Back in 2009, Kieron Gillen foretold that someone, somewhere would punch Terry Cavanagh in the face for the notorious yet optional VVVVVV challenge of Veni Vidi Vici. I can see a similar punishment being doled out for developer “Noble Kale” for his game Quarries of Scred because almost every time I play, no matter how determined I am to win, it kills me with rocks. Always bloody rocks.
So let me tell you wot I think about Quarries of Scred, a game I describe as the Flappy Bird of the Boulder Dash family.
Scred looks like any other Boulder Dash derivative. There's dirt, there's rocks, there's gems. But your first inkling that something is amiss is that bird that flies overhead. If you move up to touch it, then, oh – A BAT ATE YOU. Game over.
Scred is a procedurally-generated variety of Boulder Dash with a dash of permadeath sprinkled in. One false step and that's the last time you'll see that level ever again. The instructions suggest it's a game about cobbling together enough money to pay off your debts – that is, complete the game – but this is an illusion. Once you've been playing for a while, completing the game isn't actually that difficult, revealing that Scred is about score and greed. The more you mine, the more money you make, the higher the score when you finish. The challenge is figuring out how much risk you are willing to take on in pursuit of that score. Every move exposes you to more potential doom.
You can get killed in many ways – eaten, blown to pieces – but, really, death is rarely that colourful. What you're going to see most of the time is ignominious death by rock. Get used to it. In classic Boulder Dash, you could safely tunnel under a boulder without worry, but Scred revokes that rule. Moving under a rock is instant death.
Even once you've taught yourself to steer clear of dirt below rocks, it's still easy to make a mistake. Tunnelling upwards is a fast way to get into trouble: so many times I have dug myself into a trap because rocks have fallen in behind me and there's a rock looking forward to meeting me just above my head. There are also those devastating moments where you accidentally let a rock slip onto a rich vein of minerals which then get crushed to dust. Try not to weep.
It's a strange test of mental endurance. The mostly predictable nature of the game suggests it should be approached slowly, but as your score builds, so does anxiety. The longer you play, the more likely it is that you will make a mistake. It is more a battle against yourself than the system of the game, holding your nerve to get that high score.
For example, most caverns are devoid of life so the environment is static. Once I've been playing at a languid pace for a while, I find myself drifting into an almost meditative state where the pattern of rocks and dirt burns itself into my retinas. It's at this point I normally screw up, so recently I've developed an approach of rushing around quickly at the start, when there is nothing to lose, and slowing down as the stakes get higher.
But who am I kidding? The experts out there are engaging in speed runs. It's for these experts Noble Kale keeps adding new challenges: there's now a darkness mode where visibility is limited to a small area around the player and the are-you-serious 60 second mode. But some enhancements are for the rest of us; the latest patch added a new threat as well as several additional skins for the game.
As you only get told the basics there's plenty to discover before you can consider the game mastered. What does a “stabilizer” do? Can you hold more than one tool at a time? Can you crush the denizens of the caves with rocks? How far down can the caves go? Why can't I find any Songlasia?
I should be fair, though, and mention that Scred has two difficulty levels and it defaults to hard. I found that surviving the easy difficulty level was less fulfilling and it lacked the sudden, jolting deaths of its harder sibling. I say this even though I'm still poor at this game. Bloody rocks.
Quarries of Scred is very much an acquired taste but the $4 price is just low enough to have a dabble. The interface is a bit raw in places, but if you're into a game that rewards replay and endurance, Scred is for you. Just watch out for those rocks, okay?