at the rocks, while a Demon Drill is effectively an RPG or BFG, obliterating ore with projectiles. It takes an age to reload, so – hot tip – the Magic Drill is where it’s at. You should be warned that DARKGEMS stops feeling like a mining game at this point and more like a dungeon crawler, but that may well be a good thing for particular tastes.

DARKGEMS review 3
DARKGEMS gets DARK

Our time with DARKGEMS was fleeting, but a decent wodge of fun. Challenge is never really an issue, so it’s more of a Supermarket Sweep in a mining costume, as you fill your trolley with as much treasure as you can in a limited timeframe. As soon as you learn that enemies are nothing to worry about and actually carry the largest amount of moolah, then they become piñatas to pop. Almost every single run had us exhausting the mine, leaving no gem, PAC-Man pill or undead being behind. 

Which is also the downside of DARKGEMS, as it happens. It’s so absent of challenge that the runs end the same way pretty much every time. We would be sprinting about looking for an ore, any ore, even a measly 2GP ore, to make the last seconds productive. We didn’t feel like the game was rewarding us for our skill: we were capping out each mine, each run, getting exactly the amount of cash it wanted us to have. We never quite felt like we were achieving. 

Treat DARKGEMS as two hours of laid-back, ASMR mining, and there’s gold in the seams. It’s possible to switch off and fill your ore bag with achievements. But expect any more from it – in terms of playtime, challenge or a sense of reward – and you will come away empty handed.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Enticing game loop
  • Overpowered drills to unlock
  • Ramps up progression quickly
Cons:
  • Caps out at two hours of play
  • Never challenges
  • Lack of reasons to replay
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Xeneder Team
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PC
  • Release date and price - 22 March 2024 | £4.19
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Enticing game loop</li> <li>Overpowered drills to unlock</li> <li>Ramps up progression quickly</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Caps out at two hours of play</li> <li>Never challenges</li> <li>Lack of reasons to replay</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Xeneder Team</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PC <li>Release date and price - 22 March 2024 | £4.19</li> </ul>DARKGEMS Review
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