It says a lot for Vine’s partially Kickstarter-funded latest project that I actually believed it was a new Vlambeer production for a while. Cavern Kings cites the aforementioned developer’s Super Crate Box as a major influence and it really shows. If you take a single screen out of context, you’d be hard pushed to convince anyone that it wasn’t a sequel; I mean this with the utmost respect of course – Vlambeer are renowned for fidelity in controls, concepts squeezed down to core perfection and highly polished indie visuals. It’s no surprise that many developers want to emulate their style, succeeding at that is something I’ve only seen Vine pull off.
Taking the arena-based, pixel perfect action of SCB and combining the wanton destruction and over the top aesthetic of Nuclear Throne, Cavern Kings manages to feel unique despite obvious parallels. You move from screen to screen populated by fantastical minions armed with two randomised weapons that change between sessions, one melee and the other a more traditional firearm. Traditional really needs to be taken with a pinch of salt; one visit saw me armed with a pneumatic drill and a harpoon gun that’s inertia upon firing would propel me across the screen. A second attempt provided me with an extending boxing glove reminiscent of Tom & Jerry cartoons and a sawblade-launcher. Every life feels unique with procedurally generated layouts and enemy encounters, so that even familiar weapon combinations don’t leave you feeling over-confident.
The environment is almost entirely destructible, fluidity being a major factor of gameplay. Linger too long in one arena and the omnipresent ceiling will begin it’s crushing descent, preventing you from grinding through the easier encounters to power level. While breaking through screen boundaries is a necessary maneuver to survive, the fragility of order is a major double-edged sword. A stray shot can create a shortcut for advancing hordes or send treasure out of reach, but it can also create trenches for defence and pitfalls for your foes. At least, that is, until the bosses find you. Reminiscent of Castlevania’s screen estate devouring elites, they’ll force you to adapt to new tactics with their sheer appearance. Being a game epitomising the joy of discovery though, some things are best left to first-hand experience.
Cavern Kings is penciled in to release in December 2014 but the Beta demo is available here to whet your appetite: