key: Black Salt Games | Publisher: Team 17 | genre: an adventure
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PS4, PS5
Tested in: Nintendo Switch
Do you dream of hitting the vast open sea and reeling in big fish? But then does that dream turn into the swirling fog of a disturbing nightmare of cosmic horrors that pulls you into the enslaving magic of the endless sea? But are you still having fun? If so, excavator is the Lovecraftian fishing simulator your subconscious is screaming for.
excavator It’s what it says on the box: a fishing simulator with horror elements. And when it comes to breaking down the experience, excavator Ino keeps your hand moist as you explore its murky depths. This general lack of guidance generally adds to the overall charm and slight sense of disorientation, though occasionally annoying, but overall, excavator Highly recommended if this unlikely combination of games appeals to your wandering mind.
into the depths
B excavator, you are a fisherman who has mysteriously been dropped onto the mountainside of a suitably creepy village in the middle of the sea. The outspoken lighthouse keeper warns against mundane things, the diminutive mayor hints at some strange things, and the gaunt old fishmonger talks to whispering shadows. Usual beach village stuff.
‘Lovecraftian’ is its cultural reference ball, but developer Black Salt really managed to spot that reference without going overboard. excavator It’s rich with a wonderfully bleak and creepy crawly atmosphere, but it never takes itself too seriously or its origins too far.
You hit the sea and you fish, and that’s how you spend most of your game. And outside of all the creeping horror, simple fishing can prove to be really relaxing and fun. Other exits are places you enter to upgrade, talk to various creepy or scary locals, and sleep off the requisite dementia. The main exploration is in the sea, where it and you belong.
Reptilian horrors and fish friends
You hit the rushing water in your rickety boat, find a place of foam and drop a line. The fishing mini-game at the heart of your bleak journey involves timed button presses along a spinning wheel that mimics your reel, changing depending on the type of fish. It’s efficient, engaging and fun, and you’ll want to catch them all (especially their horrifying perversions). In the rich pantheon of fishing sims, it lands a little trickier than fishing it Crossing animals or Valley of the StarsBut you never had to hold a rod in your hand to grasp the tactic.
The game works on a clock where a day at sea passes in about five or six minutes, from dawn to dusk. But when the evening comes, that’s when the needle is scratched and things get extra weird. Stay out too late, and a frenzied eye appears next to your compass, misty shapes reach out at you, rocks crop up out of nowhere, things slide across your deck, red-eyed crows come at you – again, just normal fishing stuff. Do you stay late for that extra scary fish, or do you rush to the dock and sleep it off?
Layered on top of this risk-reward loop is a very satisfying series of skill trees for upgrading the rod, engine, nets, body, etc. You sell fish for it, but you also have to find the right upgrade parts in the sea, where the title of the game sneaks aboard.
Some fishing spots are set aside for a dredging operation in this name. As you dig, you find materials for upgrades as well as jewelry to sell or complete quests. In a brilliant twist, Digging is the same fishing mini-game but visually flipped. Where you’d normally try to hit little green marks on a reel as you fish, you’re trying to avoid dark marks as you dig, which messes with your head. And when you mess up the digging, time goes by very quickly. Again, risk and reward, and silhouette-wise perfect.
A special note should also be given to the perfect little inventory system that holds everything together. Harking straight out Resident Evil 4, you have to properly Tetris connect all the fish, rods and other fascinating tools on a grid that resembles your deck. This creates a delicious feedback loop of always wanting to expand your storage, and it just feels right.
Search for desire
All of this is set against a predictable array of side quests – find that creepy necklace, find that creepy fish, or most importantly, find a home for that very good dog – that sort of thing. Pushing you forward more broadly is a larger quest to recover submerged remains for a mysterious and dubious man with a terrifying and powerful book. Each relic is tied to a corner of the map that has a disturbing, monster-filled side quest. And with each relic you retrieve, you gain an additional power boost, like haste (which speeds up your boat, but at the potential cost to your boat and/or sanity).
Throughout the journey, the presentation is excellent – the world is a stylish mix of moody mists and delightful sunrises, and it runs beautifully on the Switch. The brooding mercurial music and constantly creaking trees are super creepy, the salty writing is riveting, and the systems just work.
Each area on the map that you point to for a recovery mission has its own “biome” feel that you’ll be equally excited to explore, from jungle to mountains. Deeper, each area has a new set of rods and tools that you target to maximize your day’s catch. Just stay away from that extra large shadow lurking under the mountain bay.
A pinching creepy smell
excavator Recommended, but the one complaint has to do with its inherent improbability. As mentioned, there are some opaque moments, and little is overexplained. At best, it adds to the delicious sense of anxiety and existential despair.
Fish spawn in certain places consistently, which can be helpful. But quite often, a search requires a very specific fish to be caught, and you simply have no real way to find it. There are some context clues, but sometimes you’re just stuck for an hour because you haven’t found that particular spot or you’re not quite sure what combination of gear to try.
At other moments, you’re not sure if you should upgrade or hit the sea. The push and pull of how far you can go into the night is unclear and sometimes unhelpful. It can all be a little frustrating. A slightly smarter NPC or two and the ability to mark your map a bit more would go a long way.
A cloak to be worn
Beyond this minor complaint, excavator It’s a wonderful game and a great period beautifully presented – the only other complaint is that you’ll want more. Black Salt is a small team, and they’ve created something unique here, and it’s definitely worth a look for all you salty dark souls out there.
If you’re firmly caught up in this Venn diagram (similar to a pentagram), which includes a love of fishing simulation and cosmic horror (a Venn diagram that hangs like an ancient cloak over this author’s head), get ready to fish and go fishing. excavator.
A copy of Dredge for the Switch was provided to Goomba Stomp for review purposes. All images are taken from the author’s game.