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Everdeep Aurora is Hollow Knight for people who love Game Boys and are weary of combat

I can dig it

An underground chamber with trees and an arched door in Everdeep Aurora
Image credit: Ysbryd Games

This article's headline is the characterisation of Everdeep Aurora given to me by publisher Ysbryd Games, but bizarrely enough, it reminded me initially of Bloodborne. A 2D platformer from Nautilus Games, Everdeep Aurora begins on the surface, where a ruptured crimson moon fills the sky with blazing meteors. That menacing moon is the first hint of Bloodborne, obviously. The second is the lamp-lit, locked-up house to one side, whose unseen occupant tells you to get lost, adding that they don’t believe all this crazy talk about the apocalypse.

I thought at once of the wealthier residents of Yharnam, feasting and laughing hysterically behind the shutters of their fancy townhouses on the night of the Hunt. There are no pitchfork-wielding mobs or werewolves stalking the vicinity, however. But there is a frog by a campfire, who tells you that everybody else has sought shelter underground, and hands you a drill so you can follow them.

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Who are you? A witchy little kitten with big curious eyes. You’ve got a letter from your mum, who has also taken shelter in the depths and who wants you to meet her at ‘the usual place’, or words to that effect. It doesn’t bode brilliantly. Is this another game about accepting the loss of a loved one - or something more eldritch? Please let it not be another Bloodborne parallel. But any sad/cosmically horrible undertones are lost in the bustle of drilling through and around a bewitching, tile-based labyrinth of Game Boy-ass colours and stencilled architecture, floating against a primordial blackness.

Everdeep Aurora takes you to a stunning world aimed squarely at the rose-tinted goggles of any Link’s Awakening player or burned-out Spelunky junkie. Lanterns form gorgeous, pulsing bubbles of light and the larger nuggets of masonry beg to be printed out and framed. It’s also a surprisingly cosy setting. The labyrinth opens out regularly into larger, setpiece areas reminiscent of Spelunky’s shops, where a population of zoomorphic characters hang out and dispense dialogue in passing.

There’s a guy with the head of a shark, a tetchy underground gardener who scolds you for stepping on the flowers, a bull-headed blacksmith, and your friend the frog, who is embarked on their own parallel downward journey. Doors and holes in the backdrop warp you across the world map down the righthand side; some provide access to dwellings and side dungeons with chests to uncover.

As per the ‘Hollow Knight but wholesome’ premise, none of the characters are your enemies and there are no nameless bats, slimes or the like to butcher outside the setpiece areas. The challenge so far consists simply of keeping your drill fuelled – some rocks harbour red energy gems, and there are big energy pumps at intervals – while mapping the setting so as to find objects other people are looking for.

A menacing, red-lit throne room in Everdeep Aurora with a bat-headed figure
Image credit: Ysbryd Games

It’s a kind of subterranean, vertical village, with an inventory bag down the lefthand side that soon fills up with stray belongings and key-type items bearing pithy single-sentence descriptions. Everything is gently played for laughs, as with the more knowing species of Zelda villager dialogue: a fishing rod is summarised as “a device that can be used to extract objects from water without getting wet”, and one chamber (pictured above) is a homage to Castlevania.

Deeper down, there’s the promise of minigames - rolling dice, claw machines, and the like – together with more robust platforming challenges involving trapdoors and wall-jumps. I’m not expecting Everdeep Aurora to be an intricate game, but it’s more than a slice of very cool aesthetics. It’s a game that takes away the peril of videogame dungeons in order to rediscover their enchantment, and make a few unlikely friends in passing. When I play the full thing - there's no release date yet - I’m hoping I’ll be able to return to the surface with some key artefact or other and win over the occupant of that Bloodborne house.

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