Mining, base building and chunky graphics. Name a more iconic trio in the world of indie video games. In a space that was defined by greats like Minecraft and Don’t Starve, it’s hard to stand out in 2023.
And with chunky graphics, base building, mining and a direct top-down camera, Lumencraft doesn’t do much to stand out at first glance. It doesn’t have the splashy hooks that many other games does, but where it makes up is in its execution from missions and level design to the deeply satisfying mining mechanic.
In Lumencraft, you’ll play as a miner sent into a subterranean alien world filled with veins of metal and crystal (the titular lumen) and hives of angry alien insects. You’ll have to venture out into the map, avoiding or battling the swarms, to collect metal and crystals to build up your base, its defenses and purchase upgrades for your character like weapons, extra inventory slots and more health.
The best part, though, is the game’s drill.
You’ll use it to cut tunnels into the earth, collecting those metals and minerals. Instead of the blocks of games like Minecraft, though, you’ll be cutting a unique path akin to the tunnels of an ant farm, which feels on point given the insect enemies. Hit the trigger three times in quick succession and the drill will stay on until you hit it again.
The combination of the controls, the graphics and the sound design all make for a surprisingly satisfying and enjoyable approach to burrowing for resources. You’ll also be able to upgrade your drill on each level (with permanent upgrades in the campaign) that make it cut through the earth like butter.
Lumencraft also offers several different approaches to gameplay. It has the open world modes that you’ll find in most other mining and crafting games, but there’s also a more tailored campaign experience where you’ll be set loose in designed scenarios that give you an opportunity to try out new gadgets or test what you’ve learned against a higher challenge.
I really liked the campaign mode because it felt like a smart introduction to all the different systems in the game while also offering up some truly tough challenges. Most levels could be completed within about 30 minutes but some took upwards of 90 minutes (mercifully, there’s a good save and autosave system that make it so you can try the last bit again if you really stumble).
Some levels will have you racing the clock to cut your way across a danger-filled map while others will have you digging in and cobbling together a stout defense of walls, gates and automated machine-gun turrets to protect your base against waves and waves of bugs.
While there’s not a lot about Lumencraft that is splashy. There aren’t billions of enemies or a big, complicated base to build like in the visually similar Factorio, but there doesn’t have to be. A good, smart approach to satisfying moment-to-moment gameplay with a well-designed campaign that blends the introductions with meaningful challenges has kept me glued to my Steamdeck.
Platforms: PC (reviewed), Mac and Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2023 for PC/Mac, Switch later in 2023