Disclaimer: Noble Kale and I are friends. However, I volunteered to do this review because I enjoy the game and have the most experience following its development.
Readers may remember that I listed Quarries of Scred as one of my Holiday Playlist games. I’ve been playing it since early 2014, and looking back at older versions and screenshots, it has come a very long way while keeping the 8-bit charm that drew my attention in the first place. The game has since been officially released on Steam, with updates that address several concerns raised by long-term players, and the result is the same old game with a greater ease of play while still being wickedly difficult. Hammerspace Games has created a game that is the evil, gaming equivalent of Occam’s Razor.
Players control a man named Bob who has been very bad, indeed, and sent to the quarries to gather gems to pay back some serious debts. That is pretty much all the guidance you’re given unless you take the time to read the manual (and who reads the manual?) – the tutorial is a “get in there and do it” sort of gameplay, but the controls are so easy that it’s not as though it’s impossible to figure out quickly. The biggest obstacle to players is the fact that Quarries of Scred, while not impossible to play, has a very tight set of rules that must be followed, or else Bob becomes flattened by a boulder, or killed by one of the many enemies scattered about. Learning how enemies attack and how to defeat them is part of the charm, as long as you don’t mind being utterly destroyed a number of times during the process.
Yes, Quarries of Scred is punishing, and it can be difficult to get the hang of for some folks. Often, the repetitive movement required to move Bob around in the mines can actually cause hand cramps. The good news is there’s now controller support. If the configuration of any keys, either on the controller or keyboard, is difficult to use, remapping can be done in the .dat file that’s downloaded with the game, and there are instructions included in the file. While this was an option in Update 5 (the Steam release is Update 6), the controller support opens Quarries of Scred up to a plethora of new players.
All of this technical talk is essential, as it’s a fairly important part of the gaming experience. Do you need this information to play? No, you don’t; but it may help to alleviate anxiety for those who fear they may not be improving due to a lack of adequate controls. From personal experience, however, it should be noted that it’s very likely that you’re not improving for any other number of reasons, simply because Hammerspace designed Quarries of Scred that way.
There are two difficulty settings: Easy and Hard. On easy, stones and gems fall more slowly, and there are fewer enemies. The Daily Quarry is a random seed that every player has access to, once per day, to try to get the highest score they can while competing against other players; this seed is always on the hard difficulty, which makes it ripe for the rage that inevitably comes with this type of challenge. Scores can then be posted on Twitter, if the player chooses.
While the Daily Quarry is always in the normal map mode, there are several different iterations, such as Darkness, Blink, and two timed challenges (60 and 120 seconds). Darkness provides players with almost no visual of the quarry except for a small region around them as they progress; unless flares are used, memory is the only tool players have, though using flares has its own problems. Blink mode only allows the player to see every 4 moves, resulting in either a very slow run, or a wild ride of chances taken. I’m not great at Darkness, yet there is an achievement named for me (“A Squeak in the Dark”). It should come as no surprise that trying this mode after months of no practice wasn’t pleasant. In the current update, there’s a method of obtaining obscenely high scores, for those diligent enough to seek it out. Thus far, I know of only one person who’s done so, and it’s a closely-guarded secret.
As mentioned, the graphics for Quarries of Scred are 8-bit, with such simple shapes that it seems almost comical when contrasted with the gameplay. Different color options are available, with monochrome for a greater challenge (as well as a retro feel), and even a mode with a more muted version of the main color scheme for those who are prone to eye strain. The gameplay screen itself is very organized – the play area is on the right, the stats and other information are on the left. Even in the monochrome colors, the items are clearly marked – and in the colored versions, the enemies are quite cute. Ranklers (gold, resembling squids), bats, drop bears, and mushrooms (don’t let them fool you; they might be the worst enemies) dot the landscape, forcing the player to think about their next move in some cases, while forcing them to act quickly in others. To that end, the responsiveness of the controls, along with the timing of movements, is crucial, and Quarries of Scred delivers in that regard. A new soundtrack delivers a repetitive bass line and tune that’s catchy, but fades into the background. There is an option to mute sounds and music, if you prefer.
For players who have the patience to keep trying in seemingly impossible circumstances, Quarries of Scred is a charming and very rewarding game. Some may argue that I’m biased, but if the earliest version of the game had me hooked, it’s safe to say that this newer version would have had the same effect. Permadeath is frustrating, greed is strong (only 7500 credits are needed to purchase a teleporter to escape the quarries, but higher scores = more bragging rights), and the salt is real.
Pick up Quarries of Scred for Windows on Steam for $5.99. DRM-free copies are still available via itch.io, if that’s preferred. Follow the developer @LightestKale for new developments, and check out the competition at #DailyQuarry.
Read our interview with Noble Kale, the man behind Hammerspace Games, in our September 2014 issue of Indie Game Mag, available for only $2.99!