Developed by Fancy Fish Games and published by Whitethorn Digital, Aground is a 2D crafting action-adventure game which is much bigger than it initially looks. From first view, the graphics and style make you think you are playing a 2D Minecraft, similar in vein to Terraria. However, unlike Terraria, this game has a very intriguing story that seesaws from the very basic to the downright farfetched. Being linked with Ratalaika and with 2D 8-bit style graphics you would assume the story to be super vanilla, the controls to be super basic and the game to be short in length. The game does have simple controls and 8-bit graphics but that’s where the similarities with Rataliaka’s back catalogue end for me.
Aground‘s story is almost so dull at first that it sets the wrong tone for what the rest of the game has to offer. You are a survivor from a crashed ship that gets washed up on a supposedly uninhabited island. With a focus on survival, you make basic tools and harvest wood and berries around you to stay alive. You then start to find other survivors like a farmer, hunter, and a thief, each with their skills that they bring to the survival crew. Slowly but surely you rebuild your way to establishing some sort of civilisation. But so you can stay on this small island forever you need to explore. So you build a dock which then allows you then to craft a boat so you can go out exploring. You soon realise there are other humans about and that you are not actually on Earth.
The story keeps unfolding and starts spiralling out of control. You discover you were shot down by an alien race who also laid waste to Earth. This alien race is scared of any species that could potentially evolve beyond them and have been destroying planets where this risk could occur. But somehow Earth was spared for long enough that they developed space travel and many humans escaped before the Earth was destroyed. So using the skills of other humans and other friendly alien species you need to develop your crafting to such levels to deal with the alien threat.
The gameplay is quite simple and yet effective. Digging, cutting, talking fighting, shielding and storing is all done with a singular button. You have to maintain your health and stamina early on by eating berries and sleeping. As you progress you can kill animals for meat and craft a kitchen to cook particular meals which restore both health and stamina. As you progress you will have equipment that uses up electrical charge and so you will need to carry a supply of fully charged batteries around with you.
This brings apart one of the major parts of the game which is inventory management. It is by no means stingy as with certain gear you can carry a lot more weight but you won’t be able to carry everything. That means leaving certain items behind, which becomes tougher as you travel to other islands – early on this takes a long time as boat travel is slow. But as you develop technology with newer materials you find as you mine and explore, you unlock the ability to craft jet packs, fly on dragons, build aircraft and even teleporters. There is a price for everything mind, as teleporters need the energy to run, so you need to build a power plant to keep it running and even that requires fuel to keep generating energy.
So what starts as a basic survival game turns into a very deep and complex survival affair with a strong sense of exploration. There is so much to discover just on the planet you start on that once you realise there are other planets and even galaxies to explore you begin to see that it all becomes overwhelming and exciting at the same time.
Amongst the crafting, mining, exploring and developing new things to build there is some combat, but it feels more of an inconvenience than a key part of the game. You develop better weapons as you progress through the game. You start off crafting a sword and you eventually get to enchanted weapons, bow and arrows, guns, magic casting, and even space laser guns. There isn’t much to the combat though; one button for shielding and one button for attacking. If the enemy is too tough then you can usually mine yourself out of danger, heal yourself back up and try again. You can also do some fighting with your spacecraft taking out enemy spacecraft but it is much of the same with shielding and shooting. I found the fighting took too much joy out of the main part of the game which I think is the exploration and crafting, so I reduced the difficulty down so the enemies were a bit easier, but the boss battles still provided some challenge.
My first impression was that it would be a basic survival game and you have to deal with certain challenges. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of depth this game has. I found it highly addictive and I have committed a lot of hours into the game and I still haven’t reached the end. There is so many different things to discover and mysteries to solve it makes you hungry to know what the next thing to build is to progress, or the next person to find to progress the story.
My only downer on it is that it lacks an autosave feature. To save you have to visit a home-like structure or a bed which is a bit of a faff if you are out exploring. If you die out exploring and you haven’t saved in a long while it’s a lot of time you have to make up. This is also especially annoying as the game had a few sections which caused the game to crash and bomb out to the Xbox home screen. It took many hours before I suffered my first game crash but there was a particular hairy area where you fight the alien ships and the game crashed almost every time I fought them. I had to play it very safe and shoot a few bullets and then stop and save the game to muddle my way through it. But once I was past that area the game didn’t crash again so I hope it is something that can be patched out.
Aground for me manages to capture all the fun about crafting that made Minecraft positive but without needing to be so creative. It also captures the fun exploration that made Terraria enjoyable but with much greater depth to the story and progression. The story sets you up thinking it’s a bland survival story but spirals into alien warfare and hidden mystery species and technologies. For those into crafting games with a lot of exploration, this game will be right up your street as it is thoroughly addictive.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.