A Productive Lord Of The Flies

HIGH Consistent, meaningful upgrades.

LOW The moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t very engaging.

WTF Going from wild boars to man-eating wyrms in the first ten minutes.

The explosion of the survival-sandbox genre in the past ten years has had a massive influence on the gaming industry. The baseline simplicity of these games and their consistent sense of ‘improvement’ make them highly approachable and addictive, which has led to the mass appeal and subsequent market overflow we see today.

Aground may seem like just another 2D entry in an already-overcrowded genre, but it stands out thanks to how well it satisfies the underlying principles that make these titles (such as Minecraft and Terraria) so successful, while still offering a structure that makes it stand apart.

The campaign begins by allowing the player to customize their character, offering a surprising variety of hairstyles given so few pixels. Gamers then begin on a small island, having apparently survived a crash-landing at sea, with nothing to their name. The story unfolds as players explore the island and meet other survivors, slowly learning the state of the world through dialogue with these characters while getting their help in growing and advancing the settlement.

Not only does the player learn story through these characters, but also gameplay. For example, they’ll encounter a miner who will teach them how to dig and give tools and tips to do so. Almost every system in Aground is introduced through NPCs the player come across as they establish and build their settlement.

Options gradually expand as the island is explored, although the actual gameplay stays quite simple. Generally, it involves either holding a direction (with a d-pad or thumbstick) or pressing the confirm button (‘A’ on the Switch). Buildings that produce resources for the player, such as farms, require no input besides collecting the products, which an associated NPC will also do automatically, albeit slowly. This helps make the game easy to get into, but may leave some people wanting a more active experience.

Upgrades and improvements are offered consistently. These are generally accessed via completing simple quests for NPCs, such as smelting enough gold to use in establishing relations with traders, or capturing wild boars to then raise as pigs on a farm. This also lets players control the pace of the game to a degree, as they can build up resources and hold off on turning in a quest if they feel the need to grind more.

Speaking of grind, in a sense ‘grind’ is the basis of gameplay for not only Aground but also the genre as a whole – grind resources to hit the next objective, rinse and repeat. However, in Aground players may be more acutely aware of this as the progression is largely linear, although players can explore at their own pace and the world is semi-randomized. This is not a detriment per se – in fact, it seems clear that the game is built with this as the goal in mind, and thus those who enjoy the grind will find themselves at home.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

— Mitch Zehe

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Fancy Fish Games and Whitehorn Digital. It is currently available on XBO, PS4, Switch, PC, Mac, and Linux. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence and Mild Blood. There is combat with different creatures and other non-humans, and some pixelated blood is shown.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. There are no audio cues necessary for play, this game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but movement is on the left stick or d-pad. Right stick and ‘A’ are used to select objects or confirm options.

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