If you’ve read any of my other reviews here at the Tavern, you might have picked up that I’m really into indie games. I always try to keep my eyes on the horizon looking out for new announcements and trailers, and I make note of any that look intriguing. However, I’ve realized that some of the most satisfying indie experiences I’ve had are when I review a game I know little to nothing about and then find out that it has excellent gameplay and many other elements that I enjoy. The most recent game that fits that profile is Treasures of the Aegean, which was developed by Undercoders and published by Numskull games. Treasures of the Aegean is a 2D exploration platformer, the developers describe it as a historical action thriller, and they make use of a high-quality comic book aesthetic for both the art and the narrative – read on and I’ll tell you more about why I’m enjoying the game so much.
I’ll start with what initially caught my attention – the art style. Undercoders have stated that they took a great deal of inspiration from what they call the European comic book art style, which includes classics like Tintin and Asterix. I was really into Tintin as a child – I loved looking through the huge pages, all of which had phenomenal art, and it seemed so different and more detailed than the American comics I read. So it’s no surprise that the bright colors and detailed world of Treasures of the Aegean called out to me.
The second main reason this game caught my interest is that it appeared to be a 2D platformer, but it’s so much more than that. You play as Marie Taylor, a treasure hunter and highly trained former soldier (the Lara Croft resemblance is noticeable), who has joined her archaeologist friend, James Taylor, for a vacation on the picturesque Greek island of Santorini. James is always on the lookout for treasure and might have had ulterior motives for choosing this locale for their trip. He has a slight obsession, or to put it more kindly, a fascination with the ancient Minoan civilization, which disappeared into the Aegean sea thousands of years ago. As the two of them enjoy their vacation a huge earthquake shakes the island, and a large volcanic island rises from the sea. James immediately knows that this must be the location of the lost Minoan civilization and has no problem convincing Marie to hop in his rickety helicopter so she can parachute down to the new landmass and start scavenging the island for loot.
Once I started playing Treasures of the Aegean I began to really enjoy the gameplay. I quickly realized the reason for this appreciation is because they took elements of my two favorite genres and blended them into the game (Metroidvanias and Roguelites). On your first expedition, you’ll explore a portion of the island and undoubtedly find a few treasures, but eventually the island will become unstable. James will call you on your walkie-talkie and tell you he’s going to pick you up. As you fly away marveling at what just happened and surely counting in your head all the money you’ll make selling the treasures you unearthed, the volcano erupts in a tremendous blast – I’m talking a nuclear bomb size explosion. This ends the first loop of the game and you will start back at the beginning of the day. The long lost island will once again rise from the sea and you will have the opportunity to explore it once more, but now you know what will happen and you have a visible timer. There has to be a way to stop the explosion, and exploring the island is the only way to find out. Obviously, this is where the roguelite influence comes into play. You keep all the treasures you have found through each loop, as well as any information you gathered, all of which is documented in your notepad and on your touch screen tablet you carry with you. This includes a map that gets partially filled in as you explore. The partially filled in segments get fully filled in after you complete that loop.
I mentioned a timer, and I know some people don’t like timers in their games, but it works splendidly here by breaking the game into easily digestible sections. The first time you return to the island you’ll have around thirteen minutes before the eruption, but this time increases on each subsequent loop as you find more treasure. I’m currently around twenty minutes per loop. There aren’t any death or game over mechanics, but you can injure yourself from falling from a high distance; when this happens a little comic-style scene plays of Marie patching herself up, and you lose a minute or two of time. Despite the negative effects of this mechanic, I think it is a great idea and adds to the gameplay, forcing you to take a small amount of caution. There are also mercenaries on the island – you’ll learn more about this in the story, but essentially they are also searching for treasure. These characters will shoot at you if they spot you; however, the bullets move surprisingly slow so they aren’t hard to dodge if you keep your distance. These characters sort of act as a soft barrier to areas that the developers don’t want you to access quite so easily.
The time loop is a bit of a trope, but the developers make the most of it here, using it as a vehicle to deliver new story elements. In between loops you’ll often get bits of backstory for the various characters; the best segments of these include small playable levels that place Marie in different situations and add a great deal to the variety of the gameplay. There is a level where she must break into a mansion to steal a relic, as well as a chase scene across the rooftops of Paris.
A lot of times when games mimic the comic book storytelling format with word bubbles and paneled story segments, they feel kind of inadequate and mismatched, but I think it works very well here. I like how the developers jumped all the way into this aesthetic, making use of many of the design elements found in the comics medium, like borders around the screen and the occasional use of halftone or Ben-Day dots.
Simply calling Treasures of the Aegean a platformer doesn’t do it justice, Marie is a straight up parkour master and her movement feels sublime. She can easily scamper across the screen, climb walls, slide down ramps, and swing between vines. The momentum in the game seems perfect, once you build up enough speed you can really cover some distance. The level design compliments the movement mechanics perfectly; it always felt like there were multiple paths to take to get across each area. The game environment is gigantic, I could not believe how big it was. Each time you start a loop James drops you off at a different location. I got in the habit of looking at the map each time, and on the fourth or fifth loop I opened my map and there was nothing filled in around me. I zoomed out and still nothing. So I panned to the left and finally I saw some areas that I had previously explored.
There is a great deal of variety in the level design as well with ancient cities, underground crypts, wrecked ships, and multi-colored caves; I marveled at each new area I discovered. The overall design of the world, with its large-scale and non-linear design, is what reminded me of the Metroidvania genre. The game includes a map feature that allows you to place a large assortment of markers down. This is very helpful for remembering where key items are located. You keep all treasures between each loop but not key items, these range from actual keys to gears as well as quite a few gemstones. There are an assortment of puzzles that require you to find multiple key items, and you might find two on one loop but find yourself unable to locate the third, so make sure to mark their initial location on your map so you can easily pick them up later once you find that third key. There are a ton of map markers that can be placed, but honestly I found it difficult to find ones that matched what I wanted to represent. In addition, the marker icons are ridiculously small and hard to see from across the room. There were a few instances where sort of felt lost in the sense that I couldn’t decide which area I should try to tackle next.
I don’t know if anyone actually knows what ancient Minoan music sounds like, but Undercoders did an admirable job in creating a soundtrack that feels believable. The composer made use of a variety of instruments, from flutes to stringed instruments as well as drums, and there’s even some mysterious chanting in a few tracks, all of which combine to make a wonderful soundscape for your adventure.
Treasures of the Aegean has been a joy to play; initially, I thought It might be hard to get this review done. I figured I might get distracted by a certain AAA racing game that released around the same time as this, but every time I played that I just wanted to get back to the mysterious island that popped out of the Aegean sea and parkour my way across the environment, solve puzzles and search for lost treasures.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.