July 21, 2015 12:00 PM | John Bridgman
I have to admit that crafting-based survival games are always a draw for me. There's something I enjoy about burrowing down beneath the earth and seeing what's there, and coming back up to work on a large project or make new gear with the spoils of my excavations. So it is with Squarelands, a top-down crafting focused game from Oryon Entertainment.
Drawing a few cues admittedly from some larger titles, in particular Terraria as a sprite-based crafting and survival game, Squarelands takes its inspirations seriously. It gives you a broad selection of items to craft, and you can find even more as you delve into the caves below the surface. You can build a base and operate from there, all the while being able to craft both useful items to enhance your survivability, and cosmetic items to make your home more visually appealing.
Visual appeal is something Squarelands excels at, as it uses the charming Oryx sprites that were popularized in Realm of the Mad God. In addition to that, the environments are nice to look at with lots of variety in biomes and mobs that are roaming around. There's also some really good lighting going on that emphasizes the importance of torches, as unlit areas in this game are very dark.
Voyaging out when you can't see is almost certain disaster, as this game will swarm you with enemies. Nearly immediately upon spawning, you'll need to start moving quickly to avoid projectiles and the large numbers of melee monsters out to get you. Since you start out with only basic tools and no real weapon, you need to be on your toes. It can get annoying until you learn how to use the terrain around you to evade the mobs until you can begin harvesting some wood to begin crafting your base, a weapon, and some armour.
The controls are responsive enough that attacking and evading aren't difficult, but you need to get a feel for how your character moves before you can safely go after enemies. As well, since sometimes attacks just "miss", you may have to react to an approaching enemy faster than you anticipated, though usually you can keep enemies away with quick enough attacks and enough room to manoeuvre.
One thing the game lacks compared to other survival games of the same sort is multiplayer. Part of the appeal for many in these games is to create and share with your friends, co-operatively working together to progress and build. It's not a necessary element to enjoy the game, but some people may be put off by it.
Squarelands certainly sounds good. It's got an energetic soundtrack to accompany your exploration, and the mobs make some loud and often chilling sounds. The underground caves in particular feature good sound design and enhance the feeling that you're delving into somewhere you may not be prepared for. That being said they might be too loud for some players, and you may find yourself wanting to mute them. Unfortunately the only setting in-game is to mute all the sounds, including the solid soundtrack.
This is a game that doesn't hide away from what it's inspired by. Obvious comparisons aside, with its visual style and sound design, it's an aesthetically pleasing survival game, and it will appeal to people who like the genre and aren't yet burned out by it. The lack of multiplayer may turn some folks away, but I think the game stands up well enough as a single player experience. If you're looking for a top-down exploration game, this may also be something you want to give a try.